Pharrell: a new brand of feminism?

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I think most people heard about how the song Blurred Lines featuring and co-written by Pharrell and performed by Robin Thicke (who has adeptly just been named “Sexist of the Year”) really pissed a lot of people off last year.  The controversy revolved around the lyrical content and the music video. There is something pretty wrong about three fully clothed grown men (T.I makes an appearance) singing violent lyrics like, “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” while half naked or completely naked women dance around them. As Elizabeth Plank from Policymic points out, “that is all too common in our media landscape.”

In a nutshell, the video sexually objectifies women. The lyrics are “rapey” and blur the lines of sexual consent as countless social commentators and feminists point out.

Pharrell in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, wanted us to know we just totally misread his song (obviously),

“Blurred lines taught me something… what I learned was not exactly what you would expect; it wasn’t what some of the critics, the feminist women were feeling about it ‘cos I can explain that… most of them got the message that most women are good girls who have bad thoughts, so there is a blurred line… All I was saying [in blurred lines] was “that man” is not your maker, meaning he is not the creator and he is not a part of the evolution… he cannot give birth, he cannot make an egg… You don’t need no papers you are not a possession… and that was the point.”

Thanks for the lesson on what my reproductive organs can do Pharrell! I might have tried to, you know, not have children and follow one of my life’s ambitions of getting my PHD. But now that I know I am in fact The Creator, (that has a nice ring to it? Maybe I should give Mel Gibson a call and offer him the movie rights to my forthcoming pregnancy?) I should probably start squirting out babies as fast as I can. I have always wondered what it might be like to be god, now I might just find out. Anyway, apart from the fact Pharrell clearly does not understand evolution (it takes two to tango) he seems to be really struggling with understanding or even seeing his own misogyny. Misogyny is a deceptive thing, it can be really hard for people to identify misogyny in themselves. There is a fantastic analogy for this by Dr. Caroline Heldman, “it is like being raised in a red room, being pulled out of that red room, and asked to describe the colour red”.

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The fact that Pharrell seems to believe he was empowering women in his song Blurred Lines and that millions of people misread him is seriously worrying. It is symptomatic of a culture that perversely sells the idea that a women’s empowerment is achieved by gaining the attention of men. There is nothing empowering about half naked or completely naked women being sexually objectified while a very clothed Robin Thicke uses explicitly non-consensual language such as “I know you want it”. Just in case anyone is confused about what sexual objectification is, it is “the viewing of people solely as de-personalised objects of desire instead of individuals with complex desires/plans of their own.”

In his interview with Oprah he talked about how much respect he had for his mum, his wife and the women in his life. Oprah went on to say “Pharrell has recently been using his voice to shine a spotlight on women’s rights.” Pharrell said,

“You realise how sad it is, that there is a perception that is catered to a male dominated world. A man cannot make an egg [I think he meant babies] a man cannot give birth. If women wanted to in this country, if they wanted to, all they would have to do is not go to work and come home… but all I am saying is if women got tired, of the way that we were handling ourselves as a species, all y’all need to do is to hold hands and not make any more babies.”

There you have it everyone! If women want to end war and achieve equality, we just need to hold hands (close our legs) and not have any more babies. BOOM world peace here we come. Why didn’t I think of that?! Obviously women are already “tired”. Which is why women like Eve Ensler created V-Day, a global organisation which aims to end violence against women. And why the Suffragettes went on hunger-strikes and were force fed through tubes and sent to prisons for demanding equal rights and their democratic right to vote – you know, those basic rights white men generally get as a give-in. Women have been tired for a long time, but holding hands and having a fucking sing along is not going to end war or stop gender inequality.

During his interview with Oprah, Pharrell reflected on what he came to realise by co-writing a song like Blurred Lines,

“…what I learned out of that song was, man, I had a much bigger demographic so I instantly knew I wanted to make the album [GIRLS] I always wanted to make, which was devotion to a demographic that had been taking care of me and my family for over twenty years and that was women.”

Pharrell’s new Album GIRLS is a “…a tribute to women” he said and feels it comes from a feminist position, I think Pharrell could learn a thing or two from Beyonce when it comes to making an album from a “feminist position”. I understand Pharrell is trying to remove himself from the negative backlash the song Blurred Lines bought him but he is going about it the wrong way.

GIRLS is clearly about his devotion to women with the album cover depicting him and 3 women in bathrobes… apparently he knows how to devote himself to 3 women at once. But devotion in itself is some interesting language; words like “devotion” point to worshiping women or having them as your muse which creates its own inequality and power imbalance. I think Pharrell would really benefit from reading some literature on feminism before he opens his mouth again and starts talking about how amazing it is women can “make an egg”. Because the only power women have is to either give birth or get naked, apparently?

Just because you say you are a feminist does not make you one.

As my good friend John astutely pointed out while I was discussing this article with him, “declaring oneself to be ‘feminist’ or ‘standing for women’s rights’ is one thing. But a declaration itself is not enough. Anyone who considers themselves in favour of women’s rights has a responsibility to learn theory, and to use it to deconstruct patriarchal structures. Particularly men, who are benefited by a system of privilege that is invisible to them/us.”

John openly admits he used to wave the banners of feminism while objectifying and treating women pretty badly, but he came to the realisation that doing one thing does not absolve you of the other. He went on to say, “For men, this means introspection and self-critique, as well as examining the power-structures that benefit them as a class. The artists behind Blurred Lines can easily say that they are in favour of women’s rights. But their declarations do nothing to erode the patriarchy, while their actions continue to perpetuate rape culture.”

We do not need public figures like Pharrell coming out with their own brands of Feminism which are often really contradictory and shallow. We do not need them lifting the banners of equality for us – we do not need men to validate our voices. What we need are more men like John coming out with their own kind of masculinity – a response to the small “man box” men are expected to fit into. As Tony Porter in his ted talk called “A Call to Men” points out;

“Growing up we were taught: men had to be tough, we had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating; no pain; no emotion with the exception of anger. And defiantly no fear. That men are in charge, which means women are not… That men are superior; women are inferior. That men are strong; women are weak. That women are of less value; property of men. I’ve learnt to come to know this to be the socialisation of men, better known as “The Man Box”.

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“Man Box” image was created by university students at York University in Toronto

These socially pervasive beliefs and harmful binaries Tony speaks of rob and teach men to orphan some of the most powerful emotions they have; compassion, empathy and vulnerability. These pervasive social beliefs also work to create and maintain rape culture and violence against women, they lead to men like Pharrell and Thicke truly believing that by writing a song like Blurred Lines they are helping to “liberate” women – and worse still it leads to people agreeing with them!?!

We need less men declaring their allegiance to feminism and more men unpacking patriarchy and challenging toxic modes of masculinity. We desperately need to connect the conversations of toxic masculinity and violence and oppression against women.  As Elizabeth Plank points out, “gender ideals [gender policing] aren’t only damaging for women; they’re universally harmful.”

There are many men who are calling bullshit on patriarchy and misogyny, from Carlos Andres Gomez the spoken word poet who wrote the memoir, Man Up: reimagining manhood. In which he acknowledges his own past misogyny and how he has worked to change his behaviour, to Jeff Perera who works for White Ribbon in America who believes “…a missing and vital key toward inspiring healthy manhood and a new generation of men, is to teach them to walk the earth in a state of mindfulness.” And of course Tony and Sunil who I spoke about previously in this blog.

The more men who write and create “maps to manhood” and deconstruct and redefine what it can be, the more chance people like Pharrell and Thicke have of understanding that by writing then performing a song like Blurred Lines they are not helping women, they are furthering the oppression of them. While at the same time―perpetuating damaging ideals and stereotypes of manhood.

37 COMMENTS

  1. The women in the video were not completely naked. They were all wearing skin coloured G Strings.

    I know because I have checked out this video several times ( purely for research purposes, of course)

  2. Pharell should learn from Beyonce? So what, he should learn that the place of men is to ‘put a ring on it’?

  3. Yes, the video was pretty bad, but the furore about the song rests on a misreading of the same order of Reagan’s misreading of “Born in the USA”.

    How do you expect to change people’s minds when you can’t even parse pop song lyrics?

  4. I’m not well versed with music nowadays, just not “with it” and what I hear is not my cup of tea. But I am aware of Pharrell through Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, I found some songs quite appealing due to the contribution of Nile Rodgers and that sound reminiscent of the 70’s. Pharrell’s singing was complementary. While the music’s sound is good, the lyrics are terribly shallow.

    I understand Pharrell furthered his success with some other collaborative works. I guess the success went to his head and revealed his true colours with this crap he’s been producing and talking. Hear some music critics regard his music as shallow and lacking innovation, so I wouldn’t expect much from his brand of “feminism”.

    I totally agree that masculinity and power structures need to be reassessed and actions speak louder than words. A good example of how wayward masculinity can be today is demonstrated with men who take steroids and “king-hits”, a projection of power through a muscular image and a disproportionate response using extreme force to settle a disagreement or misunderstanding. That type of “ideal” doesn’t bode well for women and society as a whole. How about expressing oneself and understanding instead of bottling-up issues and pent-up anger? The mentality of some men I suspect are beyond the point of no return in regards to treating women or others as equals, such is their sense of traditional entitlement. Enlightening youth makes for a better future, but entertainment that makes old stereotypes look in vogue seriously backtracks on any progress.

    This current system makes token gestures towards addressing social injustice, however the injustices still lurk amongst us in an evolved form. Hearing from those with two-faces make a vain attempt to appear enlightened and then deny any injustices exist today is the pinnacle of absurdity. Who’s stupid enough to believe social injustices dating centuries or millennia have disappeared because about thirty years ago an economic system with a reactionary core was introduced? Today is all about the power-hungry furthering and protecting their privilege at the expense of others.

  5. I am so sick of “pop culture”. Every person in a video gets objectified, male and female. Its demeaning and so boring. Where’s the fun and excitement when nothing is left to the imagination, when there is no mystery or chance of a serendipitous delight? Makes me glad to be old enough to have had romance in the years before video “porn”. Don’t get me started on the lyrics and language, its so dumbed down, sexist, violent, stereotyping, dull dull dull.

      • That figure of 96%, where is the research for it? All instances in a google search seem to reference back to Laci Green a feminist blogger who calls herself a “sexuality geek” and she does not cite the source or research for the 96% figure.

        There must be a vast number of images on the net, print and TV, how would anyone go about analyzing enough of it, decide for each individual image what category it belonged to, and come out with an exact figure like 96%? That would have to be a massive research project to undertake.

          • and errrrrrrrrr really? Yeah of course it was a massive research project how do you think we get any stat? Like say how many women will experience rape or sexual assault BOOM 1 in 4. Jesus *facepalm*.

              • You did not link the 96% claim to any research.

                You link to a TED talk by the feminist Heldman who asserts the claim with no reference to research or a source – her own or

                anybody else.

                Laci Green makes the 96% claim without referring to any research or source – Heldman is not cited.

                Any google result on the figure produces only a reference back to assertions by Ms Heldman or Ms Green, not to any kind of

                research project.

                “and errrrrrrrrr really? Yeah of course it was a massive research project how do you think we get any stat?”

                Great, so you could give a link to this research project or source or some kind of summary of it, other than another

                feminist making an unreferenced assertion on youtube?

                That 1 in 4 claim comes from a 1985 Ms Magazine about USA campus students. How is this suppose to apply to all countries or

                even just Western ones? Or even to USA national figures? Does this 1985 stat apply today – anywhere?

                The definition of ‘sexual assault’ was so inclusive and the questions so ambiguous in that survey that only 27% of the

                supposed rape victims believed they were raped. 42% of them continued to have sexual relations with their supposed

                attacker.

                The reality is that 1 in 4 stat is inaccurate and is misused.

  6. I agree, looking into the masculine identity is a must when looking into feminism. We can challenge the lyrics of Blurred Lines because it was a massively popular song, but there are many songs out there with a similar message – if not worse. Women don’t control what is popular in mainstream music, men do. So it is inevitable that songs like this will continue to prop up and feminists will critique against it – it is an ongoing vicious cycle. However, we can’t discount Pharrell as being a misogynist, as you have written in the article, men need to unpack their masculine modes driven through patriarchy – so in my opinion, Pharrell is on the way to unlocking a real respect for women. Perhaps his album cover with women in robes is contradictory to what he has said in his interview with Oprah, but he’s in the music industry. I doubt any of his album covers have been a fair representation of the image he has wanted to portray.
    Lets leave room for men to breathe as they come into a new way of thinking where women are their equals and not their possessions.

    • Go ahead.

      All the Blurred Lines controversy did was make the feminist movement look illiterate. Y’all could have actually listened properly.

  7. And then I open this page and see a golliwog avatar in the throws of masturbation. Goodbye, Daily Blog. If I wanted that crap, I’d join the Wail Army.

  8. As my good friend John astutely pointed out while I was discussing this article with him, “declaring oneself to be ‘feminist’ or ‘standing for women’s rights’ is one thing. But a declaration itself is not enough. Anyone who considers themselves in favour of women’s rights has a responsibility to learn theory, and to use it to deconstruct patriarchal structures.

    Anyone who is in favour of women’s rights would do well to run a mile from the “theory”, which is risible French nonsense used to trick the feebleminded into thinking they’ve discovered something profound.

    Many intellectually sophisticated people would love to support equal rights, but they don’t see why they ought to be indoctrinated into continental pseudo-philosophy to do so.

    • I agree, Post Modernism/Deconstructionism is a useless “philosophy”. It was never taken seriously in the philosophy department when I went through uni, but was and still dominates in the Comparative Literature, Wymmins Studies, Post Colonial Studies type courses where there is little intellectual rigor but plenty of dogmatism.

      • “I agree, Post Modernism/Deconstructionism is a useless “philosophy”. It was never taken seriously in the philosophy department when I went through uni”

        To be fair, that probably legitimises postmodernism/poststructuralism more than anything. NZ universities are hardly well known for their philosophy.
        But each to their own. I find analytical philosophy leads me to making simplified assumptions about complex realities – and in the end it perpetuates more problems than it solves. I find the dogmatists are always looking through an analytical philosophy lens, rather than via continental philosophy.
        I dunno what you’ve been reading, but the postcolonial stuff I’ve read is the antithesis of dogmatism – the whole school of thought emerged in response to dogmatism. Maybe try some more reading?

        • Actually to be fair, it is a credit to any philosophy department that doesn’t take PoMo seriously when it comes up with gems like “E=mc2 is a sexed equation” or claims that science is just another “story” no more true or valid than shamanism or Intelligent Design “stories”. Very poor philosophy indeed, it really doesn’t deserve to be called philosophy – sophistry would be a more fitting term.

          Noam Chomsky in an interview describes the rise of PoMo and how the rot spread from Paris to the rest of the West. In the 70s the Leftist Intellectuals were infatuated with Maoism and Stalinism, especially those based in Paris. But the Left intellectuals were forced to dump these ideologies in the face of the fanaticism, atrocities, and mass murder occurring in China and the Soviet Union. Virtually overnight they suddenly started spouting PoMo nonsense.

          As part of the History of Philosophy, the continental stuff is interesting, but otherwise has proved to be a Fail eg Marxism.Philosophy generally is in a malaise presently and PoMo is a symptom of that.

          As for me needing to read PoMo, as Noam Chomsky points out, behind the incomprehensible meaningless jargon of PoMo are a few simple truisms like “gays aren’t treated very nicely” or “racism is wrong”. Hardly ground breaking, insightful, innovative stuff.

          • …and we have a Chomsky critique of theory and continental philosophy…how predictable.
            Chomsky is a nice guy, and got a big brain on him, but it’s a shame he doesn’t put it to use. Chomsky is hardly a philosopher, he’s just a walking Wikipedia…and since we all have wiki in our pockets now, and can look up any statistic in two minutes, people like Chomsky are now redundant.
            Chomsky is bitter that technology makes him more or less pointless these days.
            I guess I hang out in different circles because Marxist philosophy is not in a malaise at the moment, in fact it’s been building momentum all over the place – and only getting stronger. If you’re waiting for the return of the 1950s version of Marxism, it ain’t gonna happen.
            I’m not really sure why you’d bother to turn up on this page and display such irrational and ill-informed anger. Is your identity a white male Marxist?…if it is then I get the malaise comment

            • Interestingly you don’t actually rebut any of the points I or Chomsky make, instead engaging in character assassination. Seems you don’t know what philosophy actually is.

              These “circles” you “hang out in” are obviously Deconstructionist / PoMo echo chambers, where sophistry is practiced, not philosophy.

              • I’m not going to get into a Zizek-Chomsky styled debate with you.
                I agree that post-structuralist thought emerged from Paris. And some theorists had subscribed to Maoist/Stalinist communism…but not all, for example post-Marxists influenced by Gramsci and the Frankfurt school etc.
                The result of such a discussion would go nowhere. You’d continue to wave your old white cock around proudly as you rant on with your reductive drivel. That’s not something I want to engage with sorry.

                I never attacked Chomsky’s character – I just said he offers little more than wikipedia does. That’s not an insult. Look through your previous comments to find the character assassinations, then maybe sign up to an anger management support groups.

                Your process of simplification is insanely boring. Most of us moved on from that years ago. You’ll catch up, just keep reading

  9. err pretty sure it is a good move to do your research in relation to topics or movements you have an interest in. Reading books and articles is a good thing. I tell no lies. O_0

  10. Looks like the feminist Laci Green got herself in a whole lot of trouble with her blogging. Some of her fellow Social Justice Warriors turned on her with accusations of transphobia and Islamophobia. Despite her desperate attempts to clarify and apologise she was bullied and hounded off tumblr. She received death threats with pictures of her apartment.

    I almost feel sorry for her. Almost.

    That’s why I have moved away from the Left, it has been poisoned by the toxicity of PoMo / Identity Politics with crazy SJWs acting like a Red Guard on the internet.

    • yeah I have been reading about that, personally as someone who has a lot of friends in the LBGTCQ community who talk to me a lot about the prejudices they have to endure, I am not overly cool with anyone who shows those prejudices. I cited Laci Green because she is a well known and by alot of people, respected person. Many journalists and bloggers often say dumb shit without realizing it, John Pilger for example is incredibly misogynistic but he gets a lot less shit about it.

      I think it is interesting people are ripping apart my stats or basically telling me women have equal rights now (wow you got to be some kind of stupid to believe that shit) and not discussing toxic masculinity or any of the other points I raised that desperately need informed intelligent conversation.

      • oh and most female journalists/bloggers often get death threats esp. if they write on topics like feminism, women’s rights, ect. they are often the targets of cybersexism and cyberbullying, Laurie Penny has spoken out about it a fair bit (she even wrote a book on it). Many people who write in defense and for Palestine also receive death threats it really depends what you lend your pen to.

        • …and p.s most people have said ignorant/sexist/racist/phobic shit at some point in their lives, a lot of the comments on here are shining examples of inherent sexism the only difference if you not not receive death threats, threats of violence and other shit. Those actions are just as bad as Laci Green saying dumb transphobic/islamophobic stuff. Call people on their bullshit but do not threaten their safety or their lives. Because two wrongs certainly do not make a right.

          • You are missing the point.

            Poor Ms Green was the victim of a witch hunt by the Social Justice Warriors. Her desperate efforts to appease the mob and assure them she was one of them only enraged them further, until she fled the internet to escape the bulling and death threats. Psycho stuff.

            This is reminiscent of the Marxist derived Maoist Cultural Revolution where “denunciation meetings” and “struggle sessions” were held and victims humiliated, tortured publicly and forced to confess to “counter revolutionary” thoughts and acts, or of being “capitalist roaders”.

            Lucky the mob that attacked Laci don’t have that power but they have exactly the same state of mind.

            Of course the usual appeal to emotion is employed to rationalise it – “We are fighting oppression! We are fighting for Social Justice!”

      • “I think it is interesting people are ripping apart my stats”

        That is interesting because I have been trying repeatedly to reply to your defense of the 96% claim above but whoever is moderating is not allowing me to reply. Again the 96% is from where? – no research cited, just assertions on youtube. You got serious problems with your 1 in 4 stat too.

        And then you make an appeal to emotion, apparently no one is allowed to question the robustness of the stats you present because you are fighting a good war against oppression or something.

        “[issues] that desperately need informed intelligent conversation.”

        You aren’t going to get informed conversation using dubious stats.

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