Tag Archives: gender: violence

From the Mouths of Rapists: The Lyrics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines

Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of sexual assault.  Note: The opinions expressed in this post belong to Sezin Koehler alone and should not be attributed to anyone involved with Project Unbreakable.

Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines addresses what he considers to be sounds like a grey area between consensual sex and assault. The images in this post place the song into a real-life context.  They are from Project Unbreakable, an online photo essay exhibit, and feature images of women and men holding signs with sentences that their rapist said before, during, or after their assault.   Let’s begin.

I know you want it.

Thicke sings “I know you want it,” a phrase that many sexual assault survivors report their rapists saying to justify their actions, as demonstrated over and over in the Project Unbreakable testimonials.

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You’re a good girl.

Thicke further sings “You’re a good girl,” suggesting that a good girl won’t show her reciprocal desire (if it exists). This becomes further proof in his mind that she wants sex: for good girls, silence is consent and “no” really means “yes.”

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Calling an adult a “good girl” in this context resonates with the the virgin/whore dichotomy. The implication in Blurred Lines is that because the woman is not responding to a man’s sexual advances, which of course are irresistible, she’s hiding her true sexual desire under a facade of disinterest. Thicke is singing about forcing a woman to perform both the good girl and bad girl roles in order to satisfy the man’s desires.

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Thicke and company, as all-knowing patriarchs, will give her what he knows she wants (sex), even though she’s not actively consenting, and she may well be rejecting the man outright.

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Do it like it hurt, do it like it hurt, what you don’t like work?

This lyric suggests that women are supposed to enjoy pain during sex or that pain is part of sex:

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The woman’s desires play no part in this scenario – except insofar as he projects whatever he pleases onto her — another parallel to the act of rape: sexual assault is generally not about sex, but rather about a physical and emotional demonstration of power.

The way you grab me.
Must wanna get nasty.

This is victim-blaming.  Everybody knows that if a woman dances with a man it means she wants to sleep with him, right? And if she wears a short skirt or tight dress she’s asking for it, right? And if she even smiles at him it means she wants it, right?  Wrong.  A dance, an outfit, a smile — sexy or not — does not indicate consent.  This idea, though, is pervasive and believed by rapists.

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And women, according to Blurred Lines, want to be treated badly.

Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you.
He don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that.

In this misogynistic fantasy, a woman doesn’t want a “square” who’ll treat her like a human being and with respect. She would rather be degraded and abused for a man’s gratification and amusement, like the women who dance around half naked humping dead animals in the music video.

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The pièce de résistance of the non-censored version of Blurred Lines is this lyric:

I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two.

What better way to show a woman who’s in charge than violent, non-consensual sodomy?

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Ultimately, Robin Thicke’s rape anthem is about male desire and male dominance over a woman’s personal sexual agency. The rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome. Thus, instead of treating a woman like a human being and respecting her subjectivity, she’s relegated to the role of living sex doll whose existence is naught but for the pleasure of a man.

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In Melinda Hugh’s Lame Lines parody of Thicke’s song she sings, “You think I want it/ I really don’t want it/ Please get off it.”  The Law Revue Girls “Defined Lines” response to Blurred Lines notes, “Yeah we don’t want it/ It’s chauvinistic/ You’re such a bigot.”  Rosalind Peters says in her one-woman retort, “Let’s clear up something mate/ I’m here to have fun/ I’m not here to get raped.”

There are no “blurred lines.” There is only one line: consent.

And the absence of consent is a crime.

Sezin Koehler is an informal ethnographer and novelist living in Florida. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.  

Double Standards at the VMA Awards: What about Robin Thicke?

The Miley Cyrus performance at the VMAs has received quite the reaction.  She appears to have shocked celebs as well as the media, and has even been blasted by a group of angry parents. The Internet outrage over her performance has spawned multiple offshoots, including a backlash against people slut-shaming Miley, as well as criticisms about her appropriation and exploitation of black culture.

What has been largely been missing from the conversation (with a few notable exceptions) is the lack of outrage at the 36-year-old man who ground up on Miley’s 20-year-old ass while singing his summer megahit rape culture anthem.

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JEFF KRAVITZ/FILMMAGIC via Vanity Fair

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Far fewer people are expressing concern about the catchy song in which a husband and father outlines with complete confidence his ability to infer when “good girls” “want it.”  The same guy who, when discussing the lyrics to his song, tells an interviewer:

Even very good girls have a little bad side. You just have to know how to pull it out of them.

The guy who boasts that he based his hit song on the time-honored masculine performance of hollering at bitches:

We started acting like we were two old men on a porch hollering at girls like, ‘Hey, where you going, girl? Come over here!’ That’s why, in the video, we’re doing all these old men dances. It was great.

That does sound pretty great, Robin.

Overall, the 2013 VMA debacle provides a painfully accurate example of the sexual double standard we have for women and men.  A woman who performs sexuality (for whatever reason) is to be castigated, while a man who engages in the exact same performance (and who has unabashedly doubled down on his support for the rape myth that no means yes) hardly raises an eyebrow.

Brett Wheeler is a part-time psychology professor who is pursuing a PhD in positive psychology. His research interests include human sexuality, humor, and how these variables contribute to well-being.

Sexual Harassment and Battery in Public Spaces: Women Tell Their Stories

Screenshot_1This 4:15 minute video features women recounting instances of sexual harassment and battery by strangers. It’s a wake up call for the kinds of treatment that women routinely receive just by virtue of daring to be in public spaces.

Made by Laura Bates for the The Everyday Sexism Project. Thanks to Mytch for the tip.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“I Hate Your Friend… So I Stuck My D— in Her Water Bottle”

Earlier this year I wrote about how truly disturbing it is that so many of our insults have sexual connotations.  “Fuck you,” is a choice example, but I give lots more in the original post (read at your own risk).  I concluded:

…it’s interesting, right, to notice how often attempts to hurt other people come in the language of sexuality.  This reveals why sex can be scary, especially for women who are so often positioned as the one who “gets fucked”…  It’s also part of how we demean and marginalize gay and bisexual men.

This post came to mind when I saw this confession at PostSecret:

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Let me put this in black and white: this person expressed “hate” by exposing another person to his penis.  So he considers his penis a thing that can defile.  This is the same penis that he puts (presumably) in his wife who he (presumably) doesn’t hate.  If I were his wife, I would wonder how exactly he decides when putting his penis in things is a loving thing to do and when it’s a way to harm or humiliate someone.

I don’t mean to pick on this individual.  The idea that it’s funny (“LOL”) to expose this woman to his genitalia without her consent is widespread.  This confession is just a manifestation of our cultural belief that men can hurt people with their penises.  And that it’s funny when they do.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Failing to Understand When Non-White People Distrust the Police

Screenshot_1When white Americans are in trouble, they rarely hesitate to call the police. That’s because most of them trust the police. They rarely realize the significance during encounters with the police of their own protective “white” skin.

Many white folks also have trouble understanding the deep distrust of the police in other racialized communities. That’s because they fail to realize how quick many police officers are to harass non-white people, and how much less they tend to value non-white lives.

White Americans should listen, with sincerity and respect, to the reported experiences of others with the entrenched racist attitudes among the police, and the rampant abuse such attitudes inspire. They should also listen to the corrosive effects on non-white communities of the relative impunity with which police repeatedly harass, and murder, non-white people.

In the following short film, Stacey Muhammad’s “I AM SEAN BELL, black boys speak,” black Americans effectively explain their reasoned fear, distrust, and dismay regarding the police. I think that for starters, this film is perfect discussion material for all American classrooms. And any other gatherings that include white eyes and ears.

See a complementary post, featuring a great clip from Michael Moore, at Stuff White People Do here.

[h/t: Kai @ Zuky]

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.

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About himself, Macon writes, “I’m a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the ‘white’ part. I live in that heart of the heart of American whiteness, the ever-amorphous ‘Midwest.’”  Macon’s blog, Stuff White People Do, is an excellent source of insights about race and racism. 

The Banal, Mundane Sex Lives of College Students

Cross-posted at the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

In an Op-Ed article on hookup culture in college, Bob Laird links binge drinking and casual sex to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, confusion, low self-esteem, unhappiness, vomiting, ethical retardation, low grades and emotional inadequacy. “How nice of The Times to include this leftover piece from 1957 today,” snarked a reader in the online comments.

Fair enough, but Laird is more than out of touch. He also fundamentally misunderstands hookup culture, the relationships that form within it and the real source of the problems arising from some sexual relationships.

Laird makes the common mistake of assuming that casual sex is rampant on college campuses. It’s true that more than 90% of students say that their campus is characterized by a hookup culture.  But in fact, no more than 20% of students hook up very often; one-third of them abstain from hooking up altogether, and the remainder are occasional participators.

If you do the math, this is what you get: The median number of college hookups for a graduating senior is seven. This includes instances in which there was intercourse, but also times when two people just made out with their clothes on. The typical student acquires only two new sexual partners during college. Half of all hookups are with someone the person has hooked up with before. A quarter of students will be virgins when they graduate.

In other words, there’s no bacchanalian orgy on college campuses, so we can stop wringing our hands about that.

Laird argues that students aren’t interested in and won’t form relationships if “they are simply focused on the next hookup.” Wrong. The majority of students — 70% of women and 73% of men –report that they’d like to have a committed relationship, and 95% of women and 77% of men prefer dating to hooking up. In fact, about three-quarters of students will enter a long-term monogamous relationship while in college.

And it’s by hooking up that many students form these monogamous relationships. Roughly, they go from a first hookup, to a “regular hookup,” to perhaps something that my students call “exclusive” — which means monogamous but not in a relationship — and then, finally, they have “the talk” and form a relationship.  As they get more serious, they become more sexually involved (source):

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Come to think of it, this is how most relationships are formed — through a period of increasing intimacy that, at some point, ends in a conversation about commitment. Those crazy kids.

So, students are forming relationships in hookup culture; they’re just doing it in ways that Laird probably doesn’t like or recognize.

Finally, Laird assumes that relationships are emotionally safer than casual sex, especially for women.  Not necessarily. Hookup culture certainly exposes women to high rates of emotional trauma and physical assault, but relationships do not protect women from these things. Recall that relationships are the context for domestic violence, rape and spousal murder.

It’s not hooking up that makes women vulnerable, it’s patriarchy. Accordingly, studies of college students have found that, in many ways, hookups are safer than relationships. A bad hookup can be acutely bad; a bad relationship can mean entering a cycle of abuse that takes months to end, bringing with it wrecked friendships, depression, restraining orders, stalking, controlling behavior, physical and emotional abuse, jealousy and exhausting efforts to end or save the relationship.

Laird’s views seem to be driven by a hookup culture bogeyman. It might scare him at night, but it’s not real.  Actual research on hookup culture tells a very different story, one that makes college life look much more mundane.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Rape Culture Round Up

The phrase “rape culture” refers to a way of thinking that systematically trivializes, normalizes, or endorses sexual assault.  We’ve collected over 60 concrete examples at our new Pinterest board and we thought we’d share some additional examples that readers have sent in recently.

(1) Topping the list, Clair let us know that University of Maryland students successfully organized to oppose a hand stamp used at a local bar.  The stamp reads “Shut Up and Take It”:

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Jesse Rabinowitz set up a change.org petition opposing the stamp to get the bar’s attention. In response, management has agreed that the stamp is inappropriate and has pledged to run a public apology and do some sexual assault awareness education, perhaps including the introduction of a “consent is sexy” stamp.

(2) Dolores R. pointed us to a RiotMag screenshot of a Fox News broadcast.  The main story features a headless Hooters “girl” while the news scroll at the bottom pointed to the very serious issue of sexual assault in the military.  So sexual assault is subordinated to sexual objectification (it reminds me of this titillating coverage of a video game allowing players to simulate rape).

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(3) Sent in by V, a Rohypnol gag coffee mug (the substance is famously used to drug targets of sexual assault into unconsciousness):

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(4) Dominos Pizza joshes about sexual assault with their play on the reminder that “no means no” (thanks to Dolores R. and YetAnotherGirl for the tip):

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(5) Katrin sent in a British anti-rape poster that blames the victim, holding her responsible for preventing “regrettable sex or even rape.”   “Don’t leave yourself more vulnerable,” it explains:

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(6) In 2011, the Exeter University’s Safer Sex Ball ironically included this piece of humor in it’s leaflet (thanks to hp for the image):

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For more examples of rape culture, visit our rape culture Pinterest board.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Naming the Perpetrator: Language and “Violence Against Women”

1In a really fantastic post at Shakesville, Time Machine argues that rape jokes are problematic, even when uttered by people who would never assault anyone, because they signal to actual rapists that their behavior is acceptable and normal.

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?  Rapists do.

So, when someone drops a rape joke and people laugh, the small percent of men who are rapists think that they’re surrounded by like-minded friends.  Speaking to the joke-teller:

That rapists who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.

What’s interesting about this observation is that it reminds us that we need to be more aware of the impact of our words not on victims (as the usual argument against the rape joke goes), but on perpetrators.  This is a much-needed re-framing of the problem that we call, passively, “violence against women,” but should really be called “men’s violence against women and men.”  While both men and women are victims, the vast majority of interpersonal violence is committed by men.

The need for a shift in frame — from the survivor to the perpetrator — is also a theme of this TedTalk by anti-violence educator Jackson Katz. He uses another really interesting way of showing the linguistic erasure of men in this discussion (at 4:08).

He also dismisses “sensitivity training” because it, too, centers the survivor of the violence instead of drawing our attention to the perpetrator (sensitivity to who?).  Instead, Katz argues, men need to step up and be leaders in the fight against men’s violence against women and men.  Because violence is not a “women’s issue,” it’s a men’s issue.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.