Blurred Lines: the best-selling single of 2013, number one in fourteen countries and the fastest selling song in digital history. Why then has a record with such huge popularity been banned from playing in over 20 University Student Unions, including UCL, Edinburgh and Leeds, and should Cardiff University be the next to follow in their footsteps?
The reasons behind this censorship have received endless media coverage – when combined with the video especially (where a bunch of girls dance practically naked around a creepily fully clothed Thicke), the song’s lyrics have been deemed as sexist, misogynistic and demoralising to women. After its release in March, it’s been labelled online as ‘the rape song’, with the title ‘Blurred Lines’ alone conveying some controversial notions about sexual consent. But despite all this, do the Unions actual members agree with a ban?
When speaking to students about this issue, the general consensus is yes, the lyrics are offensive, sexist, even disgusting (something which it seems few can deny). But they do not at the same time believe them to be dangerous, and therefore do not think a ban is necessary – ‘If they played Eminem’s Stan in Solus, does it mean I’m going to attack a girl and put her in the boot of my car after the club shuts? I’m not going to sexually assault someone just because Blurred Lines is playing.’ – is the usual line of argument. They feel many popular songs contain lyrics that some would find offensive – why should Blurred Lines be treated differently?
Yet the truth of it is, sexual assault on women is such a prominent issue, and especially amongst students – that it cannot be brushed over or simplified in such a way. A survey conducted by the National Union of Students in 2010 revealed that one in four female students had been a victim of unwanted sexual behaviour. So why, when such a shockingly high percentage of the nation’s female students (and remember, this is the only the number of women who spoke up) have been through that experience, should we not be making every possible move available to us to reduce these kind of statistics? In most cases, the victim knew the attacker, which suggests they were also a student, members of these unions. What’s more, a third of the surveys participants said they felt unsafe when visiting their university buildings at night, because they were worried about being approached and intimidated. The track’s popularity regardless of the meaning of the lyrics is proof that the kind of attitude about the relationship and dynamic between men and women that the song suggests (i.e. women are voiceless objects who, without a doubt, ‘want it’) is accepted as the norm. Surely action must be taken against anything that contributes to the normalisation of such sexism and misogyny in today’s culture. Especially when this is a culture where there are students who feel threatened on a night out at their own Union.
All universities have a ‘duty of care’ towards their students and staff, meaning it owes to each of its members a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of those students and staff. This includes both psychological and physical safety and the Student Union should therefore be a place for its members to feel safe, happy, relaxed. What’s more, shouldn’t the University be a place where young people are educated, cultured, and develop as people? And how is listening to T.I. rap ‘I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two’ every Friday over a pint going to do this?
When speaking with my Grandmother on the subject, she was surprised to hear that Universities were taking such strong action against a sexist song, and told me that when she was at St Andrews University from 1957 to 1960, women were not even allowed to enter the Student’s Union without the invitation from a man. I suppose this is an indication of how far the UK has come in a short space of time, but this progress has to be continual so that in another fifty years’ time, equality between men and women is a fact, rather than remaining a concept. This feels unlikely when songs like this are met with such popularity.
A first year student at UCL, which banned the song from playing anywhere in union spaces and events last month, said she believes the release of the song (and the video) has actually done the UK a lot of good – ‘I think that it has resulted in the surfacing of problems people haven’t discussed, and showed that normal everyday people, although mostly female, are no longer putting up with this kind of crap.’ This is true – it has highlighted many issues surrounding the topic of sexism and sexual consent that normally do not receive enough attention. But in some ways it is hard to share her view when you hear the chants of ‘I know you want it’ from hundreds of students when it plays on a night out.
For me personally, it’s not so much about the actual song being on the DJs playlist. Banning one song from playing will not bring about significant change on its own. It’s more about if Cardiff’s Union followed suit in the ban, the University would send a powerful message to its students – the derogation of women in any form is a serious, current and relevant issue. And as the number of Universities who make a stand against it gets bigger, this message gets louder across the UK.
The National Student Union has made their opinion on this subject very clear – ‘We consider “Blurred Lines” to be deeply offensive and dangerous. It reinforces the shameful way sexual assault is often represented in the media and wider popular culture.’ They even state to ‘applaud all the other Students’ Unions that have taken this brave step and encourage others to do the same.’ – Cardiff, what exactly are you waiting for? It’s not going to ruin a person’s night because the track has not been played – it is much more likely to ruin a person’s night if it is. Why then should this ban be anything other than celebrated and encouraged?