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)firstname.lastname@example.org