Why don’t we call out Justin Timberlake on his rape culture songs?


Let me preface this blog by saying that I love Justin Timberlake’s songs. He headlined the third day of the Rock in Rio festival and he oozes with talent and charisma. It’s truly incredible to see him on stage with his band, The Tennessee Kids – who are marvellous by the way, and looked to be having a blast dancing and playing.

But during a very challenging conversation today I realized that Justin doesn’t get nearly as much criticism as Robin Thicke when he sings songs that perpetuate rape culture. Of course Blurred Lines was designed to demean woman (as it was admitted by the lovely singer of the song) – as a woman I was deeply disturbed by the music video. I have never been offended by any of Justin’s videos but after thinking about it – though still admitting I love his music – it’s clear to me that he is another artist that has to be called out for being misogynistic and sexist.

Don’t be so quick to walk away, dance with me
I wanna rock your body, please stay, dance with me
You don’t have to admit you wanna play, dance with me
Just let me rock you ’til the break of day, dance with me

Rock Your Body, by Justin Timberlake

Though this song is about ten years old it seems it has a tone that is similar to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines – a man insisting on harassing a woman who has made clear she doesn’t ‘want it’. It’s the sense of entitlement men feel, that women are there to dance with them, to entertain them and if they don’t want to it’s okay to insist. And that’s really not okay.

Talk to me boy
Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song

Rock Your Body, by Justin Timberlake

That’s always the end game, isn’t it? It sounds like Justin is saying ‘I’ll have you naked after exhausting you with my attempts to seduce you and pressure you into bed with me’. This is where men get that if you’re pushy and if you believe that woman wants you, she will actually want you. That’s not how it works, pushy men are sexual harassers. I hate pushy men. Learn how to take no for an answer for God’s sake.

Once in a nightclub a man came up to me with one of the most awful lines I have ever heard. He said ‘Would you rather die or save yourself by farting?’

What does that even mean? I didn’t answer and walked away, but he followed me. And he tried again with a similar question to which I responded with an awkward, uncomfortable expression. I finally had to say I didn’t want to talk to him.

His response to this was call me a frigid bitch and pull down his trouser to show me his bottom. At the time my friends and I laughed it off – it’s pretty funny to be fair – but in hindsight that wasn’t only out of order but a show of complete male entitlement, which is something that is often present in Justin Timberlake’s lyrics.

I know you like it, I know you like it.

– Tunnel Vision, Justin Timberlake

I know you want it, I know you want it.

– Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke

These two lines are incredibly alike, which is a real shame because I really like Tunnel Vision and I don’t feel that the rest of the lyrics are in any way problematic. But similarities go beyond the intro of the song; JT’s video for the song is also full of naked women being sexy for him. Unlike Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines, this was considered art, but why? How are naked women in a video different than naked women in another video?

Perhaps it is because in Thicke’s video the women look completely submissive, dancing with toys, humping stuffed horses, dancing like clowns. It’s deeply disturbing to me, it’s creepy, and the intention of it wasn’t art it was to literally demean women. So maybe that’s why JT gets a pass in this instance – after all, what is the real difference between objectification and artistic nudity?

Or maybe Justin gets a pass because he is more talented and very good-looking. If a good-looking  male singer talks about objectifying women  and that’s allowed, isn’t that society proving that men are entitled to this behaviour by not calling him out on it? Isn’t that saying he can objectify women as long as he looks good?

Justin has also been slammed for calling one of his songs Take Back The Night, which is also the name of an anti-rape non-profit. As the song has sexual connotations and as a mainstream tune it has stolen the name of what has been, for 40 years, a campaign against sexual harassment.

Katie Koestner, executive director of the organisation, told Radar: “The lyrics are definitely very sexual and not at all clearly anti-sexual violence. ‘Use me,’  for example, is not a great phrase for anyone affiliated with [this] organisation.”

Of course it could be that Justin didn’t know that Take Back The Night was anything but a phrase – which I do think is the case as I had never heard of the organisation before. But even so he has kept his silence on the matter.

In 2003 though he made pretty clear what he thought about sexual harassment.

“The Mirror reports *NSYNC star Justin Timberlake looked in sheer ecstasy on stage at last night’s Brit Awards as he got to grab the behind of Kylie Minogue. “I didn’t just touch it, I copped a feel,” Justin said after the show. “On a scale of one to 10, it was like a 58.” Justin explained the pairing saying, “I met her when I did a radio show with her and thought she was gorgeous but we didn’t get a chance to talk. I was then told I could choose someone to duet with and I knew it had to be Kylie. I’ve heard people in Britain are obsessed with Kylie’s bum and I can totally see why. I’m pretty obsessed with it now, too.” “– popdirt.com

So he basically asked her to do a duet with him because he wanted to feel her up? That’s not creepy at all.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t listen to Justin Timberlake’s music because that would be hypocritical of me. But I shouldn’t ignore the fact that, like Robin Thicke, he is someone who supports the culture of harassment and rape.

I don’t think Justin does these things to hurt or because he likes demeaning women and the reason for this is the video below. He was part of a campaign against sexual slavery along with Sean Penn, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and others. He has credit for that, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have to call him out on his sexist, misogynistic mistakes.

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3 thoughts on “Why don’t we call out Justin Timberlake on his rape culture songs?”

  1. When i read articles like this, it reminds me that i am not alone in my opinions. It is so unfortunate that we live in a rape culture, and that most people are not even aware of it. Thats is what i struggle with. Most people do not realize how desensitized our society has become to sexual assault/rape. This just makes it even harder for men to respect women and for victims to have a voice. Thank you for writing this article.

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