Surely Robin Thicke never imagined being foam-fingered by Miley Cyrus. And maybe I’m projecting, but while that very thing was happening on the Video Music Awards he seemed a reluctant participant as his female aggressor was bringing it.
Nothing blurry about that line.
If Thicke was telling the truth to Howard Stern in a recent interview – and I believe he was – he’s been with the same woman since age 14 and they have an active sex life. He revealed just enough, kept just enough private. In other words, he came off as having a healthy sexuality.
Ironic, given all the feminist pushback on his consistently No. 1 song Blurred Lines and the female-directed, unrated video where the men are fully dressed and the women are definitely not. While I applaud the very clever “Lame Lines” parody and understand where some of the concern is coming from, I think calling Thicke’s message pro-rape is missing the point.
While many are making jokes about how we’re being subjected to the often-played song all summer, these particular blurred lines have been around for a long, long time. In fact, many young men – let’s say in their 20s and 30s – can tell you about the sexually charged dating climate we now have. They are experiencing some of the residuals of the women’s movement that gained steam in the ’60s.
Birth control was about sexual freedom. Everything about the movement was about freedom, wasn’t it? Despite the popular image that feminism equals man hating, what’s been happening is generations of men and women figuring out who they really are when it comes to sexual pleasure. Thicke is expressing an actual push-pull that occurs in our dating lives, heck, even between married couples where maybe the woman wants to experiment and feels inhibited.
“You know you want it.”
Sometimes she does, right? We have to acknowledge that scenario exists to be free, don’t we? Sometimes she wants it. She’s sexual. She’s healthy. She’s normal.
“But you’re a good girl.”
He’s tapping into her self-judgment here. He’s not convincing her to do something she doesn’t want to do so much as saying, “Let yourself go. You’re sexual. It’s OK. I want you, too.”
Look, I’m not thrilled with the word ‘bitch’ in there. I’m not too psyched that people way younger than me aren’t going to get the nuance of why Thicke went with near naked women who are not wearing stilettos or dancing like they’re on a pole. He and director Diane Martel were going for girl-next-door meets her sexuality.
The lines on what is exploitation and what isn’t are so blurred now. Maybe the vital question is — What is the underlying message? If it’s “let yourself go” because that’s what you want and you have free will, isn’t that at the heart of sexual freedom?
And that brings me back to Miley. My take – she’s young and out to cut loose from a wholesome image and she’s getting really bad advice. Her stages of growth get played out publicly, unlike most of us. I can do what I want and you can’t stop me. Sound familiar? Well, add in some scanty costumes, twerking anything that stands still and a few million viewers and you get a spectacle that’s great for the any-publicity-is-good-publicity gang, but leaves those of us not money grubbing off Hannah Montana shaking our heads about how it all went wrong.
That performance was not a celebration of sexuality. It wasn’t artistic or providing insightful commentary on anything. It was an out-of-control rebel.
Where the lyrics in Blurred Lines are trying to give permission to a desire, this was more like reckless disregard for one’s own body, a flaunting so extreme I was unfazed by Lady Gaga sitting in the audience still sporting her seashell bikini from her earlier performance.
Another recent cultural reference about female sexuality that went virtually unnoticed came a few weeks ago on The Newsroom. It was a piece of Aaron Sorkin dialogue – of course spoken in a flurry – that made me pause and nod. Maggie asks Jim, regarding the Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh moment, why being a slut is a bad thing. Putting aside for a moment that Maggie’s sexual proclivities are in the context of a trauma she can’t handle instead of simply an enjoyment of sexual experimentation, she has a point.
Blogger Stefanie Williams put it this way in a Huffington Post piece:
We all fear this label. And the ironic part is, most of us (and maybe I’m wrong here but I’m pretty sure I’m not) do the slutty slut stuff … We have vaginas. We use them. Some of us, sometimes, even enjoy using them. We have boobs and nipples and butts. Which clearly we should all be ashamed of. Because we’re the only ones doing it. You hear me, every woman on the planet? You are the only one doing what you’re doing with that guy (or girl, or worse, BOTH). And it is so, so, incredibly hurtful and wrong and shameful. What? You wanna know why? Oh. Because … slutty slut?
We’re coming off a weekend where The New York Times ran a piece by Melena Ryzik on writer/director Jill Soloway and Ryzik says this about her film Afternoon Delight: “It’s also part of a wave of films that address sex frankly and unapologetically and from a female perspective.”
More sexual freedom.
There is Lovelace, based on the book Ordeal by Linda Lovelace. I haven’t seen the movie, but I have read the book and still have the copy given to me by Catharine MacKinnon while I was a journalism fellow at the University of Michigan. MacKinnon, a lawyer, teacher and activist who represented Linda Boreman (her real name) and still represents her estate and children, is happy that the film “shows Linda as human and credible”
“All she ever wanted was to be believed and respected, to have people face what really happened and take steps to stop it,” MacKinnon says on the Harvard University Press Blog. “We see this film as a major step forward in that process. Apparently, when you make fact into fiction, people begin to believe it is true.”
Lovelace’s story may represent the ultimate in blurred lines. Sexuality on display that revolutionized pornography, yet behind the scenes not that at all.
Again I ask where crotch-grabbing Miley Cyrus fits into all this cultural revelation, this swimming in the forbidden that is forbidden no more, the thirst for ratings. All this swirling of need and greed, smooth and loose, pushing us to react.
Where are we?
Still walking that blurred line. And we will be, for a long, long time.
Good writing, with brilliant connections made, and with a sense of history even a wizened 30-year-old commentator couldn’t credibly claim.
Asking the right question! “Where are we?” And answering! “Still walking that blurred line.” — which she has just beautifully elucidated.
I so appreciate the feedback. I had been circling the “moment” of this summer with the song and The Newsroom reference and the Lovelace movie. The VMA episode became the peg to hang it on and your wise question on Facebook helped me clarify. Thank you. I’m so glad the piece resonated.
So I guess the question is, has Miley Cyrus taken Gaga’s thunder?? What will be her answer?
I don’t think so. Gaga’s ability to push buttons is tied into her art. She’s a writer with something to say. At this point, Miley seems more focused on strictly pushing buttons. That gets old, I think.
I Every time I read your posts I think, wow, she’s such a great writer.
I so appreciate that :))
Funny, I did not read anything about “Blurred Lines” being pro-rape, but since the VMA awards, have gotten updated on it. In fact, after hearing the song for the first time over memorial day weekend, I looked #THICKE up and read an interview about this song where he says it’s about he and his wife, post baby, reconnecting with their sexuality. I wasn’t surprised, bc that is how I heard that song. I heard it as a woman’s inner dialogue – maybe not too unlike myself… a mom of two small children, mid-late 30s and it’s been a long time since she’s felt like the “the hottest bitch in this place.” Maybe one night she feels it again, she knows she “wants it.” Maybe at the same tiem she struggles bc she’s a mom, and she’s “a good girl” now and she can’t put them both together in her mind. Maybe one night she chooses to reconnect with her sexuality. I saw this as way more empowering and rediscovering your sexual essence. Not at all pro-rape or threatening or anti feminism. As far as Miley goes. I think we all have made some really bone-headed, overtly, embarrassingly overly sexual spectacles of ourselves. She made a bad choice. And, yes, Nancy I 100% agree with you, #THICKE looked like a reluctant participant. In fact, I’d say awkward and robotic even. Definitely not engaging with her. I hope Miley can take this all in and grow from it, into a woman she’s proud of. It takes a might strong woman to stand up to this kind of scrutiny. Thank you for this article I LOVED it!
I adore your take on this, Rebecca. And not just because it agrees with mine (hahaha). Truly, you bring a very different life experience than I do and so it feels amazing that my thoughts resonated with you and what you’ve been thinking regarding this aspect of pop culture. Thanks for the feedback 🙂
UGH. I just wrote a whole thing, but when I signed in with Discus, my comments disappeared. I’m hoping they went to you for moderation.