“I am sure people have valid points as to why they feel [the] way [they do] about [“Blurred Lines,”]” said 23-year-old model Elle Evans of the music video. “But, me…I’m pretty laid back. I live in California; I’m young; I’m a Sagittarius. Not a lot of things really bother me. I kind of just do whatever makes me happy, and I guess that’s just kind of my philosophy: Just be yourself and do what makes you happy, and someone is bound to love you for it.”
When American recording artist Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was first released in Germany on July 12, 2013, and again in the United States on July 30th by Star Trak Entertainment and Interscope Records, critics were quick to dismiss the song and its video (which received nearly 180 million views) as both sexist and exploitative.
The video is an indubitable source of controversy, featuring three women in nude thongs, devoid of voices and expressionisms. In an interview with GQ, Robin Thicke said, “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women,’” claiming that the video is a sort of parody of itself. “We tried to do everything that was taboo…” he told GQ. “…Bestiality, drug injections and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.'”
And, in some ways, the video certainly constitutes a charade of misogyny.
But I’ve spent hours sitting at my computer, transcribing my interview with model Elle Evans of the video, and reviewing feminist works disseminated in Feminist Theory: A Reader (Bartkowski, F., & Kolmar, W. 2013), to unearth a context with which I could unpack the “Blurred Lines” conversation.
In doing so I realized one critical concern that has, thus far, not been adequately discussed and has consequentially disrupted our collective progress—the lack of a long, hard look in the mirror on our parts.
In other words, together women can only operate through a mutual dialogue—one that must not reduce any of us to the abstraction of “woman”—according to feminists Maria Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman, because, still, we are individuals.
The women’s movement will not further develop if we can neither understand nor respect one another’s individual, life choices. Who, then, are we to tell Elle Evans or any other model in the music video that she had been sexually exploited? Is that not a rather subjective assertion?
While it’s implausible to think we’ll come up with an objective ontological reality—one of which we could all agree upon—we should at the very least encourage one another to explore the conversation in its entirety.
So while the behavior illustrated in “Blurred Lines” is argued to perpetuate rape culture, we must still grapple with the notion of sexual liberation as a key component of women’s liberation.
We might never agree, and that’s okay. We need merely to acknowledge our different opinions as interdependence, in order to learn to use them as a vehicle for progression.
Venerated feminist Audre Lorde said, “Difference must not be merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic” (Bartkowski, F., & Kolmar, W. 2013: 15). Because without community, she said, there is no liberation.
I’ve therefore asked Evans to share her report—her individual, inimitable account of this experience in her life, because she was the woman in the video; none of us were.
Further, as controversy has pervaded the media, we’ve forgotten that this is Evans’ job. “For the past eight months to the past year, all I’ve been doing is working. That’s it,” she said. We should celebrate her career success, as it is a central tenet of the women’s movement.
Below are some highlights from the interview, though this is not the entire interview, as Evans was kind enough to spend an hour on the phone with me:
Re: So in my first set of questions, I want to be able to give you a fair voice in this debate. I’m curious to know what a woman who was actually involved thought. And then the second set of questions, I think, is a bit more important…I want to look at it in a more positive perspective, and celebrate your success. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to start with asking some questions about your thoughts in the feminist debate and about the criticism. If anything I ask makes you feel uncomfortable, you do not have to answer.
Elle Evans: No, no worries!
Okay, so I guess we’ll start. As you know “Blurred Lines” has received a lot of negative feedback. I am wondering, what is your reaction to all of the criticism in general?
Well, you know, I kind of just have to lash it off because it’s just a song. People will criticize anything, especially something that is kind of ‘of the moment’—something that is very popular right then. They’ll find something negative about anything and it’s almost expected…
Some of the models have commented that the way the video was done was absolutely professional. I’m wondering how you would define professionalism in regard to making a music video, and what was your experience like filming it?
The overall experience was incredible, really…Everyone who is there has a specific job to do, and everyone’s job is just as important as Robin’s job, or my job, or the director’s job…Professional—when we were on set and when we were topless, no one was like, “Oh, check her out.” No one was excessively staring and no one was making crude comments, or any kind of anything. I mean, everyone was there for a job—even the topless people (laughs).
Did you feel comfortable with your role in the video?
I definitely felt comfortable, that’s for sure. But I can see the debate on whether it’s empowering or not, because it really depends on the project. It depends on how you are trying to portray a naked woman’s body…For me, I’ve always been comfortable with my body—always. I never felt any kind of uncomfortability about anything, even when my feet were on Robin’s face. That was fine. It was just funny. It was just a funny song—just a fun environment.
I definitely don’t cringe when I see a beautiful woman’s body. It is not something that is scary or should be hidden; it’s one of the most beautiful things on Earth. It should be celebrated…People may have past experiences in their lives, where they will never feel comfortable with nudity. That’s okay. Obviously, everyone is different; everyone has different opinions…But if other people do like it, they should be allowed to like it and they shouldn’t be judged because they like to be naked or because they like to look at naked people. It’s just human.
Okay. We talked about nudity, but another critic wrote that the women in the video are celebrated as sexual objects—we talked about that—but not only because of nudity but because they are stripped of their voices and facial expressions…So how do you feel about not having a voice or any kind of facial expressions in the video?
Well, I mean, I felt like it was kind of necessary to get the point across…I thought it was empowering for us, I know I keep saying that word ‘empowering,’ but…
No, that’s great…
Robin and the other guys in the video were basically falling all over themselves for us, you know. And the reason we don’t have any expression or any voice is because our characters were completely uninterested. We we’re like, “Yeah, we know we’re super hot. We realize that we’re prancing around topless. And we realize that you are drooling right now, but we don’t care. We’re still going to do this anyway and we’re not doing this just so you do drool. We’re doing this because it makes us feel on top of the world,” you know?
That’s interesting; that’s a totally different way to look at it. Cool, my next question was going to be, in what ways do you consider this video to send good, empowering messages to girls? I guess that would be one way; are there any other ways that you would say it sends good messages?
Yeah, especially with all of the controversy around it, you can’t please everyone. I don’t always quote famous people, but one time I read something where Bill Cosby said, “I can’t give you the key to success…but I can tell you the key to failure. And the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Everyone in life has a different taste…especially women…You just do whatever you want. You do what makes you happy.
Do you think you would have felt differently about the video if a male had directed it instead? Would you have felt less inclined to do it, perhaps?
That’s a good question. No one has asked me that before. My answer though would be no, I wouldn’t feel differently about it because this is my job and I am a professional. I’ve been doing this for a little while now, and being nude on a job is, to me, not a very big deal…But I am glad that it was a woman, and she was at the audition. And she was just very encouraging, you know what I mean? We couldn’t do anything wrong—she wanted us to just get out there and have a great time and look great doing it, and just kind of show off a little bit.
What advice do you have for girls who are aspiring to be models, and how is modeling a vehicle of expression for you?
You have to be in touch with your own sense of reality…Be in touch with reality, and be in touch with yourself…You have to love yourself. If you want to be a model, you have to.
What do you think this video, with all of its popularity, will do for your modeling career and your acting career that you are pursuing now?
I’m going to be honest, and I don’t want this to come off in any negative way, whatsoever, because I love this video and I love what it’s done for me. But, coming from a person who has, I guess, much bigger dreams, I don’t want to be known forever from something that was viral for six months. I know it was a huge song; it was big in every country; it was the song of the summer, and it will stay the song of the summer…It was everywhere. But, for me, this is a huge industry. It is vast…there is so much to do in the entertainment industry, and I want to do it all. I don’t want to do 10 music videos, just because I was in “Blurred Lines” and I don’t want to do 10 photo shoots just because I was in [it]. I want to just take it, and roll with it. I’m not going to rest on it. But it has opened a lot of doors for me, and I have met a lot of cool people and done a lot of really cool interviews now.
Do you have new projects you are working on now?
There’s been new stuff coming and going every day. There’s a lot. There’s a couple of things that I can’t talk about that are in the film industry…And I’m working for my job, but I’m also doing a lot of stuff for me. I’m about to get a new car; I am totally redoing my apartment; I’m working out with a personal trainer now; I have a boyfriend. I have a lot of stuff going on in my personal life too, and I’m really just starting to get good at balancing those. Everything is going great, and everything is so good. I am just so happy lately.