No, ‘female-appreciation’ is not the same thing as feminism

A bunch of folks are all excited about how “feminist” Pharrell Williams’ new album, G I R L, is. He says it’s about “appreciating” women, which always sets off some red flags for me. While I like some of the stuff Williams’ produces (and maybe the new album is good or even, like, not totally sexist!), I’m skeptical about the notion that he’s feminism’s new ambassador.

“… This album is his effort to set the record straight on how he really views women, in the wake of the backlash he reportedly received for his contribution to the lyrics and video for Robin Thicke and T.I.’s hit song ‘Blurred Lines.’ Dropping a few lines to explain his stance on how women routinely get the short end of the stick would’ve probably sufficed, but an entire album dedicated to us? Swoons.” (via Bustle)

Good. I’m glad we mentioned that just last year Williams’ was all up on Robin Thicke’s disgusting porno rape anthem, which, incidentally, he defended in a recent interview, implying that women just didn’t get it:

Pharrell Williams' in Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' video
Pharrell Williams’ in Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ video

“Interviewer: Robin Thicke got into a spot of bother with the lyrics and video to ‘Blurred Lines’. How come you didn’t?

Pharrell Williams: I didn’t get away with it! There were lots of women who wanted to understand what we meant by those lyrics. But the two lines go: ‘You don’t need no papers/That man is not your maker.’ Boom! Lyrically, you’re done: there’s nothing else to talk about. ‘That man is not your maker.’ Plus that treatment was written and shot by a female director, who’s a feminist.”

Boom! No you’re not done. The line just before “That man is not your maker” goes “Just let me liberate you.” OH OK. So Robin Thicke the creepshow is going to “liberate” me? Presumably by “tear[ing]” my “ass in two?” Oh. So that’s how we’re going to win at this feminism game. Via Robin Thicke’s dick. Sexual revolution redux. Lest we forget, Andrea Dworkin schooled us on that old trick already:

“In the sexual-liberation movement of the sixties, its ideology and practice, neither force nor the subordinate status of women was an issue. It was assumed that–unrepressed–everyone wanted intercourse all the time (men, of course, had other important things to do; women had no legitimate reason not to want to be fucked); and it was assumed that in women an aversion to intercourse, or not climaxing from intercourse, or not wanting intercourse at a particular time or with a particular man, or wanting fewer partners than were available, or getting tired, or being cross, were all signs of and proof of sexual repression. Fucking per se was freedom per se.”

Turns out sexual revolutions that happen in a patriarchy are mostly about dicks, alas.

Also, whether or not the director of a music video that is unapologetically pornographic and boasts rapey lyrics like: “I know you want it,” is a woman and claims to be feminist isn’t going to convince me that the video is actually feminist because I have eyes and also a brain. Lots of folks claim to be feminists or feminist allies who are decidedly not (see: men). And being a woman does not necessarily mean you can’t perpetuate sexism (see: female brothel owners and porn-producers).

What Williams and so many other men don’t get is that simply liking individual women or claiming to “love women” doesn’t really have much to do with feminism. Lots of men believe that being attracted to women or loving their mothers makes them super-feminists who are deserving of all the cookies. But that’s not how it works. You can love your mother and still think that women exist for your benefit or pleasure. It’s like the new age dudes who go around blabbing on about how amazing and beautiful and goddess-like women are and expect us all to behave in stereotypically feminine ways, never challenge them (because they’re the good guys! They don’t see gender and race and things like that! They’re evolved), and adopt our “natural” roles as nurturers without a fuss.

“My muse for it [the new album] was women. I love them,” Williams says.

This is what I mean. See? “I love women,” is not a get out of jail free card. Thicke pulled the same bullshit when he was accused of degrading women in “Blurred Lines”: “When we made the song, we had nothing but the most respect for women,” he said. How nice of you to say so, Mr. Thicke. Alas, your work shows the opposite to be true. I am fairly certain many of the men who buy sex and consume porn also think they do it because they really, really, love women. NOPE. You love women like I love wine — as something I consume selfishly (no dis to wine obvi) for my personal benefit and as a product.

That he doesn’t understand the difference between nudity and objectification is part of the problem:

“Is it sexist when you walk around in a museum and a lot of the statues have their boobs out?” he asked the Time Out reporter. ‘The women in that video weren’t doing anything sexual: they were only dancing. Just because they had their boobs out, that was “sexist.”‘”

No, those women weren’t doing anything “sexual,” you’re right. They were pretty much there as your boob-wallpaper, trotting around like naked, human show ponies. Having naked women hanging around clothed rock/pop stars has always been a status symbol. It makes men feel powerful. It feels like having a modern harem of sorts, I suppose. Feminism!

When the interviewer asks if Williams loves all women (I guess they are skeptical?). He responds:

“‘Look, I love them, because I know their importance. If women wanted to shut down this country, economically, they could just not go to work and the UK would be finished. If they wanted to kill off our species, they’d just decide not to have babies. And there’s going to be a huge shift, a huge shift. There will be a time when women get paid as much as men. There will be a time when, like, 75 percent of our world leaders will be women. All the presidents and prime ministers. There will come a time. And I’m going to be on the right side of that shift when it happens.’

Does that mean your videos will all be PG-rated from now on?
‘Oh no. I want to support women, but that doesn’t mean I won’t make another song where girls’ behinds are everywhere.’”

Ok. So you can’t just state you’re into women’s rights and all that junk but then refuse to actually change your ways. Words, words, words. It’s not enough.

And look, I don’t think Pharrell Williams is evil. You can tell he’s trying. And I completely believe people can learn and change their ways — if he starts producing super-feminist stuff, I’ll be glad to consider forgiving his past stumbles. But he doesn’t get it. And heralding him as this big feminist because he says he loves women, despite the fact that he doesn’t understand how objectifying women contributes to our oppression and to rape culture, is a little over-eager and perpetuates a bunch of misunderstandings about how patriarchy and sexism work. But hey, here’s hoping he’ll do some learning.

Update, 02/28/2014: It’s worse than we’d imagined, sisters.

1) Objectification doesn’t = feminism, 2) Please stop using words you don’t understand.

I love women and often admire their eyes, lips and other features of their bodies in a sometimes suggestive way.

But I respect and hold what would be called ‘a feminist view’ too. I want to spread the message of the pertinence of women on this planet. It calls for the equivocation of women in society.





Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.