“By staying silent about Thicke, we allow him to become the backdoor man who gets away, the rapist that’s never caught, leaving the burden of existing post-attack (or post-performance, in Cyrus’s case) entirely upon the woman”
Masculinity, with both the privileges and pitfalls that goes along with popular conceptions of what it means to be male in our society, is invisible. It is rarely commented upon, and only discussed when it is abhorrent, and somehow opposed to the norm. We otherwise don’t see masculinity at all. When we watch a violent film, if the protagonist of that film happens to be male, the culture, by and large, doesn’t condemn masculinity as being violent (feminist critiques of this do make up part of the culture, but they are microscopic in comparison to broader cultural discussions). But when films depicting violent women are made, the New York Times deems these forces important enough to dedicate a debate to what these violent women represent.
“‘I’m the twerkee. I’m twerked upon. I don’t twerk myself.” – Robin Thicke
Which brings me to Robin Thicke. Although there have been some interventions from people like David Cook and Jackson Katz, there haven’t been nearly enough words spilled about Thicke as there have been Cyrus. Why aren’t we talking about his role in the performance? He’s an adult, surely exercising as much agency in this as Cyrus is, despite his protestations that he is merely “the twerkee”. Look through the list of complaints filed with the FCC after the VMA’s; Miley “caused” Thicke’s erection, Miley “humped him like a bitch in heat“, Miley requires “12 months in a convent”, Miley not only needs to be “spanked” but also needs to be “fined a great deal of money”. Miley Miley Miley. Robin Thicke is invisible, acting out a masculinity that is culturally sanctioned. Whereas Thicke gets to be crowned king of the summer song, which is basically an anthem to non-consensual sex, Cyrus is the subject of endless blog posts and cultural critiques.
But we need to talk about masculinity. We need to talk about what it means to be male as well as what it means to be female, as well as the endless permutations in between. Talking about masculinity as well as other gender identities is the only way we can begin to move forward, to imagine new possibilities. And yet culturally we seem unable to do so, barring certain depictions of masculinity in crisis (the ones of which really capture the popular culture’s imagination center around white men in crisis i.e. Falling Down, Breaking Bad, et al.). Can things ever change if we continue to ignore masculinity?
// as a quick aside, this debate is also applicable to thinking about how race is depicted within popular culture, and how whiteness is invisible (see Dyer’s work for more info)
Edit 1: I have just watched this TED talk of Jackson Katz about violence against women and how it’s a men’s issue. The first part of the talk really touches on the issues I’ve outlined above, but the whole talk is one of the best videos I’ve watched in a while, so if you have 17 minutes to spare, watch it all!