Yesterday, my sister drew my attention to this video on YouTube. Watch it all the way through, if you can bear it.
My sister works as a therapist, counselling children and young adults. She views this song as one of the many reasons why she still sees so many female clients come to her who have been victims of sexual assault or abuse (something that’s been in the headlines a great deal in the UK recently following the Jimmy Savile scandal).
Unsurprisingly, the video itself has caused a great deal of controversy over what’s appropriate to show in a music video. Most of the women/models used in the video wear clear plastic clothing over their visible underwear, and in one brief shot a model is shown naked (although this has been significantly edited in the YouTube version you’ve just watched).
Sadly, conforming to the adage that “no publicity is bad publicity” the song has instantly become popular and is tipped to reach number one this week in the UK charts, having hit that slot in Australia last month. Robin Thicke himself, in interviews, has come across as smug and jokey, claiming that the song and the video are meant to be taking off and making fun of the culture of “I know you want it” (one of the main lines in the song) and men being derogatory to women. In an interview with GQ, talking about the uncensored video (which I refuse to link to on this blog as it really is too disgusting) he says:
“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, “We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.” People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound entirely like a joke to me. What a “pleasure” it is to degrade women? Men are “always gonna want to follow” women around? And the fact that they are all married with kids does not make it OK for him to say these things or depict them in a song. Because songs like this are dangerous.
As adults, we can choose to believe Robin Thicke and decide that this song/video is “ironic” and a joke. In fact, judging by the comments on the YouTube video, a lot of people, including women, believe this. When I wrote a comment objecting to the video (which you can still see – I wrote it in my own name) I got two replies, both simply saying “you’re an idiot”, and both from men.
However, if this song does reach number one, it will be heard incessantly by young people, some very young children. It’s inevitable – we won’t be deliberately exposing them to it, but they can’t help but hear it: on the radio in the car, at home, even in shops and supermarkets. The repeated phrase “I know you want it”, which is catchy (I’m singing it in my head right now) will enter the brains of young girls and boys. It will become part of the bombardment of words and images which surround them, telling them that all women should be “hot” and “want it” and men just can’t help but “follow around” beautiful women.
Our seven-year-old granddaughter already worries about getting fat. She spends a long time when she gets dressed in the morning (at least as far as I’ve seen when she’s been visiting us) looking in the mirror to make sure her hair and face look “pretty”.
She’s seven. SEVEN.
All the adults in her life do our best to make sure she knows that how she looks is not the most important thing about her. We tell her she can have that ice-cream or cake. We praise her for how clever she is, what a good artist she’s turning out to be, what good reports she gets from school. But everything and virtually everyone else around her is telling her “look pretty”, “don’t get fat”; that appearance is everything.
The children and young adults who my sister counsels are not rare. The UK children’s charity, the NSPCC reports that nearly a quarter of young adults (that’s 25% of the young adult population in the UK, both male and female) will have experienced some form of sexual abuse during childhood. More than 17,000 cases were reported in England and Wales in 2011/12.
And it gets worse. The charity Rape Crisis, which helps adult victims of rape, reports that approximately 85,000 women are raped in the UK every year and over 400,000 are sexually assaulted. That’s one in every five women. Virtually every female family member or friend that I have has experienced some form of sexual assault by a man during her lifetime, including me.
And it’s not just women. A national charity set up to help male survivors of sexual abuse, SurvivorsUK, typically receives over 2,500 calls each year to its helpline, and that number is rising as more men find out about it and are willing to admit what has happened to them.
I believe that songs and videos like Robin Thicke’s, although possibly well-intentioned and meant to be light-hearted, are fuelling a culture of sexual exploitation and violence which exists more openly than ever in our society. For as long as we have been able to have sex, men and women have sexually assaulted other men and women (and children). The problem now is that the increasing “pornification” of our society and the rise in songs, videos, TV programmes and films which promote violence and the degrading of both women and men, means that this problem is rising.
Sexual assault and rape are a life-sentence for their victims. I hope we can teach our children that to make fun of this is not cool and it’s not funny. Then, hopefully, songs and videos such as this will become a thing of the past.