hard out here: the rights and wrongs of lily allen’s feminism
Last week, pop singer Lily Allen posted online a music video of her latest song ‘Hard Out Here.’ Within two days, video received over 2 million hits on YouTube and consequently, a whirlwind of articles, tweets and ‘WTF?’ exasperations have been voiced from fans and haters all over the globe. The premise is that Allen is attempting to give women what Jezebel calls ‘a feminist pop anthem you can blast at parties’. The video is controversial because Allen’s satirical commentary on both sexism and racism is treading a fine line. No one can agree on what is right or wrong in this video – if there is anything right or wrong about it at all.
Let’s take a step back. Before writing this article, I had only caught a glimpse on my Facebook feed that there was a new Lily Allen video causing controversy. As someone who is not particularly interested in pop music and all the luggage that comes with it – I mean, how can a feminist or someone who respects themselves even listen to most pop music that has been around for the past few decades? Not only is it usually lacking in musical talent but also it often perpetuates patriarchal culture – I did not click on the link and voluntarily watch the video. However, when asked to write a piece, of course I had to click play.
My initial reaction upon watching the video? Well, I actually quite enjoyed it. I felt a bit refreshed that the song itself was trying to give women something to feel empowered about. Sarcastic lines like ‘You’re not a size six, and you’re not good looking; well, you better be rich, or be real good at cooking’ and the bridge: ‘Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits; it’s hard out here for a bitch’ struck a chord with me. And the opening sequence that shows her on an operating table being lipo-suctioned to perfection because her manager claims she’s let herself go and she retorts, “I’ve just had two babies” gave me a rush of satisfaction. Even though, as Lip’s Ruby Grant pointed out, the operating table scenario is not unique – check out Pink’s ‘Stupid Girls.’
But no sooner than I was feeling good did I start to feel bad. Putting aside the lyrics, which do some justice to satirising the unfortunate continuation of sexist politics, the actual content of the video is abhorrent. While some bloggers wholeheartedly agree that Allen is completely in the right to present us with outrageous footage of an all-black team of backup dancers that proceed to twerk and lick their way through the video, I just cannot put up with it. I’m hard-pressed to understand why, yet again, I’m staring at young ladies being objectified over and over and over for the entire world to see on a pop music clip. These ladies are not just having ‘a bit of fun’ as the director of the video, Christopher Sweeney, was quoted as saying. He really thinks they were just having some fun on set, but I agree with Suzanne Moore of The Guardian when she said: ‘What I see is the black female body, anonymous and sexualised, grinding away to make the rent’.
Allen’s backup dancers are probably not proud of how they are being portrayed, and I’m left asking what the difference is between this video and your average Miley Cyrus clip.
So to round this all up, here are my opinions: this video is attempting to satirise pop culture and the way it objectifies women, and succeeds in this through the song lyrics – they could be considered a “feminist pop anthem”. But the extreme slow motion shots of arse-grinding, bitch-slapping and licking of penis-shaped objects just adds to the pile of videos out there that take this sort of thing seriously. I am left thinking that to make a satire out of pop culture – one that really knocks sexism out of the ballpark – would be a video that features women doing things that they actually do in real life that makes them equal to men and deserving of something better than a scantily clad outfit and a background dancer job. Yeah, I’d really like to see that happen.