Editor’s Note: This opinion/editorial piece was originally written for one of my professors at the U of M. I thought about sending it out for consideration as a freelance piece, but ultimately I decided it belonged on this blog.
Robin Thicke sings about blurred lines, but the pop vocalist’s message, like society’s, is crystal clear.
“Blurred Lines” has earned its reputation as “the rape culture anthem,” which makes it harder to understand the longevity of its popularity. But that’s exactly how things work within rape culture, said Isabella Porcaro.
After being molested in her teens and becoming a bit of an activist, Porcaro, 20, spent months studying rape culture while working on an undergraduate project at the University of Memphis.
Rape culture, she said, is “the idea that a culture and a society normalizes rape and sexual assault, meaning that it’s commonplace.”
This includes “the way we view women as objects, because the stereotypes we put women into (make it) more OK,” she said. “When we’re sexually assaulted, it ends up being socially accepted.”
When rape becomes socially accepted, a society ends up with problems such as a huge rape kit backlog stemming from a failure to make solving rape cases a budgetary priority. This looks something like the 12,000 plus untested rape kits currently sitting on police storage shelves in Memphis. This backlog, which is made of untested kits used to collect DNA from the bodies of rape victims, has been dubbed the largest in the country.
That society would also be the kind that would figuratively tear apart a rape victim who dared to speak out about her attack. This recently happened to Dylan Farrow after she accused her former stepfather and famed producer Woody Allen of molesting her.
I’d wager a bet that Farrow doesn’t enjoy Thicke’s hit single.
A quick listen will get you nearly 20 repetitions of “I know you want it.” In the song, Thicke references his willingness to use a date rape drug on a woman at a nightclub. He insists that he will not be denied sexually, even with all of these supposed blurred lines drugging her would create.
Beth Johnson, 25, was sexually assaulted a few miles from her Memphis home in July. Thicke’s song, she said, makes her feel re-victimized. She worries about her two daughters, 5 and 4, hearing it. In their house, Robin Thicke songs are banned outright.
“If it comes on the radio we change stations. It comes on entirely too much in public places, and sometimes we just leave,” Johnson said. “I don’t want them hearing that because, even though they’re still young, they’re still absorbing that message.”
But Thicke isn’t the Lone Rape Culture Ranger.
“We’re saturated with rape culture,” Johnson said. She said she sees it on Disney Channel when male characters comment on the bodies of female characters and even in everyday interactions, such as her 5-year-old’s recent playground incident.
A boy pushed her down, and Johnson arrived just in time to hear his mother telling her daughter that it happened because he liked her. Johnson said she pulled her daughter away from the playground and had a conversation with her about what types of behaviors were acceptable.
Neither the action of the boy nor the reaction of his mother made that list.
“I feel like I’m putting a lot of the responsibility on her, but she needs to know how to react in that situation,” she said. “In the little moments if she’s not taught, what’s going to happen when we get to the big situations?”
Porcaro thinks having these types of conversations early and often might be our only tool to combat rape culture.
“When conversations come up with small kids, like when a boy is picking on a girl, we should never say, ‘Boys will be boys,’ or ‘Oh, he pushed you in the dirt because he likes you,’” she said. “It teaches young women that men hurt them when they like them and that abusive behavior is acceptable.”
Porcaro said she deals with a variation of sexual harassment regularly at the local steakhouse where she works as a server. Recently, she offered dessert to a table of male customers, and one of them responded with, “Only if we can have you for dessert.”
“I don’t see how it’s 2014 and we’ve made so many advances, but there are still so many people who look at women as second class citizens and tell sexist jokes they think are funny,” she said.
While rape culture doesn’t seem to be becoming more prevalent, Porcaro said things aren’t improving. This place of stagnation comes as a result of low awareness about rape culture and how to combat it.
Since there’s no way to escape it, unless we’re all ready to move underground, our only hope, she said, is through participating in open dialogues with our children.
“Answer questions they have. Teach them, especially your daughters. Tell them they matter, their feelings matter, that when they say no it matters and that they are allowed to say no,” she said.
Johnson said she plans to continue teaching her daughters to be strong, but she wishes so much of the responsibility didn’t fall onto girls.
“It’s time men stop skirting this responsibility,” Johnson said. “It’s not our job as women to protect ourselves from something that shouldn’t be happening in the first place.”
It’s time that we get serious about rape culture and start creating a better society for our children.
I know you want it.