Pharrell's understanding of sexism is more than a little blurry

According to the singer, it's possible for men to celebrate the female form in a completely apolitical way

 

Share

Pharrell Williams loves women. He has been telling us so all year: at a recent press conference, he announced the "phenomenal" force of women in his life and work, and his album of last month, G I R L, is a ten-track paean to the fair sex, a lusty celebration, each song a disco-inflected, funk-riffed, light-hearted hymn to desire. But the respectful kind.

Williams is keen to let us know that his own pleasure is not all he’s pursuing: in last week’s new single, ‘Come Get it Bae’,  he assures the hot lady of his affections that he will ‘do anything you like/...anything you need.’

There’s a reason for all this. Williams is making amends for ‘Blurred Lines’, the hugely popular Robin Thicke song of 2013 on which he featured.

The song was heavily criticised for its attitude to women. It was described as ‘kind of rapey’ by one commentator, and its video was banned in student unions across the country.

G I R L is Williams' apologia for the misdemeanours of 2013; it is a seductive attempt to woo womankind back into the fold.

But what really caught my attention about the whole campaign was an unexpected cultural parallel used by Williams in defence of the profusion of breasts in his music videos.

At a recent press conference, Williams asked gathered journalists: "Is it sexist when you walk around a museum and … the statues have their boobs out?"

Aligning his music videos with museum's artifacts is a clear attempt to claim freedom for himself from interpretations of ‘sexism’. But does it work?

According to Williams, his videos and songs are merely aesthetic, and incapable of carrying other meanings - political, ethical, historical or otherwise. They are apolitical.

Except they are not. And neither are the statues lining the halls of museums (just ask Guerilla Girls). Both clearly convey the role of women at the time they were made, and cannot be separated from this political and social context.

By drawing parallels between his work and the exalted status of the museum (a place of "serious" art), Williams is confusing prestige with immunity from political critique.

We can see this if we have a look at some of these museum boobs. In the paintings from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, displayed in the British Museum, the wealthy Egyptian official is seen indulging in his worldly wealth and power.

Around the richly-dressed men and women eating and drinking, are several servant-women, some serving, some dancing. Like Emily Ratajkowski three millennia later, all are naked except for a girdle around their hips.

"Sexist" may be an anachronistic term to apply to ancient Egyptian art, but we can certainly say that these images shows us a powerful man using his wealth to buy access to naked female flesh.

So: rich, powerful men paying women to take their clothes off and dance: sound familiar? The video to "Blurred Lines" demonstrates that there is still a economic dynamic of power between clothed men and unclothed women; and that women’s bodies are still vehicles for commerce.

Yet neither the Nebamun paintings nor ‘Blurred Lines’ can be reduced to a single meaning. Rather, they are part of a rich, complex interpretive pattern around each object.

Restricting anything to labels such as "sexist" or "artistic" can only limit this pattern, and reduce the conversation.

Wherever they may be, representations of women’s bodies are various, rich and complex - so let our ways of reading them be that way too. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn