Like most of the mainstream populace, I too like the quirky upbeat song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams [although the radio has been playing it a little too much!]. Though Williams is becoming a household name, he is definitely not new to the music scene considering he has produced popular songs for a while. Talented much? Yes, of course. However, should we already start forgetting the horribly misogynistic music video for “Blurred Lines” which, according to the Guardian, was labeled “the most controversial song of the decade”?
Blurred Lines featured Pharrell Williams. Though his lines were not as graphic, or explicit, or violent as TI’s lyrics [“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two”], Pharrell was still a side-kick and furthermore, went along with the decision to use half-naked women in the video.
Unfortunately, we live in a capitalistic culture that swears by the phrase, “Sex sells.” What we really mean is heterosexual sex that men will enjoy sells because that’s all we’ve ever tried! Though the song was super catchy, blurred lines completely ignored the context that women live in, particularly Black and Latina women who actually have increased rates of rape and sexual assault.
In an interview with “Time Out London” Pharrell was asked about the sexism in blurred lines, and more generally, was asked about sexism in “sexy” music videos. He responded by saying:
“Is it sexist when you walk around in a museum and a lot of the statues have their boobs out? The women in that video weren’t doing anything sexual: they were only dancing. Just because they had their boobs out, that was “sexist”. I didn’t do anything sexually suggestive to any of those women, I wouldn’t allow it. I have respect and I know the message that I want to put out. I’m a fun guy.”
I would argue –YES. It is sexist when you go to a museum and there are only boobs out. Let’s contextualize this-why ARE there predominantly women’s breasts out in artistic spaces?
No space is neutral. Every space, including the art scene, is saturated with politics relating to race, gender, class, etc. Unfortunately, in our culture, we have normalized sexism and racism to such an extent that when it’s in our faces, we think its “normal” and we don’t question it. I have taken art history classes that specifically focus on women, and in many spaces, men were deemed as “artists” whereas women [predominantly white women] could only be muses.
Throughout history, women were not even allowed to be in art schools with men [despite the fact that they were very talented], therefore, it’s not a coincidence that some of the “great” art pieces that have withstood the test of time are usually by European men! Similarly, the music labeled as “classical” is usually white and male. Very cliche! That is not a coincidence.
Women’s breasts in art museums should be questioned, not uncritically celebrated or uncritically accepted as some norm. This is why I absolutely cringe every time I hear a man say that women’s bodies are like “art” because in reality, they’re basically stating that women exist to be naked muses for men.
That’s not to say that boobs themselves are inherently sexist! Not at all! We just have to realize that we live in a culture where women are only represented in one-dimensional, cliché ways—as sexualized props for men to use to look masculine. Our bodies exist as social currency for men and that is not okay and yes, that is sexist. When men re-package their use of our sexualized bodies as “empowering” for us that becomes even more problematic.
After obsessing about how much he loves women and how we have oh so much power, Pharrell then stated that, “I want to support women, but that doesn’t mean I won’t make another song where girls’ behinds are everywhere.”
Uh—yeah. I don’t get it.
It seems like talking about women’s rights in a really superficial, surface-level way is becoming a profitable marketing tactic! Pharrell has solidified his “commitment” to women [ugh] by recently curating a “Girls” exhibition at Gallerie Perrotin in Paris which is “dedicated to strong, free women and will have work by 32 artists (16 are women) including Marina Abramovic, Valérie Belin, Sophie Calle, Tracey Emin, Guerrilla Girls, and Cindy Sherman.” He’s a very smart man. The fastest way to shed his rapey, blurred lines image is to gravitate towards the marketplace of women’s rights.
Discussing women’s empowerment has been a buzz-worthy topic. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and Katy Perry have been discussing women’s rights recently, particularly feminism. Are women’s rights becoming a sanitized, superficial marketing ploy? On the one hand, it’s great that this discussion is mainstream considering women are still not economically or socially equal to men in culture, however, should we trust the capitalist mainstream to vouch for women’s rights when they have trampled on them so much?
How do we make Pharrell [as well as Robin Thicke and TI] accountable for Blurred Lines—especially since he somehow faded into the backdrop during all of the scandal surrounding the music video? The fact that he’s STILL talking about women’s bodies and our empowerment demonstrates that he doesn’t see a problem in anything he’s doing.
Do you all remember when rapper Too Short gave rapey “fatherly” advice to young boys in a video posted on XXL magazine? He was instructing boys on how to get girls, and the advice was offensive and dangerous. Dream Hampton, a contributing writer to Ebony.com and a member of the “we are the 44% coalition” which challenges sexual violence against Black and Latina girls, sat Too Short down for an interview where she held him accountable for his rape advice, yet also stated that this is a cultural problem, not just a “too short” problem. In the interview Hampton stated:
Again the statistic says 44% U.S. girls get assaulted by the time they are eighteen. I bet any amount of money that Black girls are twice that number, and it is not like it just happens once. I can think of ten times when I was assaulted by boys before I even had breasts, assault that passed for “playing”. And you’re right, what you described earlier It is what feminists call rape culture…To some dudes, it is sexy to see a girl tied up and a dude taking it. And that’s sick. And it’s not like Hip-Hop, or you (as an individual) have created this culture, but you have been a part of perpetuating it. The number one danger that women who are serving face in the Army, the United States Army, is rape by other soldiers… by their own soldiers. So it’s just a general culture of rape and it affects men and women everywhere.
Obviously this issue is larger than Pharrell…we’re talking about systemic sexism here. But should we just forget about Blurred Lines and keep bopping in our cars to “Happy” or should someone school him on his feminist politics?