Pharrell Willams’ and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, sparked a heated debate about sexism, rape culture, and consent last year. The song featured lines such as “I know you want it” and many took issue with the its promotion of “blurred lines” regarding consent. Not surprisingly the song’s producer and co-writer, Pharrell Williams, took some heat for the role he played in both the co-writing the lyrics and starring in the video. Although at the time, both stars claimed the lyrics were ironic (feminist, even) evidence mounted that behind its catchy beat lurked a sinister message. A poignant photo series by Project Unbreakable revealed that the song’s lyrics could have come directly from the mouths of rapists, and PolicyMic featured Elizabeth Plank’s A Feminist Takedown of Robin Thicke, And Anyone Who Thinks There’s Something “Blurry” About Sexism, which served as a comprehensive guide to the many sexist aspects of both the song and video. Not surprisingly Pharrell’s new album GIRL, and his recent on camera rants about female appreciation have, once again, gained him media attention.
In several recent interviews, Pharrell has vocalized his support for women’s rights eliciting a range of responses. Times reporter Will Hodgkinson wrote a sympathetic portrait of a well-meaning musician who learned from his past mistakes and has always had a deep appreciation of women. Huff Post journalist Alana Vagianos pointed out that while Pharrell’s heart may be in the right place, he may benefit from some further education on feminist issues. So is Pharrell suddenly a feminist? While Pharrell may be attempting to support and empower women through his work, Fans may find his lack of understanding of the fundamentals of sexism, and the vocabulary he chooses to discuss his appreciation of women to be wildly inappropriate. He echoes at least a couple of disturbing sentiments across interviews. Despite the fact Pharrell’s suddenly feminist heart may indeed be in the right place, at the moment he is far from capturing the feminist voice.
Although Pharrell now aligns himself with feminism, he remains completely unprepared to discuss feminist issues in a knowledgeable way. In an interview with The Sydney Moring Herald, Pharrell excitedly meandered through an utterly confusing train of thought, identifying women as his muse, then admitting his theories are not perfect before defending Blurred Lines as something he “respected … because [he is] not a woman.” The interview ended with Pharrell bizarrely pointing out that human beings share 99 percent of their DNA with apes. In another interview with Zane Lowe, Pharrell said he “admires women in a lot of ways” and appreciates them in “[his] little dirty ways here and there,” saying that fundamentally men should appreciate women because women are required for the propagation of the species. He passionately stated that “every living breathing human being on this planet … benefits from two things from a woman,” which he went on to identify as the agreement to have sex with a man, and the agreement to give birth. He ended the interview by referring to female genitalia as “those silver lined doors” from which every human enters the world.
To suddenly call Pharrell Williams a feminist, or to say that GIRL is an exploration of women may be a stretch. GIRL is a tribute to the women Pharrell has known and loved, a reflection of his experiences with women, and not necessarily of women’s experiences. Pharrell may be trying to express his appreciation for women, but how well he communicates his self-professed respect for women could be key to fans taking him seriously.
Opinion by Sandra Pugliese