On Saturday night, University of North Carolina student Liz Hawryluk asked the DJ at a local haunt, Fitzgerald's Irish Pub, to stop playing Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," because it "triggers" victims of sexual assault. After Hawryluk spoke out about the incident on social media, Fitzgerald's fired the DJ.
Hawryluk told Jenny Surane at The Daily Tarheel that after she complained to the DJ about the song, she was asked by management to leave the bar. "Fundamentally, all I was aiming to do is to create a safe space in the Carolina community," she explains. "In a lot of ways, violent or graphic images that allude to sexual violence are triggers."
After she left the bar, Hawryluk "took to her Facebook" to complain, and some sympathetic students posted an "open letter" to Fitzgerald's manager Kyle Bartosiewicz in a UNC online magazine, The Siren. Fitzgerald's spokeswoman Lauren Shoaf then issued an apology and assured the public that the offending DJ would never spin at Fitzgerald's again.
Conservatives (and the "common men" of Barstool Sports) have already started complaining about Hawryluk's behavior and the bar's decision to fire the DJ. That matters, unfortunately, because their valid criticism of Hawryluk's actions threaten the work of other more serious activists who are trying to reduce the number of rapes on college campuses across the country.
Let's start with Hawryluk's primary complaint that "Blurred Lines" is a trigger for victims of sexual assault. The idea of "universal triggers" has been flatly disproven by psychologists. As the Los Angeles Times' editorial board explained last week,
A post-traumatic response is just as likely to be triggered by something that has nothing to do with subject matter: a glimpse of the same blue-colored clothing that was visible during a traumatic event, or a certain scent that was in the air that day.
Thicke's song, no matter how questionable its lyrics are — "I know you want it" is the line that's typically cited — doesn't produce a post-traumatic response in all, or even a majority, of rape victims. If we tried to ban all possible triggers in public spaces, we'd end up picketing against things like Dave Matthews Band posters and cinnamon gum. (Fun fact: those are mine.)
What is pretty universally triggering for rape victims is the sight of one's rapist. Which is why activists on campus and in Congress are trying to increase reporting and investigations of rape to remove rapists from campuses. Prosecuting criminals, promoting sexual assault education and awareness, and beefing up counseling options for victims are just three ways we can continue address the problem of rape in the university. Getting a DJ fired for playing "Blurred Lines" at an off-campus bar only gives Barstool the opportunity to lament the "pussification of America." It might feel like a victory against "rape culture," but it's not making UNC's campus any safer for women.
That being said, the DJ's firing was just. "Blurred Lines" was the song of LAST summer, and it was shitty to begin with.