After this summer’s Blurred Lines debate, the way women are presented in the media, especially the music industry, is certainly a hot topic at the moment, which is no bad thing. The industry for years has been one of the worst for objectifying and sexualising women, to the point where harmful and degrading ideas about women have become commonplace in your average top ten single.
Cue Lily Allen.
Back from her self-imposed retirement, Lily has just released a song named ‘Hard Out Here’, a satirical commentary on her experiences in the media spotlight. Allen has often used her music to make a statement about her political opinions, most notably in her song ‘Fuck You’, a lyrical letter to former President, George W. Bush. It’s unsurprising, then, that for her new release she parodies the likes of Robin Thicke, with lyrics such as ‘have you thought about your butt, who’s gonna tear it in two?’ a play on the delightful lyrics ‘I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two’ from ‘Blurred Lines’.
While the unsubtle middle finger up to the likes of Robin Thicke is fantastic, the song does feature quite a problematic take on feminism. The line ‘don’t need to shake my arse for you, cause I’ve got a brain’ has some serious issues, especially in the context of the video, implying that women who do shake their arses only do so because they’re stupid. Not like Lily, because she’s smart, apparently.
The video itself is a parody of hip-hop and rap music videos, and features several dancers twerking in bikinis next to a fully dressed Lily. Most of the dancers are black, and the two that aren’t both happen to be slightly more clothed than the black women, who are clearly the subject and focus of the video through the objectifying close up shots.
Therefore, in an attempt to parody the way women in the music industry are presented, Allen has used black women to make her point. Groundbreaking stuff.
In my opinion, for satire to properly work, it should be generally understood as satire. As in, you watch it and there’s pretty much no doubt that it is not being serious and that it is simply making fun of conventions or ideas. The problem with this video, while it does get its point across, is that it completely sexualises and objectifies black women’s bodies in the process, and leaves you confused as to whether it’s actually intended to be satire or not.
The slow motion, close up shots of black women’s backsides while twerking is no better (and is arguably worse) than anything I have ever seen in the kinds of music videos this is meant to parody. And while Allen has denied on Twitter any intent towards racism, or even any racial discussion in the video, the portrayal of black women in the video is undeniably negative. Also, the references to rap and hip hop, music genres usually dominated by black artists, are intended to be mocking, with Lily throwing money around and dancing on expensive cars, common signifiers of wealth in the genre. As well as this, not just Lily is more covered up than the black dancers, but the Asian and white dancers are also wearing more clothing, and are sexualised considerably less than them, with fewer close ups on their bodies and fewer shots of them in general. The black women’s bodies are the focus of the dance scenes, and they are completely objectified so that Lily can get her point across.
One of feminism’s problems is that a large portion of feminists are white and unaware of their privilege, meaning that other sections of society can often be pushed aside or deemed as ‘not as important’. It’s for this reason that feminists of colour have coined the term ‘womanism’ in order to separate themselves from the internalised racism that is common in the world of white feminism. This video is a perfect display of why women of colour feel alienated from feminism: Lily uses and objectifies black women’s bodies in order to lift herself up. While she states in her tweet that she feels ‘in no way […] superior to anyone,’ the message the video presents remains clear: Lily is superior to these women and is using them to further her message, rather than being in a position of solidarity with them.
Lily also states in terms of the exposure of the dancer’s bodies “If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too.” So in other words, Lily felt uncomfortable with wearing a bikini in the video, but was happy to make her dancers do the exact same thing. She claims that she would have also been the one twerking into the camera, had she been any good. The fact that this was her intention for the video is also worrying, as the main complaint about Miley Cyrus’ latest video for ‘We Can’t Stop,’ is that Miley is appropriating twerking. How, then, is doing it for comedic effect any different?
In summary, If Lily’s only way of getting across a feminist message is by oppressing black women, then maybe she needs to rethink the message she is trying to send, not just to white women, but to all races, ethnicities, genders, and anyone in any way affected by the kyriarchy. You can’t just ignore something that looks problematic, just because it’s supposed to be satire. Even if it is meant humorously, it doesn’t make it ok to do the same things. Many are calling her song a ‘feminist anthem,’ but it is a very dated, very white version of what I call feminism.
To end on a positive note, here is possibly the only shot in the entire music video that isn’t problematic:
While I have tried to be as objective as possible in this post, I am white and I do speak from a place of privilege, so here are some links of black women also discussing the topic of ‘Hard Out Here:’