Why You Should Vote ‘Yes’ In The ‘Blurred Lines’ Referendum

On Thursday 7th November, Union Council voted to hold a referendum on whether to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ from being played in Union premises. I am the Union of UEA Students’ Women’s Officer and I made the decision to propose a ban on the song for many reasons, but mainly because women students, my constituents whose welfare I am constitutionally bound to protect, had come to me and told me that the song made them feel unsafe. You can read the full details of the motion I proposed to Council on the Union’s website (ueastudent.com). This is the speech I gave to Council explaining why the song should be banned. I urge you to read it and vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum on this issue. Because women students have the right to feel safe in Union venues and, as Women’s Officer, I will do everything in my power to protect that right.

“As a Students’ Union, I am proud of our values on the need for sexual consent, and I’m proud of the work we do to create a safe environment for our students. We have the right to choose what we play in our venues, based on its reflection on our values. We are not stopping students from purchasing Robin Thicke’s record, or listening to it elsewhere. We simply choose not to play it in the LCR or student-run media. Following the recent successful motion to play Livewire in Union premises, this policy will make it easier to control what is played in our Union premises.

This song contributes to rape culture and its normalisation on our campus. What is rape culture, you may ask? Rape culture is the condoning and normalising of physical, emotional, and sexual violence against women and girls and marginalized subjects. It is the production and maintenance of an environment where sexual assault is so normative that people ultimately believe that rape is inevitable. 1 in 7 women students have been the victim of serious physical or sexual violence. 1 in 4 women students who have been assaulted said it had a negative impact on their studies. The rape conviction rate in England is 6%, which is only for the rapes that are reported – which are in a minority. Still today when women are raped, the first thing they are asked if what they were wearing or what they were drinking. That is rape culture. We live in a rape culture.

There are no ‘blurred lines’ about consent. Let’s be clear, Council, the lyrics of this song trivialise the need for consent and promote the normalisation of themes of sexual violence against women. The language used in the song mirrors that of sexual predators and rapists, and has been documented by rape survivors as being the exact words their rapist used. This Union upholds the need for sexual consent and the need for a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, and would look like a hypocrite if it continued to actively support this song’s message through playing it in our venues. The right of people to use the language of rapists should not take precedence over the right of our students to feel safe in our venues. We are a Students’ Union that recognises that ‘no’ means ‘no’, victim-blaming is never okay, and that rape is not ‘blurry’.

The first Student Union to choose not to play ‘Blurred Lines’ was Edinburgh, followed by Derby, University of West Scotland, University of London – the largest Student Union in the country, and Leeds, among others. This shows that it is has been recognised as a wider problem right across the UK. This is the student movement collectively saying that rape culture and the trivialisation of consent is not acceptable and that we can do better.

The question of whether this motion will create a ‘slippery slope’ has been mentioned to me. Of course other songs are problematic. These do not go unchallenged either by the media or feminist organisations across the world. But this song was the fastest selling record of the summer, reaching Number 1 in 14 countries worldwide, and also created international controversy around its content. If you are concerned about other songs being problematic, that is a separate debate – these things must all be decided on their individual merit. We are not out to ban all songs we disagree with – this individual song is symbolically and politically important.

Disagreements are okay in politics and ideology but I ask you, Council, is rape okay? Is promoting the trivialisation of consent okay? I say no. No, it’s not. I’m sure you as Council say no, it’s not okay and if you don’t think that it’s okay, then I hope you’ll join me in voting for this motion.”

Rachel Knott (UEA Women’s Officer, Vice-President of UEAFS)

union.womens@uea.ac.uk
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2 thoughts on “Why You Should Vote ‘Yes’ In The ‘Blurred Lines’ Referendum

  1. Firstly, can I say that is a very good speech, Rachel. Despite me being on the ‘centre-right’ of student politics,as most some people will see me. You have to recognize a good speech, when you see one, whatever your ideology or politics is.

    I completely agree with you that rape is completely unacceptable. If I was aware of these figures beforehand, I might have been more complicit in my thinking towards the motion. I accept that rape is unacceptable and indeed is a indictable offense, as it should be. I think society has been very slow in confronting rape, especially in marriages. Indeed it was legal for a husband to rape his wife till 1991, when the case of R V R revealed this anomaly.

    Here is where part of the problem for me is, is that Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ does represent the embodiment of culture, so is correct in representing the population. I am going to get criticized but this I believe is a valid point. Many men, even people I go out with, believe that woman are going to ‘give out’ because they are wearing short skirts and have got their boobs basically hang out. I have seen friends of mine, especially where I live (I live off campus) where the blokes believe that the woman is going to ‘give out’. I think the song does represent that culture, so does have meaning, in that sense. Especially to working-class young men, who are unemployed or have had a hard week at work, are wanting to have a shag, I’m going to be blunt about it. They presume that the girl they are going to presume is ‘going to give out’ as they perceive that because of what she is wearing.

    Of course, I am not defending that but what I am arguing is that it is inherent within our societal structure what we live in. Having seen, Robin Thicke’s unrated version of ‘Blurred Lines’, which I accept does come across as misogynist and sexist, especially with the near nudity of woman on there. However, what I come across was that it says, ‘Robin Thicke has a Big Dick’, now whether that is right or wrong is matter of debate for another time, but what he does represent is that lads do brag about the size of their dick. There is no getting away from it because they want to be seen as manly, perhaps biological determinism comes into play here, they want to transcend a message to the woman, that they can fulfill their excellence in terms of the bedroom department. I think there has to be a realization that sex and gender are two different complete things. Sex is biological and Gender is a socially constructed thing.

    Clearly, the song is offensive, after watching the Unrated Version, although principally as a liberal, I think censoring things should be a last resort. I think there needs to be education what about sex is. Sex is between two people who have consented, although I am old fashioned, and say sex is different from making love. I will let other people decide that point. However, Sex should not be who is the ‘bitch’ or ‘bastard’ in bed or whether the act is taken place but is meant to be pleasurable for both parties involved, should not be nasty for any of the parties involved at all. I condemn if any brutal sexual attacks happen equivocally.

    What I would argue what does need to happen, is that woman are not sexual gratification objects but intelligent and clever people. Indeed I read a survey, which suggested woman are 8% cleverer than men. I wouldn’t doubt that for a second!! I like a good woman with intelligence, who can articulate a good argument and critique it. Someone with a driving passion to make a society a better place. Not on looks but personality. Society has forget that.

    However, my fear is that this will set a ‘precedent’ because if you ban Blurred Lines, you have to ban Miley Cyrus, for sexual gratification. I have my own opinions on both, looking at both objective and subjective facts and arguments. This will lead down to a ‘slippery slope’ of where we have a ‘Winter of Discontent’ because of the ‘Winter of Censorship’, I do share students’ anxieties over this.

    Although, it should be on a case-by-case basis, which I accept Rachel has made by saying everything should be based on individual merit. However, inevitably there will be a spillover effect or neofunctionalist effect, in the sense what do you ban next, because the ban itself, creates other things to be banned more easily. This is because people feel more comfortable in banning/censoring things, as it becomes the norm. There is a strong argument, in following the example of Durham Student Union, in not banning the song because it believes in proper egalitarianism not a particular song.

    If anyone is interested in reading about why Durham, did not ban ‘Blurred Lines’:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/freya-bromley/blurred-lines-ban_b_4094298.html

    At the end of the day, it cannot be banned under law, I believe as I have checked all possible legislation, that’s where I try to use as a baseline before I make a consideration on banning or censoring things, although as a liberal, I usually do not vote to ban or censor things. However, I accept the case of that the moral case, is a strong case and yes it is subjective, but morals are always intertwined with the law. I remember being told when doing my A-level Law class, The Court of Law may be the last legal resort but there is such a thing as the Court of Morality. Sometimes ‘perverse’ results can happen, either for good or bad. I leave it at that.

  2. I disagree with your definition of rape culture- ‘Rape culture is the condoning and normalising of physical, emotional, and sexual violence against women and girls and marginalized subjects’.

    It fails to highligh half the problem, by defining rape culture as the above you perpetuate rape culture. A common phrase used primarly against cis-men is ‘I hope you don’t drop the bar of soap’. When we justify the rape of one individaul due to their actions then we can justify the rape of all individauls due to their actions, ‘I know you want it/ she was asking for it (because short skirts ‘justify’ rape)’.

    We can talk about statistics all day but according to the British law no cis-man has ever been raped by a cis-woman. Rape by definition involves the criminal inserting their penis into an orafice (Sexual Offences Act 2003). We live in a society where a woman is raped they are blamed but have services and support which are may help them overcome the difficulties that result. We deny the existance of heterosexual rape of men.

    Society places a higher value on the ‘sexual purity’ of a women then a man to such an extent that in a consensual but underage sexual relationship often we presume the male coerced the female. In rape cases between a minor and a person in a postion of authority (ie teacher) there is a large difference in sentencing due to gender however the result is the same- a child was traumatised and sexually assaulted yet only if you happen to have two X chromosomes do you gain ‘justice’.

    It’s a disgrace that one of UEAs Womans Officer and vice-president of Femsoc overlooked this disgusting definition of rape culture during to an address to the Union Council and I hope someone realised this at the time.

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