It says a lot about our society when last year’s biggest selling single, which sold just shy of 1.5 million copies, was a song about the sexual objectification of women. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, which contains lyrics including “just let me liberate you” and “not many women can refuse this pimpin’” (most are far worse) is unashamedly misogynist – some even argue it condones rape.
Yet the video’s female director, Diane Martel, denies that the nature of the song is sexist. Following its release in March last year, the University College London (UCL) student union took the unprecedented decision to ban the song from its nightclubs back in November. Many called the union’s decision draconian and claim the action infringes free speech. They may have a point. But the banning of the song was not intended as a curb on freedom or liberty: it was about raising awareness of Britain’s sleazy subculture of sexism.
Perhaps the popularity of Blurred Lines should come as no surprise. After all, we have become increasingly immune to images of semi-nude women, such is their prevalence in mainstream media. Step into any newsagent and it is not hard to find a selection of “lads mags”, which greet you with their fleshy covers. Most are comfortably within the eye-line of 10-year olds. But we must ask ourselves: are we happy for children to be exposed to such material, and at such a young age? Furthermore, is there not a risk that it will desensitise young men to sexual images and give them unrealistic perceptions of women?
It seems we now live in a culture that playfully encourages what might be termed “casual sexism”, or that which is prescribed as subtle, cheeky, or “laddish”, to use current terminology. Take boy’s magazines, for example. Taglines such as ‘for men who should no better’ (Loaded) and ‘welcome to man paradise’ (Nuts) smack of an overdose of testosterone. A similar trope also manifests itself within television adverts. Take Lynx and Fosters, who bask in their chauvinistic euphemisms and subliminal sexism.
Even politics, it seems, cannot escape the swelling tide of misogyny in Britain. At the last general election just 31% of Labour Party MPs were female, whilst the figure stood at only 16% and 12% for the Tories and Lib Dems respectively. Indeed, across the country women are by and large unfairly represented, especially within top positions. According to a government report, females made up only 12.5% of the members of corporate boards in 2010. Moreover, the same findings estimated that at the current rate of change it would take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK.
And the sexist streak continues elsewhere. The Everyday Sexism Project, which was launched in April last year, for instance, has already logged in excess of 50,000 posts from women in Britain who have given personal statements of everyday sexism; be it at work, at home, or in the street. The range and frequency of those experiences is shocking, not least because the men in question see their comments as inconsequential, or worse, acceptable.
Though troubling, it is at least encouraging to see projects such as Everyday Sexism, and the parallel No More Page 3 campaign, promoting a dialogue in Britain that has until now been embryonic. The likes of FEMEN, the self-proclaimed “sextremist” feminist group that operates in Eastern Europe, will add weight to UK-based anti-sexism organisations. But campaigning is just the half of it. Better education, regulation within the media and, above all, a willingness amongst men to change worn-out attitudes is what is needed. Until then, Blurred Lines, and others like it, will continue to foul the airwaves with smuttiness and sexism.