Like everyone else on the internet, I was privy to the twerked-out orgy performed by Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. It was impossible to ignore Hannah Montana grinding her nude vinyl panties up against the offspring of the dad from Growing Pains. I’m generally not familiar with Top 40 music, but Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s date-rape anthem “Blurred Lines” has gotten my attention, and not because of its catchy beat.
As someone who has been caught between the blurred lines of consent, I found the entire PR stunt to be disrespectful towards sex in general. Miley Cyrus’ lolling tongue made a mockery of what adolescents are taught about sexuality, as they lay immersed in the world of pop culture. There was nothing blurry about what Cyrus was inviting onto that stage, as evidenced by the media’s claims that “she’s grown up,” and that “she’s coming into her sexuality.” To me, there was a disconnect between Thicke’s song and Miley’s dance moves.
The message behind Thicke’s latest hit struck a chord with me. I was taken advantage of (or “date-raped,” in therapeutic terms) one night, several years ago, by someone who thought he was showing me a good time. For some reason, he was under the impression that I wanted him – bad. I’ve since played the night over and over again in my head, trying to identify signs and signals of being attracted to him that I may have given off without realization. I am friendly and polite by nature, hence why I probably spoke to this friend-of-a-friend at my hometown’s local bar as if he were an actual human being. The bottle of wine and pitcher of beer didn’t hurt my sociability either. From my perspective, the offending guy must have thought he was playing it cool, giving little to no indication that he wanted to have sex with me. I refused his offers to buy me drinks, and I shamelessly kissed an old classmate in front of him as a (possibly misunderstood) message that I wasn’t available. This is why it was a shock to me. This is why I didn’t see it coming and why it affected me so strongly.
I thought I had made it clear.
Apparently, not clear enough.
My own blurred lines of judgment came at the end of the night, when we ended up alone. I could have run inside, slamming the door in his face, but my alcohol-soaked brain didn’t present that to me as an option at the time. Honestly though, just because I shared a cigarette with him at the end of the night did not mean that I wanted him to touch me, let alone stick his penis inside me. In what world does a borrowed cigarette translate to “please fuck me roughly in a local public park”? From my perspective, I was drunk and brushing him off. He, however, was reading in between the blurred lines, and assuming that I was playing hard to get–an outdated game if there ever was one. When I confronted him later about it, I made sure that he knew that this was not what a positive sexual experience meant to me, and likely to any other young woman put into that situation. His perspective and Robin Thicke’s are not at all different.
I am bothered by the fact that establishing these murky boundaries has become common practice. Why the games? There should not be a blurred line between you and your sexual partner in sight. Both (or all) parties involved should have clear ideas about what’s going to happen between the sheets (or on the floor, table, rooftop, etc). Clarification is key. I don’t see Thicke’s song and dance to be an issue of disrespecting women, but one of understanding one’s sexuality. It’s about getting the balls to tell someone how you want it–or don’t want it. If a girl grabs you, it’s entirely possible that she’s doing so in order to steady herself after drinking too much. Don’t assume that she wants to “get nasty,” be a man and clarify what she wants. There’s no shame in asking questions; I actually find it very sexy to discuss what you want and need from a potential sexual partner. Clarification shows a degree of respect, which is an integral part of one’s sexual experience. I don’t know when it became un-sexy to be upfront.
There should be no blurred lines surrounding a sexual encounter, because between them can lie confusion and potential danger. Although those blurred lines got me “date raped,” they have also helped me come to terms with forgiving my attacker. I still found that VMAs performance offensive, however, and have been left disappointed that this is the message being sent to younger generations. I hope everyone can see what this performance for what it was–a PR ploy. And it worked. And for that, we as a society should hang our heads a little.
Ellen Fielding is a Toronto-based writer, artist, and live music enthusiast. She has a deep love for architectural history and often reflects this in her work.