Who You Callin’ A Bitch Or A Ho? Why I Hate “Blurred Lines”

Emily R

By Elizabeth Shore

I’m going to state right up front that my opinion about the song “Blurred Lines” may be in the minority. After all, it spent twelve weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, so obviously there are folks bopping along to the catchy beat and thinking it’s a fun little summer tune. But you know what? It’s not. Go ahead and call me crazy, but in my book a song that includes the line, “I”ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” isn’t a light ditty about female empowerment and liberation – as some defenders have claimed.

If you read the song’s lyrics – and I did, several times – it suggests that women are simply befuddled, sex-crazed objects who have no idea what they want.  As the song says, we try to be “good girls,” but what we don’t realize is that we’re actually just lustful nymphomaniacs. Who knew! Over and over Robin Thicke chants, “I know you want it,” before going on to say:

But you’re a good girl/The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty/Go ahead, get at me.

Oh, those pesky “blurred lines.” They make it so darn difficult to tell the difference between a woman who’s saying no and meaning it, versus a woman who says no and doesn’t mean it! Egad, how’s a hot-blooded male supposed to tell the difference? Women are just sex-crazed animals, according to the song, and we don’t know what the hell we want. To wit:

OK now he was close/tried to domesticate you/But you’re an animal, baby/It’s in your nature

Yeah, that’s it. We’re animals. We just want to f**k incessantly – it’s in our nature! You know what else we are? Depending on which version of the song you hear – either the unrated or the “clean” one – we’re either the hottest “bitch” or “ho” in the place, Aww, you  mean it? I’m blushing. Thanks, Robin.

For all that I despise about the song, the video is just as bad. This features Robin Thicke and his male posse with their clothes on, catcalling and ogling the nearly naked women prancing around them. Nearly naked, that is, except for their tiny thongs and occasional strips of clear plastic – yes, plastic – wrapped around them. My favorite shot is the tiny stop sign perched above one model’s pert butt. Why so tiny? Because, as Elizabeth Plank points out in her excellent article on Policymic, “sometimes stop really just means go.” We want it, remember? Don’t forget, ho is shorthand for whore.

In case I had any doubt as to whether I just wasn’t getting the true meaning behind the song and video, Robin Thicke has set me straight. In a GQ interview he admits that he tried to degrade women. Yes indeedy. Thicke says “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory toward women.” To drive home his point he makes certain we know that the video was directed by a woman. So . . . what? Does that somehow imply that it’s been “blessed” by the rest of womankind because one of us chose to direct it? Last time I checked, director Diane Martel had not been appointed our spokesperson.

Thicke has since done some furious backpeddling after the GQ interview came out, saying that what he said was taken out of context and what didn’t come across is the fact that he was joking. People, c’mon! It’s just a funny joke, right? The thing is, though, I don’t see anything blurry about lack of sexual consent. As I pointed out in a Lady Smut post a couple of weeks ago, lack of consent is clearly defined: it’s called rape.

But let’s not let Mr. Thicke get the last word here. For that I leave it up to the Law Revue girls and their hilarious parody. Please remember to follow us, and enjoy!

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  • Madeline Iva
    October 16, 2013 at 7:53 am

    There is something so uneasy about this video that aims at being easy. I wasn’t sure if it was Robin Thick being such a big fame ho himself or what. Thanks for setting me straight.

    Although…putting on my devil’s advocate hat, I was talking with DH just the other night about the straightforward simplicity of a guy’s tv show–say Entourage–and the kinda crazy that Girls or it’s older aunt Sex & The City used to deliver.

    While in Entourage they know what they want, it’s hard to get, they celebrate their successes and console each other in their down points — in Sex & The City and Girls both shows CLEARLY demonstrate that sometimes women just don’t know what they want.

    Which sort of drives me crazy, because guys get hurt in the process, but that doesn’t seem to matter. (Shrug.) Just another way in which the war of the sexes seems to include a LOT of blindness…on both sides.

    • C. Margery Kempe
      October 16, 2013 at 7:56 am

      I don’t know that media representations of genre have much to do with reality. Sex & The City doesn’t represent any women I know.

      • Madeline Iva
        October 16, 2013 at 8:02 am

        Well, when people look up to those characters, when they find them glamorous and aspire to be like them, then it can affect reality. And I do know women (and guys too) who ‘think they could do better’, who cheat, who leave a string of broken hearts behind them…I guess what confounds me is that because this is how some women I know behave, the women in romances seem a little too squeaky clean and virgin-ish. Yet on tv, their behavior of men can be so brutal. BUT in real life (a la the video) men can be so brutal…I just don’t hang with those guys or know where they lurk in my neighborhood.

  • C. Margery Kempe
    October 16, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I just hate it for the rapey-ness.

    • Madeline Iva
      October 16, 2013 at 8:04 am


      Meanwhile, CMK, here we are wrangling in the comments section again. I am a feminist, but I have a particular kind of feminism that I practice and preach.

      I see this song as rich in ambiguity and I like that. I don’t like old school patriarchy that put things into cut and dried boxes and I don’t like it when feminism does the same thing. I don’t like it when romance does the same thing.

      Of course I don’t like rapey–but I see that particular line as drawn from rap. It makes me roll my eyes–because while there are awesome things about rap, there’s a lot of rape-y ho blah blah blah. But I still think that’s what Thick is referencing. Moving on.

      When he was laughing about how derogatory the video was, I think he was probably being honest, and surprised that it was so absurdly derogatory. At the same time that’s what it took to get him noticed.

      Ultimately, I think that a lot of us are on the same page. Why isn’t adultery okay in romance? Why are some kinds of kinky romance embraced by print publishers and some not? A lot of us reader want more blurred lines. I WANT blurred lines–it’s just that I’m so hungry for them when I get them in a version I don’t like (where the girl just blatantly hurts a guy or a guy just blatantly hurts a woman for no good reason) I feel very frustrated.

  • Author Charmaine Gordon
    October 16, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Long ago there was a song and your post brings it to mind. “First you say you will and then you won’t; then you say you will and then you won’t; I’m out of mind and what am I gonna do? WTF kind of stupid lyrics are these. Of course it’s gotten a lot more blatant and disgusting. Performers get away with everything they want. Will there ever be a return to great lyrics and music? Or has the dumbing down of America gone too far. Thanks for another terrific post, Elizabeth.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 16, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      Ha ha! I think I know that song. Yes, for good or bad (or both!) things are definitely much more blatant these days.

  • C. Margery Kempe
    October 16, 2013 at 9:49 am

    It’s not just a matter of gender politics (somehow typed ‘genre’ instead above). It continues what my friend Carol and I call “Pat Booneing”: white, mainstream, corporate culture appropriating and usually blandifying traditionally black music. The same objections to the Miley performance were vastly overshadowed by slut-shaming.

    The bottom line in popular culture is that women ‘do everything’ wrong.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 16, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Naturally. Because we’re confused about what we really want. Argh!

  • Kiersten Hallie Krum
    October 16, 2013 at 10:26 am

    No discussion of Blurred Lines should fail to include this:


  • Kiersten Hallie Krum
    October 16, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I first heard Blurred Lines when Thicke and Pharrel performed it on the Graham Norton Show. There was no rap and I absolutely loved it. Why? The beat. The naughty. The fun. Yes, it was fun. I knew nothing of nekkid videos and took the lyrics with “good girl” not to be rapey but rather to be acknowledging the dichotomy between wanting or having been taught to be a “good girl” (as my conservative Christian upbringing taught me) and blurring the lines between that and getting what you want and/or claiming your sexual power, behavior which is often not classified as “good” for a woman especially in our current society.

    I think a person’s opinion of this song is very much tied to their world view/upbringing/ personal experience. The rape context of rapist using many of those same words on their victims i.e. “just take it like a good girl. you know you want it” would and did not occur to me until someone pointed it out because my life-experience doesn’t automatic drive me there (thank God), My correlation is about struggling beneath the constraints of conservative religious expectations and concepts/valuations of “good”.

    For the record, I find the “ho!” replacement for “bitch” in the radio edit version amusing as I genuinely believe that it’s meant more as a “whoo hoo!” exclamation than an abbreviation for “whore” and the fact that it does indeed call to mind “whore” for (almost) everyone who hears it (it did for me) is an ironic side-effect of trying to backpedal and censor the wrong part of the song as though the use of “bitch” is the main problem.

    Then I bought the song and, for the first time, heard the rap, which is unequivocally abusive to women and I was appalled. For me, it changes just about everything that could be ambiguous about the song, or interpreted according to personal relation and experience, and moves it straight into the “oh no they didn’t” realm. I find it interesting that this section was removed from the pop station I listen to here in the tri-state NYC area (though you cannot buy the song without the rap which is quite telling in itself) but when I drove back and forth to Georgia over Labor Day Weekend and it was played on Southern pop stations, the rap was included every time. I was actually shocked to hear it and it made me wonder as to the regional implications of what was and was not acceptable to play – “bitch” was still replaced with “ho” even as the rapper talk about raping the woman’s ass.

    This is why I posted the Jimmy Fallon video above. The Roots rewrote the rap and it shows how a man who truly respects and loves women can redeem this song.

    • Madeline Iva
      October 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Obviously the way radio/video and media are dealing with this song shows so much of the blurred lines in our culture right now. We want to…well, not go there…but step out of the box we “good girls” feel like we’re trapped in. And this is what I LOVE about erotic romance. We’re sailing new seas here, women, figuring it all out. So happy to be mates with y’all!

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      You make some really interesting points, Kiersten, and I have to smile about the radio censorship thing because I so agree. As if changing bitch to ho neatly takes care of any and all issues with the song.

      As I said privately to fellow writers, I’m open to other opinions. The truth is, I DO find it catchy, despite my objections to the lyrics and video. And the video you posted above is hilarious. 🙂

      BTW, see you at the Jersey conference!

  • elfahearn
    October 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Was that the song Miley Cyrus was flinging herself around the stage for during the MTV awards?

  • Kayla Lords
    October 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I’m going to be in a VERY small minority here, but as a sexual submissive who lives the Dominance and submission (D/s) lifestyle, I actually like the lyrics because in a strange way I can relate. Do I think that song was written with people like me in mind? Not really. It was sort of cool to think that maybe Robin Thicke is a Dominant man who would say those things to his submissive, but we will probably never know since that kind of thing is VERY taboo in public (no matter how popular 50 Shades was and is).

    While I understand that for the public at large, this could be interpreted as demeaning – I won’t even argue that point, because if you’re not a “D” talking to your “s” (or whatever kinky lifestyle you live) then it is demeaning.

    But for someone of my personal persuasion, hearing words set to a catchy tune on the radio that I would normally only hear behind closed doors is actually pretty cool.

    My two cents for what it’s worth – and yes, I know I’m in the minority. 🙂

    • Madeline Iva
      October 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      So glad you joined us and commented! There’s a bit of a shiver factor to the song lyrics for a lotta women—and we welcome all sides of a discussion. 🙂

    • Elizabeth Shore
      October 16, 2013 at 10:02 pm

      Hi Kayla! You bring up an interesting point about *why* you like the song as you relate to it in your world. Good stuff and much food for thought. Thanks for stopping by!


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