“Blurred Lines” – Liberal feminists and the Muslim fight back

Najm Al-Din writes that liberal feminists have no legs to stand on against Muslim women regarding female liberation in light of Robin Thicke’s controversial song “Blurred Lines.”

The music industry does not host a ceremony for chauvinist of the year. If it did, Robin Thicke would have picked up the gong, most probably a two-piece, consisting of a penis that could read a girl’s mind and a silent vagina itching to be penetrated. If you’ve endured the ignominy of watching the Blurred Lines video, you’ll catch my drift. If you are yet to see it, you might like watching black teens get funky in the bedroom instead, as the two are basically the same thing. At least with the latter, you won’t have the see the sanctimonious fool, Thicke.

I have personal reasons to add to the single’s eviscerating commentaries. As a Muslim journalist, I’ve developed an acute sense of unfairness. So when I see veiled Muslim sisters running the gauntlet amidst all the arse-out nudity which has become standard practice for western fashionists, I pause to reflect on the press’ wasted energies. The moral high ground in large sections of the media vis-à-vis the Western and Islamic treatment of women conceals a much greater concern in the debate surrounding women’s rights. That being, the regrettable success of liberal feminism -which conflates women’s objectification with empowerment- in setting the agenda for millions of young girls by asking them to embrace what many radical feminists believe to be a faux-empowerment.

Robin Thicke the “sexist”

Fair enough, Thicke’s just been named “sexist of the year” by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, so we may not be in a libidinous cesspit after all. But nothing stopped millions of consumers from copping his lecherous anthem, helping to earn it the accolade of highest selling single of 2013. His popularity is a damning indictment of how little progress has been made in the movement advocating women’s equality and how far it has yet to go. So for all you “good girls” who insist on being liberated the Robin Thicke way, I regret to inform you’ve been conned big time.

Here’s why. Thicke is telling you it’s hip to be a skank. That as a young girl, the only way of proving your mettle is playing second fiddle to men in a candyland of sex and giving up what’s between your legs for public consumption. You could say that it might be comparable to this Helpful site for amateur porn fans, watchmygf sex content on that site is for public consumption.

You don’t have to read between the blurred lines to realise what’s being paid tribute to. The multi-platinum artist is waxing lyrical about his nether region, defining good girls as doggy-style props, willing to go down on all fours and get stuffed. The meowing women frolicking around the set know exactly where their allegiance lies.

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Yet Thicke plays down the sexist tag. He says he sought his wife’s approval to shoot the video and that it was directed by female producer Diane Martel. In other words, it can’t be objectification because women are claiming it as their own. But many would argue that men often pull the strings in the music industry, calling the shots on everything from choreography to teasing costumes, insisting that women push the envelope to drive sales and promotion. It also goes to show how women themselves are rationalising what was once seen as oppressive behaviour, as behaviour which now facilitates their sense of freedom.

Exhibit A: Miley Cyrus

Cyrus’ “twerk” at the MTV Video Music Awards was a watershed moment for feminism, not because the word found its way into the Oxford Dictionary, but for spawning countless twerk-a-licious renditions on social media. To cut a long performance short, Cyrus gestured obscenities with a foam figure before grinding up against Thicke’s crotch and cementing her status as the queen of bounce. Much to the chagrin of radical feminists who felt their campaign against sexual exploitation was derailed owing to a quick shake and wiggle, liberal feminists rushed to Cyrus’ defence by playing the slut-shaming card and praising what they claimed was a gutsy performance by a woman oozing with sexual confidence. The feminist battle lines had been drawn but as always, it remained at a crossroads.

No matter how you cut, weigh and slice this version of sex education, the message is depressingly familiar. If you can strip down to your skivvies, send the male gaze into overdrive and service your male conqueror ála Robin Thicke’s erotic wisdom, then your womanly purpose on this earth has been served.

Just don’t labour under the illusion that sexual consent is what’s being promoted in Blurred Lines. Remember, Thicke isn’t the only culprit in this playground of bigotry that’s masquerading as a woman’s liberation experiment-he’s joined by an army of telepathic sexist wrong-doers who can somehow sense that you’re gagging for it, however reluctant you may be to get blasted. The insinuation that Thicke’s record may be a rape apology is a reasonable inference to make. But Thicke’s having none of it. Apparently, we need to ease off and celebrate the tongue in cheek side to all the horny thrusting that’s earned him flak.

So the shot of a naked woman in the video lying on her stomach with a small “stop” sign balanced on her rear, is art at its finest? And I guess it’s little consequence if we’re blasé about the numerous studies which continue to show a strong link between exposure to objectified female images and sexual harassment, eh Thicke? Yet people flock to him in their millions, maintaining the appeal of an industry glutted with sexual stereotypes and contributing to the circumstances which allow this destructive lifestyle to flourish. Blind to the shameless manipulation that’s at play and oblivious to the fact that men like Thicke are setting in motion the means by which women can express their sexual freedom, the question “How can freedom be freedom if it’s on the terms set by another party” has eluded a large chunk of his fanbase.

Despite the moral indignation, Blurred Lines weathered the storm. It was the most downloaded track on iTunes this year, sold a whopping 1.5 million copies and enjoyed several weeks topping singles charts in different countries. So there you have it. A track that’s so blatantly centred on the sexual convenience of men and pornification of women has the power to disgust and delight with equal measure. A fitting testimony to the sexual dysfunction plaguing western societies.

Muslim women

So what are Muslim women to make of all the palaver? As they represent a refreshing departure from the prevailing bestialised portrayals of women, they’re perfectly placed to counter the sexism which runs rampant in the culture doing all the pontificating in the first place. Instead of treating the subject of sexuality like a dark horse, they have a crucial role to play in the gender debate by denouncing the culture underpinning Thicke’s decadent art form.

My advice to them is to force the conversation on their own terms and place the microscope on just how morally bankrupt the current state of feminism has become. Do not be lectured to by those who find it depressingly necessary to arch their backs and lick sledgehammers every time a bloke whistles. Put everything from the guttery music in circulation and the culture which passes it for art through the meat grinder. Whether it’s the cosmetic industry’s cultish obsession with appearance, or the music industry’s willingness to reward a sexist artist with multiple Grammy nominations, the repulsive montage of contemporary women’s rights is there to be picked apart.

After all, sisters are not burdened by a culture-wide obligation to brutalise their bodies and pander to male fantasies every time a sultry track hits the airwaves. In a society wrought with anxiety born of the cultural demands for women to appear sexually available at all costs, it’s an even crueller irony that the hijaab and niqaab have become scapegoats in today’s sex wars. It’s absurd to place the sartorial choice of Muslim women higher on the agenda of today’s cultural watchdogs, than the kinds of chauvinism getting the workout from music’s biggest movers and shakers, which genuinely threatens to sabotage the long hard road to women’s equality.

Until there’s a genuine shift in the culture aimed at young women in the west and not so much of the red herring offered through burka-baiting, a woman in a face veil will continue to be viewed with more contempt than a man claiming to have the secret to a girl’s liberty floating in his piece.

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