Is everyone just overreacting? This time we don’t think so.
Robin Thicke’s no.1 single, Blurred Lines, has been banned from five UK university campuses by student unions because of its “distasteful lyrics and the fact that it excuses rape culture and objectifies women”.
It is not surprising people have an issue with the song’s lyrics. But it is the music video that has caused the biggest stir. It features attractive models wearing nothing but nude-coloured G-strings and sneakers, prancing around Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. – all of whom are fully clothed.
It is not only Thicke’s video that has been deemed “racy”. Miley Cyrus’s latest video, Wrecking Ball, has set tongues wagging because it shows her swinging naked on a wrecking ball.
She’s not the only one. Ricki-Lee’s newbie, Come and Get in Trouble with Me, features a 20-second sequence where she is completely naked save for gold body paint.
Mel B’s first single in eight years, released last week, For Once in My Life, sees her perform a striptease in the streets, all the way down to her underwear, before she goes out of shot to remove them.
There is nothing new about female celebs stripping down to their birthday suits for music videos; Britney Spears, Lady GaGa and Rihanna have been doing it for years.
So why do female singers feel the need strip for their film clips?
“I think part of the issue is that we are very much socialised to look at women – especially their bodies – as objects of consumption,” Professor John Scott of University of New England, who specialises in social issues regarding sex, told the Newsroom.
“Some of this material deliberately breaks with stereotypes regarding what is a ‘good woman’ or what is appropriate feminine behaviour – this is how it shocks.”
It is that shock factor that entices us – we want to click on the video to see what’s so shocking about it.
So how does it affect us as viewers?
“Many young women may read some of this stuff as empowering,” Dr Scott said. “What is interesting for me is not so much that women display themselves sexually, but how they are portrayed [for the viewer]. For example, are they portrayed as active agents or passive subjects? Feminists used to talk about the ‘male gaze’, which was the idea that cameras angles and shots predominantly adopted a male point of view.”
He has a good point. Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus’s film clips portray women in different lights. Miley claims she’s naked in her video to represent her vulnerability but is ultimately in control, whereas Robin Thicke’s models appear as submissive objects.
Most celebrities would agree with Miley for why they choose to strip down, but what about the women in men’s music clips? They can often be interpreted as mere accessories, like a piece of jewellery to be looked at and admired, but serving no real purpose.
Pitbull is a repeat offender in having women naked in his music videos, hanging all over him. But he is one of many. Is this teaching women that getting your kit off is the way to get a guy to notice you?
“I think it is hard to say what people take from such imagery. Some of the imagery may certainly reinforce sexist ideas regarding women to draw an audience,” Dr Scott said.
But that doesn’t mean male viewers of these clips agree with the creators.
As Dr Scott points out, “these clips often run counter to idealised notions of femininity and it may be that more men are disturbed by this stuff at the end of the day”.
Where does this leave us for the future?
“I do think we need to be careful and draw a line on anything that denigrates or humiliates women as women,” Dr Scott said. – Heba Dandachi
Top photo from Pat David’s Flickr photostream. Screenshots from YouTube