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Why we’re fighting “Blurred Lines” at BU

Enough sound bites, status updates, Tweets, and other too-brief snippets of discussion. Let’s take some time, at length, to talk through the reasons and theory behind this whole Robin Thicke thing.

CRUSH THE PATRIARCHY

1) Why is the BU community petitioning against Robin Thicke, when many other pop artists have hit songs featuring analogous misogynistic content?

Since the release of “Blurred Lines,” the public’s response to the content of its video, and the artist’s follow-up to the controversy, Robin Thicke has been regarded as a figurehead for the promotion of misogynistic themes in pop music—a symptom and symbol of the misogyny that pervades our popular culture. For this reason, the conversation about the ways in which women are regarded in pop culture is being funneled through the lens of The Robin Thicke Controversy. Thicke’s appearance in Boston is just the latest chapter. Our petition protest isn’t about one concert in one campus arena; it is part of our ongoing challenge to misogyny, objectification and disempowerment of women, and commodification of sexuality.  That this particular activist action has garnered so much attention suggests we are on to something, but really it isn’t more significant than our efforts in other areas. Such wrong-headed cultural decisions and values are part of the problem we are constantly working to confront: rape culture, and the attitudes it reinforces that, in our view, play into the incidences of sexual assault on college campuses.

2) Is it necessary for Boston University allow Robin Thicke to perform? As a liberal arts institution shouldn’t BU encourage freedom of  expression? 

Yes and no. As an institution of higher learning, BU has a responsibility to its students to defend freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The administration should not censor what content the community receives. That being said, the administration has had no part in the petition requesting that Robin Thicke’s performance be canceled! The managers of Agganis Arena entered into a contract, for mutual economic benefit, to allow Robin Thicke to perform at this campus venue. To the extent that the Trustees of Boston University are indirectly profiting from Thicke’s performance; and to the extent BU is a community of stakeholders—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and neighbors—, then it is to that extent that we are asking that the choice to enter into such a contract be revisited. Any argument that BU is exercising its authority as an institution to act as a censor, restricting artist expression or restricting freedom of speech, is nonsense.

The petition is entirely homegrown, born from and of our community of students and alumni here at BU. This is a matter of the BU people rallying in support of feminist values which we, as a community, find important.

Let’s put it like this. The private institution of Boston University owns a room. It is their prerogative to rent this room out to whomever they please. They rented the room out to Robin Thicke, a pretty big pop star at the moment. He’s hip and happening with the young folks these days.

It turns out, however, that a substantial portion of BU’s demographic (2,700 people, to be specific) is actually against the ideals that Thicke represents, and therefore is against his use of a room which seems to them to be a room in their house.

Now, if I own a house with a spare room in it, I am not required or advised to allow just anyone to rent this room, in the spirit of allowing unfettered freedom of expression. That’s what the words “privately owned” mean.

BU has an obligation to listen to the voice of its community members. We don’t want Robin Thicke to profit off a performance in our house. This is not “liberal fascism.” This is freedom. This is our voices being heard.

3) Isn’t this whole thing kind of trivial? Why are you so angry about a simple pop song?

Yes, a pop song is trivial. (It is, after all, just the work of a derivative commercial artist who rehashed a popular Marvin Gaye song. But that’s neither here nor there.) What isn’t trivial is the fact that sexual assault is a huge problem on college campuses throughout the nation. Even the President agrees! This is a symptom of that system of pervasive attitudes and prejudices that we call “rape culture.” Ours is a culture that portrays sexual assault as a fact of life that women and men (especially women…) just have to deal with. “Boys will be boys.” “Well, what do you expect?” “Did you see what she was wearing?” “It’s hard to judge… it’s a he-said, she-said situation.” And so on.

This is a culture that blames the victim, and makes light of sexual assault.

There is hope for change—we have made progress! But we are not done. I will not be the one to tell the next girl who is raped on a college campus, “Sorry, but too bad. We have lowered the percentage of rapes and sexual assaults on our college campus to the acceptable level. Can’t you see, you are safer than ever? We don’t care about you anymore.”

Let’s remember, the acceptable number of rapes and sexual assaults on a college campus is ZERO. Anything and everything we can do to fight a culture which makes sexual assault and rape acceptable, or normalized, we will do.

Our opposition to Robin Thicke is an expression, in the specific case, of our opposition in the general case to the pernicious culture which he represents, a culture which trivializes the notion of consent. All we’re doing is working to displace that culture with a culture more committed to gender equity. We aren’t flaming angry feminists who want to burn Thicke at the stake for a dumb song (despite how we’re being portrayed by the media). Thicke just had the rotten luck to get booked at a venue whose surrounding community is alert to the problem of rape culture, and intolerant of misogyny in all its forms.

So please, tell me again: Why should we want this performer to have access to our stage?

5 thoughts on “Why we’re fighting “Blurred Lines” at BU

  1. I have been reading articles from this blog for a while now as I fully support equality for women. However, despite the refreshing and intense emotion demonstrated in this blog. I have been disappointed as it is also filled with faulty logic and comparisons, and a lack of understanding of the way institutions and systems work. I have found a lot of problems with this particular article, such as the contradictory argument regarding free speech, and the misused analogy of the university to a room open for rent. Furthermore, if you don’t want to see Robin Thicke perform, don’t buy a ticket, and you should suggest others do the same; if the BU community is as opposed to his performance, then there shouldn’t be an issue. However, according to this article only about 10 percent of undergraduates do not want him to perform, leaving 90 percent that either don’t care about the issue, or actually want to see him perform. Clearly from this article’s own statistics, this means that the majority of the BU community either does not agree with this view or does not care to act on it, so even if college institutions functioned the way this article claims, there is no reason why he should not be allowed to perform. Most of all though, there is no clear definition of what constitutes ‘rape’ anywhere in this article. There are indeed ‘blurred lines’ in reality because the definition of rape is unclear to most people in modern society. The term is something that should be the focus of the article and not something thrown about loosely. Perhaps the goal should be to use Robin Thicke’s performance as a wake-up call to establish a clear definition of rape instead of trying to censure him. Please do not misunderstand me; I do not support Robin Thicke and the message behind his “Blurred Lines” nor do I ever intend to see his performances, but this article’s misleading or even false statements have only served to annoy me and it is my opinion that the tone of this article that has dissuaded other men and women from supporting your movement. It is really refreshing to see people take strong stands for what they believe in, but it is important to keep an open mind and not let emotion dictate belief.

    • Hudson, hello! I appreciate the thoughtful comment. I’d like to respond to you point by point, but because I wish to pummel you into submission by the weight of response, but because I think it is important that we continue this discussion with as least as much case you put into your post.

      I have been disappointed as it is also filled with faulty logic and comparisons, and a lack of understanding of the way institutions and systems work.
      In looking at some of the points you call out below, it looks to me like you and us (speaking here as a Hoochie contributor) are speaking past one another. There are people on the staff who are deep and committed students of philosophical and formal logic; even so, this blog and its affiliated zine aren’t platforms for academic writing. Ours is an organ of interested analysis and perspectives. I imagine it is more often than not the case that what you might call out as instances of illogic, we might explain as cases where we opted for a rhetorical formulation rather than an empirical or self-consistent one. It’s important to understand that our aim many times is to kickstart thoughtful conversation; as with Zen koans and the humor of many apparently self-contradicting stand-up comedians, sometimes the path to insight isn’t direct.

      I have found a lot of problems with this particular article, such as the contradictory argument regarding free speech…
      Contradictory? It’s multifaceted, I’ll give you that :)

      If you want to help us work through what you see as any essential contradictions, I welcome your feedback, and am sure the author of the OP does as well.

      … and the misused analogy of the university to a room open for rent.
      Well, it isn’t originally our analogy. This comparison is seen in several forms in philosophical literature discussing matters of freedom of speech, of property ownership, and the ‘problem of the commons’. But we don’t take the position that a historically precedent argument is necessarily a perfect one.

      Furthermore, if you don’t want to see Robin Thicke perform, don’t buy a ticket, and you should suggest others do the same…
      For sure, that is one possible response. But there are two ways in which our community (the institution stakeholders at BU) are acting to benefit to Mr. Thicke: 1. Acting to supply him with profit from the performance of misogyny (ticket sales); and 2. Failure to act to deprive him of a profit opportunity (through the use of our on-campus arena as a platform for a performance of misogyny)

      To the extent that BU *is* a community (and certainly the language the administration uses to describe our campus culture suggests they take that view), then we are electing here to advocate for a community role in the decision to provide Thicke with a performance platform, proportional to the extent that BU has the ability to revisit that decision.

      Surely there’s no inherent contradiction here? For it is as you write: “… if the BU community is as opposed to his performance, then there shouldn’t be an issue.”

      However, according to this article only about 10 percent of undergraduates do not want him to perform, leaving 90 percent that either don’t care about the issue, or actually want to see him perform.
      That isn’t the way sampling works, but I can understand how you’d have come to this erroneous conclusion.

      Clearly from this article’s own statistics, this means that the majority of the BU community either does not agree with this view or does not care to act on it…
      This is a false dichotomy. Other explanations are as likely: that students lack awareness of the issue, or of the opportunity to do something about the issue. That’s largely the point of our public complaint: we wish to broaden awareness of the issue, and to raise awareness among students that there may well be something they can do about it. We’re advocating for the view that people get the culture in the community that they settle for — and that they don’t have to settle with a culture welcoming to misogyny.

      … so even if college institutions functioned the way this article claims…
      This post makes no claims about the function of administrations.

      … there is no reason why he should not be allowed to perform.
      Well, we’ve made out case that there are reasons. In a nutshell: this is a commercial artist who has profited, is profiting, from a performance that depends upon an objectifying view of women, and on a message of misogyny. In light of his persistently obtuse response to his critics, we are left with no other conclusion than that he is comfortable with these prejudices. We aren’t. It’s our house. He isn’t welcome.

      Most of all though, there is no clear definition of what constitutes ‘rape’ anywhere in this article.
      Nor many other terms. We trust that our audience, being mostly college-aged and post-graduate, has some minimal awareness of the nature and extent of rape aspects in our culture (and of what feminists and gender equity activists MEAN by “rape culture”). Perhaps that’s a wrong assumption of us to make…

      There are indeed ‘blurred lines’ in reality because the definition of rape is unclear to most people in modern society.
      I’d emphatically argue that there is very little unclear about the definition of “rape” in a legal and moral sense. A protest of confusion is often a defensive gambit. (Though for what it is worth: here you’ve conflated “rape” with our tentpole concept “rape culture”, a substitution might be confusing to persons outside the discussion.)

      The term is something that should be the focus of the article and not something thrown about loosely.
      I assure you we are nothing but casual in our use of this term.

      Perhaps the goal should be to use Robin Thicke’s performance as a wake-up call to establish a clear definition of rape instead of trying to censure him.
      Importantly: we are not censors. We are community members seeking to have a discussion about the use of our community resources. To call our actions censorship is almost a complete reversal of the direction of authority and responsibility in this scenario.

      As for making the meaning of “rape” (and “rape culture”?) a focus: not every article can highlight every dimension of gender equity awareness and activism. Do you think it would be a good idea to lay out a primer, for campus audiences, of rape culture awareness?

      Please do not misunderstand me; I do not support Robin Thicke and the message behind his “Blurred Lines” nor do I ever intend to see his performances…
      We are on the same page there; though I don’t think I could that I wouldn’t check out a Thicke concert if he gave the public a reason to think he’d changed his attitudes on the commodification of sex and the objectification of women…

      … but this article’s misleading or even false statements…
      I think we’ve shown that our mismatch on views and understanding hasn’t amounted to false representation of the issues.

      … have only served to annoy me…
      I have to say… maybe this is okay. As Swift wrote: ‘It is my aim to vex’. The perpetuation of rape culture (among other forms of oppressive received social structure) is a problem that we’re all implicated in, by virtue of our actions or inactions. It isn’t necessarily going to be comfortable all the time as we seek to challenge the status quo.

      … and it is my opinion that the tone of this article that has dissuaded other men and women from supporting your movement.
      Fair enough. I can report from our end that the response has been overwhelming supportive of our petition protest work.

      It is really refreshing to see people take strong stands for what they believe in, but it is important to keep an open mind and not let emotion dictate belief.
      That’s a great way to end it. It is refreshing too to hear from someone who by his own admission has been annoyed by our actions in the past few weeks. I’d much prefer that we have this conversation together, than to think we’d all stomp off to our different sides of one question or another, never communicating across the line of difference. On behalf of Hoochie, thank you for the good will.

      • Thank you for the responding so quickly to my reply. I first want to apologize for my previous comment as after reading it back, I realized the tone of my writing came across as harsh, and attacking, which came out due to some of my frustrations; a blunder I hope not to repeat especially when I agree with the message being presented. Second, while I do not agree with everything in your comment, and though my own criticisms needed more explanation, I have read your comments and appreciate them. However, I am wary to continue the conversation as it is not my objective to offend, and in debate it is easy to fluster others as well as to become flustered (especially using the internet as a medium). Again, I am in full support for equality for women; I am just always wary about the means through which we get to that end, as the journey to reaching an important goal is just as important as finally achieving it.

  2. This Michael Graham who wrote about you for the Herald is clearly out of touch with the realities of college culture, and has never had a loved one who’s been sexually assaulted and told him about it. Keep on doing your thing, we need more strong voices like this.

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