Hours before Robin Thicke’s performance at Agganis Arena, there were crowds of people waiting outside—but most of them were not in line for the show.
Weeks ago, the student group Humanists of Boston University created a petition on Change.org named “Cancel Robin Thicke’s BU Performance.” Thicke, whose hit song “Blurred Lines” has drawn criticism from those who argue its lyrics and music video objectify women and perpetuate rape culture, had been booked at Agganis Arena. Students who found his music offensive claimed they did not want their school supporting a misogynist pop star, and the petition was born.
Garnering nearly 3,000 signatures, the cause gained widespread attention across campus and in the media—but the show was not canceled. In response, Humanists of BU staged a peaceful protest in front of Agganis Arena on the night of the performance. HBU President Patrick Johnson organized the event as well as the initial petition.
In the protest’s Facebook event, Johnson told protesters to be prepared to discuss sexual violence and rape culture.
“…our purpose is to use Thicke as an example of, not the epitome of, music perpetuating rape culture,” wrote Johnson. “We make it clear that he is not the first artist to perpetuate rape culture, nor will he be the last, but the dialogue on campus has to start somewhere.”
At the protest, Johnson said its aims had been achieved: “opening up dialogue and continuing discourse on rape culture and how we all tacitly reinforce it via the media that we consume.”
Around 15 people partook in the protest, all of them holding signs with lines including, “I don’t want ‘It.’”, “Her body. Her rules,” and “Make it consensual to get sensual.” One sign in particular quoted the lyrics from “Blurred Lines,” but instead attributed the quote to her rapist. Most protesters were BU students—many were also members of HBU—but students from local high schools and other colleges also arrived.
Jessica Allen (CAS ’17) and Julie Williams (CAS ’17), two BU freshmen and members of HBU, explained why they were protesting, citing the prevalence of rape on college campus and a culture that treats sexual assault lightly as their main reasons.
“I think rape culture is a huge problem on college campuses and Robin Thicke’s music promotes rape culture,” said Williams.
While both agreed that BU had made steps towards improving issues of sexual assault, including its security escort service, SARP, and self-defense classes, they also said there was room for improvement. In Williams’ words, “Changing the culture is really the most important part.”
Not everyone at the protest, however, agreed with its message. Two students arrived and one began angrily questioning the protesters, arguing that those involved claimed to be speaking for all women when not all women agree, and that the protest invalidated others’ opinions by suggesting that those who like Robin Thicke are immediately perpetuating rape culture.
Johnson, who spoke with the students, described the experience as “great,” saying “it got to the point where [we] were talking about much larger issues of rape culture [and] what is consent. And then I point[ed] out, hey, that’s exactly what we’re doing: opening up this dialogue.”
“We’re not talking about Robin Thicke anymore because he’s not really the point– he’s the starting point to the greater issues…” said Johnson.
Thicke may have been able to perform, but the protesters seemed happy with their accomplishments as well. Johnson says there aren’t any more protests of music acts on the horizon—HBU will spend the rest of the semester addressing poverty—the protest certainly created the dialogue it intended to.
Regardless of whether Robin Thicke does promote rape culture or not, the message proclaimed on one of the signs rang true for all: “There are no ‘blurred lines’ in consent.”