‘Hard Out Here’ by Lily Allen and Intersectional Feminism

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:

Lily Allen has a Baggy Pussy

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:’

http://newwavefeminism.tumblr.com/post/66886842189/lily-allen-saving-white-women-from-the-dangers-of-hip

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/zeba-blay/hard-out-here-lilly-allen_b_4274209.html

http://www.blackfeminists.org/2013/11/13/lily-allen-hard-out-here-video/

 

Charlotte Earney.

Why You Should Vote ‘Yes’ In The ‘Blurred Lines’ Referendum

On Thursday 7th November, Union Council voted to hold a referendum on whether to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ from being played in Union premises. I am the Union of UEA Students’ Women’s Officer and I made the decision to propose a ban on the song for many reasons, but mainly because women students, my constituents whose welfare I am constitutionally bound to protect, had come to me and told me that the song made them feel unsafe. You can read the full details of the motion I proposed to Council on the Union’s website (ueastudent.com). This is the speech I gave to Council explaining why the song should be banned. I urge you to read it and vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum on this issue. Because women students have the right to feel safe in Union venues and, as Women’s Officer, I will do everything in my power to protect that right.

“As a Students’ Union, I am proud of our values on the need for sexual consent, and I’m proud of the work we do to create a safe environment for our students. We have the right to choose what we play in our venues, based on its reflection on our values. We are not stopping students from purchasing Robin Thicke’s record, or listening to it elsewhere. We simply choose not to play it in the LCR or student-run media. Following the recent successful motion to play Livewire in Union premises, this policy will make it easier to control what is played in our Union premises.

This song contributes to rape culture and its normalisation on our campus. What is rape culture, you may ask? Rape culture is the condoning and normalising of physical, emotional, and sexual violence against women and girls and marginalized subjects. It is the production and maintenance of an environment where sexual assault is so normative that people ultimately believe that rape is inevitable. 1 in 7 women students have been the victim of serious physical or sexual violence. 1 in 4 women students who have been assaulted said it had a negative impact on their studies. The rape conviction rate in England is 6%, which is only for the rapes that are reported – which are in a minority. Still today when women are raped, the first thing they are asked if what they were wearing or what they were drinking. That is rape culture. We live in a rape culture.

There are no ‘blurred lines’ about consent. Let’s be clear, Council, the lyrics of this song trivialise the need for consent and promote the normalisation of themes of sexual violence against women. The language used in the song mirrors that of sexual predators and rapists, and has been documented by rape survivors as being the exact words their rapist used. This Union upholds the need for sexual consent and the need for a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, and would look like a hypocrite if it continued to actively support this song’s message through playing it in our venues. The right of people to use the language of rapists should not take precedence over the right of our students to feel safe in our venues. We are a Students’ Union that recognises that ‘no’ means ‘no’, victim-blaming is never okay, and that rape is not ‘blurry’.

The first Student Union to choose not to play ‘Blurred Lines’ was Edinburgh, followed by Derby, University of West Scotland, University of London – the largest Student Union in the country, and Leeds, among others. This shows that it is has been recognised as a wider problem right across the UK. This is the student movement collectively saying that rape culture and the trivialisation of consent is not acceptable and that we can do better.

The question of whether this motion will create a ‘slippery slope’ has been mentioned to me. Of course other songs are problematic. These do not go unchallenged either by the media or feminist organisations across the world. But this song was the fastest selling record of the summer, reaching Number 1 in 14 countries worldwide, and also created international controversy around its content. If you are concerned about other songs being problematic, that is a separate debate – these things must all be decided on their individual merit. We are not out to ban all songs we disagree with – this individual song is symbolically and politically important.

Disagreements are okay in politics and ideology but I ask you, Council, is rape okay? Is promoting the trivialisation of consent okay? I say no. No, it’s not. I’m sure you as Council say no, it’s not okay and if you don’t think that it’s okay, then I hope you’ll join me in voting for this motion.”

Rachel Knott (UEA Women’s Officer, Vice-President of UEAFS)

union.womens@uea.ac.uk