Dear Son, let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you, Part II

I wrote and posted Tuesday’s blog in about ten minutes because while there is a whole stash of “recent drafts” in my blogging queue, I haven’t blogged since…March? I knew if I didn’t just get it out there, I’d lose steam or get distracted and the idea would join the several others I’ve had and let pass. While it feels good to get back to blogging (and I may be energized enough now to finish some of those old drafts!), now that I’ve had a few more hours to think on it, I realized in my haste I didn’t say a few things I wanted to say and may not have made the point I most wanted to make.

Don’t worry, I still don’t want my imaginary son to act like Robin Thicke.

But what I really don’t want is a world where my sons-or daughters-grow up to be told their value as a person, whether they are labeled “good” or “bad” by society, is based on the anatomy between their legs (and whatever they choose or choose not to do with said anatomy). What bothers me most is not the actual performance by these two celebrities, it is the public’s reaction, split based on each performer’s gender and our culture’s gender stereotypes. The standard for “appropriate” should be the same, whether it’s about a man or a woman. Clearly, it is not even close. How come?

Part of this, as I mentioned before, is that girls are either “good” or “bad” girls. There is no equivalent to this stereotype for males. I mean, you may have “stud” or “nerd” but that is not really the same. Either one of those types could be seen as a role model, which can’t be said about “good girls” and “bad girls.” I mean, it’s in the name which one a girl should aspire to emulate. And while “stud” or “nerd” does imply something about the man’s sexuality, it’s the opposite what is acceptable for girls! I wonder why girls can’t be…girls, doing the best we can. Why are we only good or bad, and why is that determination made based on what type of clothing we wear, how big our breasts are, the way we dance or any other superficial measure that has nothing to do with our insides?

Robin and Miley are singing the same song, promoting the same message, yet the criticism is mostly leveled at Miley (and sympathy(!) mostly directed at Robin). She was scantily clad, yet he was fully dressed. I know this visual only reinforces the notion that she is team “bad girl.” Honestly, that is probably what she was going for with her “look.” After all, she’s clearly trying to murder any remaining association with Hannah Montana. But how many other female artists were also wearing little, tight, and/or revealing clothing during their performances? This is the norm for “bad girl” female performers like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and their predecessors Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. This is what we’ve come to expect of certain types of female performers-to see their bodies on display as they wiggle around suggestively. Someone must enjoy seeing it, because they keep doing it. Everyone’s worried about where we are, yet no one seems to acknowledge how we got here.

Robin Thicke and his contemporaries-male performers like Justin Timberlake + NSYNC, Bruno Mars, Kanye, etc.-all performed fully dressed, many wearing nice suits, looking more like they are ready for day trading on Wall Street rather than a trip to the VMA’s. This is clearly the norm for them. Why is the norm for females to be nearly naked, and for males to barely show a little bit of chest hair? Miley’s costume and performance wasn’t that different from Lady Gaga’s on the same night, or Britney’s ten years ago in her prime. It may have been particularly shocking in Miley’s case, because she used to be a child actress, and she’s clearly intent on re-branding herself as an “adult” performer and we are not yet used to seeing her this way. However, we can’t simply criticize Miley for conforming to the norms-that’s the standard we’ve allowed to be set for women in this field. If we’re unhappy with the way things are…

We need to re-define the standard.

Whether that involves getting girls to be more “conservative” or society to stop shaming them for not being conservative enough; or for boys to start performing in the equivalent of their skivvies too or to tone down the half naked chicks in their OWN videos as they stand there covered in a three piece suit, I don’t know. I’m not really interested in the debate about whether the performance was appropriate, or even any good (if you are, there are plenty of places to find that). I kind of don’t care. If female performers want to continue to perform in the equivalent of a bikini or less, that’s fine with me. I don’t have a stake in that particular argument. What I’d like to see change is the double standard- a man performs a sexually charged song and gets danced up on, appearing to enjoy it and yet people feel bad for him, while the female is called all kinds of names and hundreds of parent-bloggers begin imploring their young girls not to turn out “like Miley.” A bad girl.

As if being Robin, a 36-year old man who should know better, is a more desirable outcome? No.

Robin Thicke certainly could have opted not to perform with Miley. He could have said he didn’t want to be a part of the spectacle, or have Miley dance on him like that (being that he’s married with a young son and he’s old enough to be her father). I mean, considering the very nature of the song, I don’t give him much credit for recognizing sexism or just plain old poor taste, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held responsible for his part. He has been in this business for a long time. He knows that by releasing a controversial song, he’ll get attention. By performing with a former tweener looking to grow up her image in a big way, he must have known we’d all be talking about it (and by extension, him and his music). It continues to disturb me that many people, including Thicke’s own mother, seem to think he had no idea what was going to happen, or that he didn’t have full control over his actions and participation (despite all evidence showing he was a willing participant and is only sad he’s not getting more attention).

Imaginary son? Real nephew? Here’s the rest of the lesson I want you to learn. Be the kind of boy who will fight to redefine the standard to be gender equal. Always, in any circumstances. At work, at school, in entertainment. When you see gender inequality, call it out. Don’t be complicit, like Robin Thicke, in furthering stereotypes about men, women, and sex that are negative and harmful to our society. Don’t use or take advantage of others for your own gain, either. Don’t judge or label any girl or boy as “good” or “bad” solely based on your perception of their sexuality or sexual activities, including how they are dressed (this is called “judging a book by it’s cover” and hopefully we’ve already discussed that you should not do this). This is not what makes a person good or bad. What makes a person good or bad is how they treat other people, speak to other people, and think about other people. The things they do and say when no one is looking or listening-that’s when you see what a person is really like on the inside. Doing the right thing even when it is unpopular, inconvenient, or possibly even costly-these are signs of a good person. These are the qualities you should look for in a role model. This is how I hope you will choose to behave (more often than not-after all, no one’s perfect).

2 thoughts on “Dear Son, let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you, Part II

  1. I’m not going into great detail here. While I agree with most of what you said, I think it’s presumptuous to think Robin Thicke was on board with these antics. While they do rehearse there’s no way to know what she did in rehearsal. He still may have been caught on stage off guard. I’ve seen him on many talk shows and he is a really good, happily married man.

    • Hi Gayle! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I don’t doubt that he’s a happily married man, but I think he should take as much of the credit/blame as her getting for the joint performance. Miley may have “turned it up” a little for the live show, as many performers and athletes often do, but I think he had a very good idea of what she’d be wearing, how she’d be dancing, and how they would interact. So we may have to agree to disagree on that!

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