Robin Thicke was given the award by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, who gifted him with a downloadable copy of Aretha Franklin’s Respect. This isn’t a surprise to me; the song and video are so unambiguously sexist that even my 11-year-old daughter could see it, although she didn’t articulate it in feminist terms.
‘Ew,’ she said, when this came on the music channel
She tried to explain to me why she disliked it so much.
‘He’s creepy. And he’s really old, he should get away from those girls.’
As comments from her often do, this one opened my eyes to something that I had missed. He is really old compared to the girls in the video. The music industry and possibly the entire media are so saturated with this type of imagery (basically, middle aged men leching over young girls, young girls fawning back) that it seems normal and we stop noticing. My daughter noticed, though, and that made me wonder if she has already experienced this kind of attention. She has had the misfortune of entering puberty early; she can look stunning, and much older than she actually is. It seems that this type of ‘creepiness’ is something she understands only too well.
I don’t know how to protect her from this. I don’t think that I can. The only way I can think of to help her is to discuss this in terms of power – I want her to know that neither she, nor girls in general, are powerless.
‘Why do you think those girls would behave like that in the video?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Who do you think has more power? The girls, or him?’
She looks nonplussed.
Maybe she’s not ready for a synopsis of the ‘Language, Discourse and Social Construction’ module that I studied for my Masters in Social Work. I try to articulate my own thoughts in a way that she can understand.
‘Well, he’s older than them, isn’t he? He probably has more money and that makes him seem more powerful. Maybe he gave them some money so they think they have to do what he says. And he’s sort of telling them what they think, like he says: ‘I know you want it.’ Maybe they think that because he is older he knows more than them and understands things better.’
‘Do you think they have to listen to what he says?’
‘No. They don’t. He doesn’t know what they want, only they know that.’
Confused and confusing, maybe, but the best I can do for now. Hopefully she will think about these things more as she gets older and some of the things I say will begin to make sense to her. I will show her the news story about the award that Robin Thicke won, and why he won it, so that she understands that there is more than one type of power, and that women can and do fight back. The Sexist of the Year Award is just one way for them to put forward their view, to counteract these images that we are bombarded with all day, every day – so that when my daughter reaches for an understanding of what it is to be a young woman, she has more than Robin Thicke’s view to hand.