When Kendra Willems suggested that a local radio station stop playing an arguably sexist song, she had no idea she would be publicly attacked for the way she dresses.
“Dressing like that is like jumping into a shark tank on your period!” said one commenter about Willem’s choice of personal attire.
Last week Willems posted on the CKRW Facebook page outlining her concerns over Robin Thicke’s hit song Blurred Lines, and asking them to consider taking it off the airwaves.
The song’s refrain, “I know you want it / I hate these blurred lines,” has been described by critics as “rapey.” At its most explicit, the song says, “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” The accompanying music video features bare-chested, nearly-naked women dancing for a fully-clothed Thicke and his musical partners Pharrell Williams and T.I.
Willems said the song, intentionally or not, supports the idea that there are blurry lines of sexual consent and women sometimes act in ways that make it OK for men to pressure or force them to have sex.
“It’s that entire idea that a man knows what a woman wants, and that tends to be heard over and over and over again in cases of rape. ‘Well, she wanted it,’” Willems said.
On Tuesday, the radio station posted a comment on their Facebook page saying the station does not condone the actions of the singer or the song’s lyrics, but they also aren’t going to stop playing it.
“This is a popular song and people want to hear it. It has been named the No. 1 song on Billboard’s 2013 Songs of the Summer Chart.
“Under no circumstances would CKRW condone abuse towards women. CKRW employs more females than males and has a female general manager,” the comment states.
The station did not return the News’ repeated calls for comment, and has not responded to Willems directly.
The Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre backed Willem’s request to have the song pulled.
“Our problem is that we have done so much work around consent and trying to clear those lines. The only thing that means ‘yes’ is ‘yes.’ You can still be sex-positive, you can still have all kinds of experiences, but only consent is consent,” said Hillary Aitken, the centre’s program co-ordinator.
Aitken said while it’s up to the station to decide what they play, she is happy to see that Willem’s request has sparked such a passionate debate.
“I was a bit disappointed that the station’s statement included justification of their view saying that they had female employees and a female general manager. Just because there are women in the organization doesn’t justify any action either way,” Aitken said.
Since Willems posted her comment, she’s faced an online backlash that she said is “a lot more worrisome than the song itself ever was in the first place.”
Personal attacks and complaints about how women dress filled Willems’s inbox and overwhelmed the CKRW Facebook thread.
“This chick needs to get her priorities straight … and put some clothes on,” wrote one person.
To Willems, comments like “Wearing what they wear to the bar is like dangling meat in front of a starving lion,” only go to show that rape culture is an important and prevalent issue, she said. Such comments blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator, painting all men as mindless sex-machines, said Willems.
Rape culture doesn’t mean that people think that rape is OK. It’s the idea that a culture accepts demeaning or abusive attitudes towards women, which in turn makes it easier to blame women for sexual assaults. Songs like Thicke’s do just that, Willems said.
“I’ve seen it myself,” Willems said.
“I’m a girl who goes out to the bar and I’ve seen guys who don’t understand this. I’ve experienced many men who have blurred the lines.
“Just because I wear a short skirt doesn’t mean I want it. You liking the way I dance doesn’t mean I want it. They don’t understand that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes.’”
Many commenters accused her of trying to censor artistic expression and free speech, or of ramming her opinions down other people’s throats.
But Willems said what she really wanted was to start a public debate – which she got.
“A much more important thing has happened now: people are talking about rape culture. A lot of people I know didn’t even know what rape culture was, but now they’re talking about it,” she said.
Willems said she has been contacted by the Yukon’s victims advocate about doing more work with anti-violence campaigns like Am I The Solution, which she was part of last year.
There has also been support for her stance, but given the way some people have responded to her, Willems isn’t surprised that most of the support has been sent privately.
“I’ve had women email me and say, ‘Thank you for bringing this forward. I’m a rape victim and I can’t speak up or won’t speak up.’ You’re not going to see that posted on the Facebook wall,” she said.
Contact Jesse Winter at