Blurred Lines: How Communication Between Men And Women Gets Confused
Summer of 2013, I was prepared to go visit my friends for the weekend. One of our traditions was to make a mixtape commemorating each trip and allowing us to relieve it whenever we wanted.
I’d heard this catchy tune on the radio and Shazammed it (Best App ever) learning it was called “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. I looked it up and couldn’t stop listening to it. Perfect! My contribution to the playlist.
Several months later, “Blurred Lines” started receiving a lot of heat for the video –seemingly naked models parading around men in suits- and questionable lyrics. “I know you want it.” The resounding criticism, “There are no blurred lines in consent.”
Consciously I know I live in a world where women frequently encounter violence from men when they refuse advances. Subconsciously, I don’t. Partly because I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never been afraid to be around men. Men are fun and entertaining and, for the most part, respectful of women. Yes, I know there are Brock Turners, but there are also the men who stopped him. I think the latter outnumbers the former, and that’s the world I live in. Partly also because I’m resentful of it. That’s not how the world should work. You try something, I don’t like it, I say no, and you back off. I don’t get any additional harassment for not being into you or “not giving you a chance.” You just hear “No,” register disinterest, and go away. What a great easy interaction! It’s almost as if the simplicity of words and their meanings is why we invented language.
But there are plenty of girls who do know that threat of violence consciously and subconsciously and attune to it. They’re too worried a sharp comment might come back to them in the form of a sharp slap. They heed the warning that responding to undesired attentions with “Get the fuck off me” is “too aggressive” and “you shouldn’t have provoked him.” Caught in the middle of nonverbal cues being “Not clear enough” and outright refusal being too dangerous, what’s a girl to do?
In the great miscommunication, a lot of men are probably where I am with “Blurred Lines.” After the criticism came out, Pharrell Williams was interviewed because he’d done supporting vocals. When asked about the nefarious connotations of the song, he responded that he thought they were singing about empowerment. “That man is not your maker.”
“I think it’s very clear. There’s nothing misogynistic about it. It takes the power from whatever “man” — if you’re looking at the lyrics, the power is right there in the woman’s hand. That man — me as a human being, me as a man, I’m not your maker, I can’t tell you what to do.”
That’s what I heard when I listened. That “Blurred Lines” was about breaking the taboo of the innocent and pure woman. “I know you want it,” means “I know you want it but we live in a society where female sexuality is repressed so you’re not allowed to express it.” I know, I know. I’m stretching. But like I mentioned earlier, I can’t comprehend a world where my “No,” doesn’t mean no. No means no. It’s clear it’s simple. So surely his saying, “I know you want it” doesn’t mean he’s going to challenge me when I say I don’t. How could it? That’s awful.
And when you mean no, you say it like you mean it. “NO!” loud and clear, right? NO! Not that either. That’s what women are emphasizing now. They’re saying that my “No” doesn’t have to be emphatic or aggressive. It can be quiet and timid. It doesn’t even have to be the word “No”, it can be “I don’t like this. I’m uncomfortable. I don’t want to do this anymore.” Any of these things qualify as “No” statements even though “No” isn’t in them. All should throw up warning flags and cue a “Maybe I should stop this.”
Clearly I’m guilty of living in the world where we assume that if a “No” is clear, that “No” will be respected. It’s not always. We know this –the facts support it. Repeating that we should be more conscious to all kinds of “No” is what we still need.