We’re six months past the release date of Blurred Lines, the Robin Thicke song that rocked the boat for feminists, rape survivors, and white privilege enthusiasts globally. Between the music video, the performance with Miley, and the popular blog posts on the song’s problematic overtones, we may have all had our fill.
Yet I still find myself bobbing my head along, piquing my voice at “do-mes-ti-cate ya.” And it’s not just Thicke’s song. Since their releases, songs like “Timber” by Pitbull and Ke$ha and “Do What U Want” by Lady Gaga featuring either R. Kelly or Christina Aguilera have blown up and been put under the problematic microscope owned by those who are exhausted from examining “Blurred Lines” over and over. And I’m still singing along at the top of my lungs. Why?
I identify as a feminist. I identify as a lesbian. I identify as a woman who studies white privilege in a graduate institution that focuses on the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, the one that gives me weight and makes people question how I can listen to this music is that I am a woman who was sexually abused for a semi-long period during my childhood. I internally wrestle with these issues in my head, like “How is this not triggering?” “How can you listen to this music that you know affects survivors of abuse in such a horrific way?” And for the longest time, I could not put into words why I was more than okay with these songs – why did I truly love them so much?
The two-sided coin that we’ve been handed with this song; the fights we all get in on Facebook and at bars with friends, they’re all focused on whether the song is “wrong” or not. It’s very black-and-white: you’re either on the “Hey, this isn’t patriarchal, they’re just fucking songs” side, or the “You’re kidding, right? These songs are anti-women in so many ways that I’ve lost count” side. I ask why we can’t create a third side; a side that gives women some power if we’re looking at these songs as heteronormative. Why we can’t say “This woman has power. This woman created her situation. This woman is Four Christmases-ing her situation.”
I’m aware right now that that description may have you being like “Okay, crazy.” Have you seen Four Christmases? My mom loves it and it’s entered her rotation of Lifetime and Hallmark classics for the holidays. I’m referencing it here because in the beginning when they’re speaking like they just met. He calls her a slut and you’re sitting in your seat like, “Woah.” They continue the talk and hook up in a bathroom, then suddenly they’re at home brushing their teeth and you realize it was all roleplay. This is what I’m referencing – what if we take a third look at these songs and place an assumption on them that they are created in a consensual relationship between two people who have decided that this is what turns them on? Two questions arise for me when I choose this view: Who are we to decide what’s okay in other people’s relationships, and when did we stop giving women power?
Because the way I see it, when we (men and women alike) run to the side of the hypothetical “woman” in these songs, and we say “Domesticate ya? Absolutely not,” or “You’re fucking high if you think I’m letting R. Kelly do what he wants, what he wants with my body,” or “She says she won’t, but I bet she will? Never, Pitbull!”, who are we actually helping, especially if this is seen under an S/M roleplay lens?
When I hear these songs, the abuse survivor and the woman who doesn’t fear being controlled in the bedroom that lives inside of me stands up really tall and takes hold of the situation. I don’t know if anyone else who may be in a similar situation has this feeling, but I hear it as “Oh really, tried to domesticate me? You’re damn right I’m an animal. I dare you to try and liberate me.”
There’s nothing I want less than someone to run to my side and prop me up. I feel very strongly about being independent and able to sustain myself. When I share with people that I was abused in my childhood, I get the “aww” face. And I get it! I’m not penalizing anyone for doing it, but I am saying that it sure isn’t helping me now. I don’t need help. I don’t want to be pitied. It took me years to admit it out loud that I was abused, but I am getting more comfortable with doing so. In that, I want people to understand that there are probably others who have been in the same situation as I have who feel the same way. When we hear these songs and we then hear people saying “This is really triggering to those who have been raped and they shouldn’t be played on the radio because they don’t need to hear this,” I want to say “Have you asked me how I feel? Do you understand that I feel strong enough to view the woman/female body as so much more than something patriarchal; as more than something that can be owned?” Why can’t the woman in these heteronormative song-stories be in control of her situation? Why do we victimize her and assume that she’s being held down? Why can we not push past this deep-set patriarchy when we’re trying to point out the easy-to-find kind?
The only thing I ask is to try and take these pop-culture moments apart with an even finer-toothed comb. Don’t assume that we need to swoop in on behalf of women. Women are tougher than nails and we can surely kick some ass all on our own. I choose to see these songs as beyond patriarchy. I may live in a White, Christian, heteronormative world, but you’re damn wrong if you think I’m going to be stuck interpreting everything that enters my five senses as such. I’m going to let these things belong to me and I’m going to interpret them the way that I see fit, and that is as a strong survivor; a proud woman who doesn’t let her past (nor internet commenters) define her.