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The Ban on Blurred Lines


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Edinburgh's daring decision to ban the ubiquitous summer hit has pushed other universities to follow suit in a move to clamp down on lad culture.

The chart-topper that has boomed through stereos and musical channels alike will echo no more in student unions in Derby, Leeds, Edinburgh and now possibly the University of the West of Scotland.

Thicke’s single, whose controversial lyrics veer from the uncomfortable repetition of "I know you want it" to the overtly offensive "I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two", has been deemed inappropriate by student associations eager to purge on-campus sexism.

Many have been vocal in their support of this measure to address misogyny. According to Holly O’Connor, the president of the University of Derby’s student union, most students agree that a song that decries the "blurred lines" between consent and assault has no place at a progressive student union: "All the students I've spoken to are really offended by the song because it promotes rape and lad culture."

"We wanted to take a stance and say that it is not acceptable to objectify women in such a way. The song suggests there are blurred lines in sexual consent and obviously there are not. It's important that our venues are all safe spaces, which is why we chose to ban the song."

However, others have denounced the ban as a hysterical overreaction by ardent "feminidiots", a term coined by Tab writer Michael Marra. In a tirade that likened the ban to both fascism and Kevin Bacon classic Footloose, Marra upheld that the song did not promote a non-reciprocal and aggressive sexuality, arguing that “this song is about flirting and sex, something with which most feminists are clearly unfamiliar, but that’s OK.”

Although there is a tendency to balk at the mention of banning things: from pornography, video games to lads’ mags, in this case a myopic and loosely defined overemphasis on freedom can neglect the issue that underpins student unions stopping playing ‘Blurred Lines’: sexual assault is endemic and freshers’ week sexism rife. In England and Wales, a staggering one in five women (aged 16 - 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. 

While I would not argue that songs like ‘Blurred Lines’ are the cause of such attacks, they do hold up a mirror to our permissive attitudes towards violence against women. According to Rape Crisis only 15% of women who experience sexual assault go to the police due to fears of not being believed. Sadly, the song and the video are undeniably degrading: Thicke gleefully acknowledges this in a morally chequered admission to GQ in which he confesses that it was “a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I've never gotten to do that before.”

The chart topping single faced further criticism this week following the explosion of interest in Project Unbreakable which features images of survivors of sexual assault holding posters on which they quoted their aggressors. Harrowingly, many posters contained the central refrain “I know you want it” used as a justification by attackers, some even calling their victims “good girls.”

Although the intention of ‘Blurred Lines’ would not have been to legitimise rapists’ actions, it does recycle a harmful discourse and hearing it played in a student union could be triggering for victims. By repeating a justification for taking action when a woman appears uninterested, it confuses the importance of consent and promotes an unhealthy image of female sexuality.

Perhaps banning a song from club nights may seem severe but it is simply an issue of appropriateness; how suitable is a song that uses justifications extracted from the mouths of rapists in a student union?

Although ‘Blurred Lines’ itself is not the problem, it is symptomatic of a larger struggle with rape culture and the ever muddy waters of consent. Not playing a song that promotes an unequal sexual dynamic that both figuratively and literally, in the case of the video, strips women of sexual agency is merely acknowledging that it is an inappropriate song choice at a student’s union, which should aim to make female students feel at ease.

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