In 2013, Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” highlighted American rape culture with its message that when a woman says “no” to something, she does not really mean it. The naked women parading across his video made it perfectly clear where the lines, to him, are most blurred.
It is easy to look at the song — and all the controversy it created — and chalk it up to a mediocre “musician” playing a publicity stunt, a stunt that had Mr. Thicke laughing all the way to the bank.
Except I’m not laughing and nor should any woman anywhere in the world.
The problem is not the video, of course, but what it represents: a culture where women do not need to be respected, where men believe “no” means “not yet,” and where that “not yet” is easily changed to “yes” if the man simply pursues aggressively enough.
Among the affluent, this culture has very little meaning. With enough wealth and power, a woman can live her life feeling reasonably safe because she can hire protection for every aspect of her life. While we do hear of celebrity stalkings, they are rarely fatal. Money can buy safety and security.
But what about the rest of us, especially the poor? What about the millions of impoverished women who are struggling just to buy food and pay rent? Especially in low income housing where crime rates are higher, women find themselves vulnerable. Police department budgets are strained; they don’t have the money or manpower to truly “serve and protect” as they are mandated. Sexual harassment, rape, and so forth are just not worth responding to in the minds and budgets of the police when there are drug offenses, murders, and so forth to respond to.
In our predatory sexual culture poor women are forced to fend for themselves. Like when a simple act of politeness to a neighbor is taken as an invitation for sex. Say no, I am not interested and the advances do not go away. Why should they? If women do not actually mean “no” when they say it, it becomes in the interest of the man to keep pushing — to force his way into her life, into her mind. That these advances obviously frighten her is not important. No where in American culture are such obvious communications actually deterrent. American culture says that women ALWAYS WANT IT — FROM ANYONE WHO SEEKS IT. And worst of all: there is no perception that there are any negative consequences. Not to sexual harassment. Not to rape. After all, who cares if a poor woman is violated? Ignore the crime and nothing bad will happen — to criminal or to law enforcement. And when (not if) a predatory man with a mind that says “you have nothing to lose” violates a woman’s dignity, it remains easier for all involved or near the woman to simply claim “she had it coming to her.”
Because for the poor, there is no such thing as “no,” no right to refusal. No human dignity.
We must stop tolerating this. Men must stand up and start caring again about the dignity of women, to stop being predators and become protectors — not in the sense that women are objects to be owned (that itself is predatory), but in the sense that human life has value — rich or poor.
Old Fashioned respect needs to return. For every person deserves respect. Every life is sacred.
Laurel A. Rockefeller, author
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