I’ll be the first to admit it – he’s hot and incredibly talented. He’s the same age as my partner but even my 22 year old sister recently joked about googling his girlfriend to see what the competition was like. He’s so cool people cant help admire him. Whether he’s cruising topless on his BMX with his N.E.R.D bandmates, remixing something insanely danceable with Timbaland, grooving with Justin Timberlake or releasing the ultimate feel good tune from a kids movie complete with addictive music video or feel good summer tune with Daft Punk – Pharrell is currently making it all incredibly popular and wonderful. We also shouldn’t forget the damn catchiness of Blurred Lines despite it’s offensive lyrics and objectifying music video – which believe me is pretty sanitised for Pharrell.
You see, if you’re a fan of music videos (as am I) and might occasionally flick them on fairly late at night you’ll definitely come across Pharrell dancing with naked girls, perhaps uttering sexist if not sometimes misogynistic lyrics with his rapper buddies – this is probably the slightly alternative, less mainstream version of Pharrell and definitely not as squeaky clean as the Despicable Me audience might need him to be.
But people change. They do.
So there I was determinedly listening to Radio 1 yesterday despite their best efforts to eject me from their audience and Pharrell starts waxing lyrical about why he named his album G I R L – because he wanted to acknowledge what a huge influence women have been on him and he wasn’t just talking about physical assets.
He wanted to highlight the gifts, talents and contributions of women to the world and be standing on the right side of history for when they started to be Presidents.
He understands that ultimately the power in the world lies with women in their power over saying yes to ‘the act’ and yes to having you – ‘if they wanted to end our species they’d just have to say no to having you’
Let’s. Stop. Right. There
Western cultures typically are home to most of the 10% of the world’s population that have the money and the education to access choice and independence when it comes to who and how you have sex and whether or not you have a baby. So there is power, but it’s held by a very small group.
Rape, abuse and unplanned pregnancy, let alone the burden of childcare responsibilities is a significant reality for most women regardless of where you live in the world or how educated or independent you are. So women don’t have a lot of power, they don’t have a lot of control and what I’m worried about here is that those that do will suddenly (in their popular culture worship of Pharrell) begin to think that he’s right, and because he wears cool hats and rolls his eyes in a cute way is also the authority on women, their opportunities and their struggle. See the response of this (ridiculous, I’m afraid) TV presenter/interviewer here:
This isn’t really about slamming Pharrell – he’s a rapper, he’s a producer, he’s a popstar, he’s a celebrity – I like him and his work even the rude and offensive stuff (damn it) and don’t expect massive wisdom from him on this matter. But he is a role model or sorts, and people listening to him yesterday were entranced and will go on to value his words over speakers who know so much more about this stuff. So this is about slowing the gushiness of those who’ve heard his words and think he’s now such a lovely, amazing, romantic, hero for women.
Firstly, he’s wrong about power. Women are still significantly controlled and living in fear around sex, pregnancy and all that comes with inhabiting a female body. We’re relatively safe in the West, but not that safe and in other parts of the world women are terrorised.
And secondly, women don’t need reformed sexist rappers to be their heroes, or their spokesmen. We don’t need who we fancy to stand up for us. Or to release an album that collaborates with up and coming female musicians. Take some of the big bucks and fund female artists to produce their own albums and do their own red carpet interviews and talk about power. Feminism and all the baggage that word carries with it doesn’t need a new face of the brand in the form of a shiny, uber cool guy with a nice body who’s also a good mover.
He’s a good guy, he means well, I’m sure of it. But he’s making oppression and suffering sexy and implying that it’s over and done with. We have to be increasingly conscious of the influences foisted upon us via the media and the money makers that will lure us away from the dark, grimy, ugly stories of suffering and hope and sell us redemption via a Mastercard sponsored mouthpiece.
Women are out there talking about power and men are learning from them. Just be careful, and if Pharrell’s is the only voice you’ve heard talk about women and power this week do some investigating, and some listening:
I know it’s a bit old school but Women’s Hour on Radio 4 is pretty informative most of the time