The song of this summer has been, indisputably, Blurred Lines. Not so much catchy as epidemically contagious. Do I like it? That’s another question. It’s like asking if you like the cold that you caught at the beginning of the summer and can’t quite get rid of.
It is undeniably clever, and commercial – by now, Blurred Lines is more than just a song. Covered, parodied and banned, its lyrics dissected and pasted; we aren’t just humming it, we are required to have an opinion about it.
And what is my opinion of it? Well, it’s like this: everything about it – the lyrics, the video, the Student Unions bans, the furore, Miley Cyrus getting twerky with a big foam finger, the models in clingfilm underwear like shrink-wrapped cold cuts – they all make me squirm.
And what I am squirming about, I think, is the window it offers into our collective confusion about female sexuality.
If I disapprove of the song, perhaps it’s because I am prudish and uptight. I don’t think I am, though. I have no problem with nudity, even Hannah Montana’s. I don’t particularly want anyone to cover up, and I am not offended or corrupted by the sight of bared flesh. (Though it might be interesting to consider the ratio of bared female to male flesh, in that video and across the visual media.)
I definitely don’t want to return to a time when women weren’t allowed to show an ankle without causing public horror. Maybe once we were liberated from repressing our sexuality, this was the logical conclusion, like that old joke about fancy dress parties being full of women dressed as prostitutes.
And anyway isn’t it all just about free will? The young women in the clingfilm underwear, and Miley with her foam finger – are they just choosing a path that, if I wouldn’t choose it myself, I fought , marched and argued for their right to choose?
So why, then, does Blurred Lines make me feel so damn uncomfortable?
Well, first of all, it’s the – erm – ambiguity.
‘You know you want it’? That’s the least of it. The lyrics, if you can bear to listen to them, deal with the blurred lines between – what? Rape and consent? ‘Good girls’ and dirty animal instincts? What a girl REALLY wants and what she SAYS she wants? Project Unbreakable was a photo-project that showed us just how unambiguous those lyrics can be if you put them in the mouths of rapists, or the hands of their victims:
So I have some sympathy for the Student Unions banning the song from their buildings – dodgy lyrics sending the wrong message for a place where lines need to be pretty damned unblurred, and where no can only ever EVER mean no.
But then to be sitting on the other side of this blurry boundary-fence doesn’t feel too comfortable either. Because that’s the side that condemns Cyrus Jr for acting all slutty-like – has she no self-respect???
I don’t subscribe to that view of female sexuality that says, cover yourself up, that’s disgusting and no one will take you seriously and you will be seriously asking for it; that in-your-face expressions of female sexuality are distasteful and evidence of a lack of self-esteem. Good girls don’t, CAN’T REALLY want it; they must be, then, just looking for the ‘wrong sort of attention’, or so this side of the argument goes.
The other end of this ‘good-girls-cover-up’ continuum ends up with the niqab and the burkha and purdah, keeping women pure and far far away from the corrupting influence of men and their filthy thoughts and deeds.
So – this is what Blurred Lines tells us – your daughters, and mine.
If they are ‘good’ girls, then they MUST wanna get nasty; they’re just waiting for the right man to whose ‘pimpin’ she can’t refuse, to ‘liberate’ her. (Don’t worry though, because this is all IRONIC and all the fully clothed men in the video are happily married men so THAT’S ALRIGHT THEN.)
And when she does indeed get ‘nasty’, the world will pile in and judge her for being well, nasty and cheap.
If you think I am exaggerating, and if you have the stomach for it, go and read some of the comments about Miley’s performance at he MTV awards when she acts out what Blurred Lines has been telling young women all summer that they SHOULD be doing, if they followed their instincts.
Frigid, or slut? Times change, yet nothing changes for women caught between these two unacceptable ways of being an adult woman.
But maybe I am exaggerating this dichotomy, but it seems to me that the role models and expectations we place on this generation of young women are not so much blurred as muddied like a quagmire. We helped to liberate women from the shackles of oppression – for what? Still, still we seem to be fighting for a woman’s right not to be raped.
Is that as really as far as we’ve got?