I'm.... conflicted about this video.
Lily Allen has always been a bit of a socially progressive, feminist badass, and I do love her for that. In her new single "Hard Out Here", Allen discusses the state of the pop industry, and the impossible standards that women are held to in order to be allowed to progress. The lyrics are classic Lily Allen; she calls out sexism pretty blatantly, and points to the ways in which women are expected to conform in order to succeed:
If I told you about my sex life, you'd call me a slut/When boys be talking about their bitches no one's making a fuss/There's a glass ceiling to break/There's money to make/ And now it's time to speed it up because I can't move at this pace. [...]
If you're not a size 6, then you're not good looking/Well you better be rich or be real good at cooking/You should probably lose some weight 'cause we can't see your bones/You should probably fix your face or you'll end up on your own/Don't you want to have somebody who objectifies you?/Have you thought about your butt, who's gonna tear it in two?/We've never had it so good, uh huh, we're out of the woods/And if you can't detect the sarcasm, you've misunderstood.
But the video....? It makes me very uncomfortable, and I'm not okay with it.
In the interest of fairness, it's not all terrible. There are some pretty direct and hilarious call-outs of the industry that are completely on point and enjoyable. I mean, seriously, can you honestly say this is anything less than fucking GENIUS?
But there's a lot that rubs me the wrong way, most specifically her use of black women as props. Here is Lily Allen, a white (presumably feminist) woman, making a statement about her autonomy, sexual agency and self worth, while mocking the very same in black women.
The lyrics of the song are all about rejecting objectification and yet, here she is, objectifying women of colour. It's not lost on me that throughout the video, Allen and her two white dancers are wearing far more clothing than all of the black women who are present.
The black women in this video are all relegated to the background, shaking their asses for dear life, while Lily croons on about how much better she is than all that because she's above the need to sexualize herself. We get close up shots of jiggling asses and black women licking money all while Lily is fully clothed, professing her superiority.
So what does it say that she has put black women in her video in an explicitly sexual context? That she's better than them? What does it mean when she sings "Don't need to shake my ass for you, cause I've got a brain" while surrounded by black women doing exactly that? That's a pretty clear indication of what she thinks of WoC if you ask me.
I get that this is Lily's attempt at satire, and I get that she's trying to call out all the fervor over twerking in the last few months, and I get that this is supposed to be one big joke. But to me, it feels as though black women are the joke in this video. If she wanted to call out the use of WoC as props in music videos and in the larger pop culture, the way to do that was not to also use black women as props.
To me, this is the equivalent of putting an television character in blackface in order to "show that blackface is bad." It's great that that's the message you want to send, but you don't combat the racist act by participating in it. First of all, talk about mixed messages. And secondly, how can you presume to call out someone on their racist behaviour while engaging in the same behaviour? Satire must be done well in order to be of any consequence. It's not okay to simply do something shitty and label it satire. That's the equivalent of doing something offensive and them absolving yourself from responsibility by calling it "a joke." It is possible to call out oppression without participating in that same oppression.
I know it's supposed to be tongue in cheek, and I know that it's supposed to be a dig at Miley Cyrus, but it falls flat. There's not enough context here to make this anything more than another instance of #solidarityisforwhitewomen. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: "Ironic" racism, is still racism. (A quick search of the tag shows that I'm not the only one who thought so. As I was writing this post, someone tweeted me a link to this egregious misstep of Allen's from earlier this year where she dressed up her husband's penis in blackface [you read that right] as a dig at Azealia Banks. Clearly this isn't her first time at the racism rodeo.)
Elevating her own status as an enlightened feminist while demonizing black women's sexuality is as non-intersectional as it gets. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, this video is a brilliant example of everything wrong with the current climate of white feminism; white women asserting their power and dominance as women while ignoring the ways in which those actions negatively affect the WoC with whom they claim to be in solidarity. I mean, did we learn NOTHING from Miley-gate?
It also really annoys me that yet again, we're not only dealing with an instance of a white feminist displaying a pretty egregious intersectional fail, but also seeing other white feminists fail to call her out on it. (Jezebel literally says it's totes cool for Lily Allen to objectify black women because satire) Just like with Miley, it's not okay to simply ignore the problematic aspects of white feminist's politics just because you agree with other parts of it. Yes, sexism in the industry is terrible, and we should be calling it out, but why can't we do that as well as call out the racism? Or at the very least, not contribute to it?
For Lily to pen an anthem of sorts, dealing with female empowerment, and then disempower WoC through the way that she depicts them is incredibly racist. And it kills me that someone who is supposedly a feminist didn't see how this action plays directly into the existing status quo of denigrating WoC in order to elevate and lionize white women as bastions of purity and womanhood. This.... we've been through this before! We JUST had this discussion! Why are white women still so oblivious?
In the end, it's exhausting to keep having to defend your humanity to people who are supposed to be on your side. I think, I'm less annoyed that Lily Allen did this, and more annoyed that white feminists who were so "enlightened" after Miley's debacle, have failed to make the connection to the problematic elements in this video, when it's the exact same situation. Susuana Antubam, (another black intersectional feminist) gives a pretty great rundown of why this video is so problematic, so you should definitely check her piece out, as well as this excellent deconstruction from #BlackInAsia.
Honestly, this shit isn't hard. White ladies, stop shitting on women of colour to make yourself feel better. It's really that simple. Acknowledge and respect that WoC already have a million times harder than you do in this world by virtue of their skin colour; don't make it harder for them gain parity with you. Being an ally means recognizing your privilege and making sure not to wield it as a weapon. Do more than pay lip service; be cognizant of your own racist intent and call it out when you see in others. Because this shit is getting really old.
*****Editor's Note: After I published this piece, this tweet was retweeted into my timeline, and I thought it was so impactful that I had to come back and include it:
Really glad to see that all the white feminists who were so up in arms about Blurred Lines are speaking out about Lily Allen. Oh...
— Panda ♥ Laura (@bezukhova) November 13, 2013
Discussion of the Blurred Lines video spanned the entire summer. White feminists decried it from the very beginning, calling it misogynistic and rapey; both accurate assessments. However, notice that all but one of the women in that video were white. And that fact is significant because the opposite is true of this video. And it points to a larger issue within the white feminist movement of not being able to recognize WoC as deserving of dignity or protection when they are attacked and objectified.
When white women are objectified, they are able to identify it as such; they have no problems calling it out for the misogynistic bullshit that it is. When black women are objectified, it doesn't even register on their radars, much less click for them that black women also deserve to have their dignity protected and fought for. White feminists' silence on the degradation of black woman's sexuality is deafening. It speaks volumes that their tunnel vision is so severe that (yet again!) they are incapable of seeing or engaging with issues that do not affect them directly. Yes, the lyrics are fun and great and empowering, but the VIDEO IS RACIST AS FUCK, and you need to talk about that shit too instead of hiding behind your white privilege blinders.
*****[UPDATE]: Lily Allen released a statement of sorts commenting on the criticism that this video has garnered a little under an hour ago. It is predictably unsatisfactory.
On the first two points, I find it... enlightening to discover that meritocracy suddenly applies to BW in the entertainment industry when the position to be filled requires sexual objectification.
On the third I say, "Intent is not magic." The fact that she did not set out to offend doesn't change the fact that she DID offend. Satirical comment on pop culture or no, when you look at your end product and it looks exactly like the very thing you claim to be making fun of, you need to go back to the drawing board. Black women's bodies and sexuality are not a joke, and the politics of how and how often they are displayed in public for the benefit of the white consumer is about race.
On the fourth: there is no problem with her covering up if that makes her feel more comfortable. But why then are the black women's bodies still on display? A racial dichotomy already exists between the way that the sexuality of BW and WW are perceived. To make a choice like that is to condemn the objectification of WW and dignify the objectification of BW. Why not have the BW cover up? Personally I think that having them be fully clothed and twerking would have gone a long way towards shifting this video into satire.
On the fifth point; classic non-apology. "I know you're hurt and offended, but I didn't mean to do it so it's not my fault you're so sensitive." Not like she contributed to the distribution of harmful images of black women or anything. No big deal.
On the final point, I honestly see this as a derailment of the issue at hand. There are so few opportunities for WoC in the entertainment industry that any paying gig is likely seen as a saving grace. For black and brown women, participating in their own objectification is oftentimes they price they pay for access to the industry, and potentially better opportunities down the line. But more specifically, because of the dearth of positions available to black women in the industry, it is HIGHLY unlikely that those women are going to come out and say that they felt uncomfortable and objectified by being a part of that video because it could mean that they are never able to get work again. Who is going to hire the black woman who makes waves by calling her employer racist when there are so many other WoC eager and willing to do whatever it takes to fill her spot? It is unfair of her to put them on the spot like that and all but require them to side with her, when choosing not to do so could have a devastating effect on their careers, regardless of their true feelings.
In summation: Lily Allen, you're on some bullshit. Not only did you contribute to the objectification of black women, you doubled down on your racism when called out, and refused to apologize for the damage that you've done. I thought you were cute, but you've officially lost a fan.