When I heard that Lily Allen was making a comeback after a four-year hiatus with a music video that has been regarded as an uber-catchy feminist anthem, I was elated. Allen and feminism sounds awesome, right?
Then I watched it. It’s a great feminist anthem if you only care about white educated women. Allen, like many feminists, is eager to fight sexism yet is complicit in racism.
If you haven’t heard Allen’s “Hard Out Here,” the song denounces the double standards women face in society – “If I told you ‘bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut / When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss,” Allen sings.
The video opens with doctors operating on Allen and then shows her, fully clothed, dancing in front of a car. The background dancers are primarily black, except for two, and they are clad in bikinis and leotards as compared to shorts and jackets. Allen’s manager periodically comes in to encourage her to dance like them. She fails and continues to exalt what she believes is proper feminism.
There is a clear contrast between Allen – clothed and prim – and the black dancers who are ultimately used as props. They are the only ones who twerk and pour champagne on one another, which brings in Allen’s racist critique of consumerism.
At first glance, this could appear satirical of videos like “Blurred Lines.” With lyrics like, “I won’t be bragging ‘bout my cars or talking ‘bout my chains / Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cause I’ve got a brain,” followed by a black woman twerking in slow-motion next to a fully-clothed Allen, her irony becomes questionable.
Hip-hop culture is historically associated with people of color. Thus, Allen’s critique of hip-hop culture as anti-feminist is inherently critical of women of color who choose to participate in it.
Particularly, when “Hard Out Here” deems all women who shake their asses stupid, we have a problem. In doing so, Allen is elevated as the pinnacle of what all women should be.
Allen’s video represents a much larger problem with mainstream feminism. Allen has responded to accusations of racism with several points. On Twitter, Allen said that she was not looking for specific ethnicities and was too insecure to dance in a bikini.
The most worrisome response, however, was when Allen said, “It has nothing to do with race, at all.”
Whether Allen intended her music video to be racist or not – and I do not think it was her intention – it does not matter.
Whether the racism came before or after the casting, Allen’s satire does not parody what she mocks but rather recreates it. It lauds “white feminism” as what women ought to strive to. Sure, there are aspects of hip-hop culture that are derogatory toward women, but Allen’s video mocks hip-hop as inherently derogatory.
Yet, other famous celebrities of color – including women – have managed to embrace hip-hop as empowering and have made a name from it. Allen has not. Especially as a white woman, this is not a valid reason to critique hip-hop.
Mainstream media have a serious problem with how they present feminism. Certainly, Allen’s feminist ideal does not represent all women, but rather, an extremely narrow ideal. Criticizing a culture as inherently misogynistic marginalizes entire groups of women.
Women are more often than not presented with feminism that values white, educated, middle-class women – it is imperative to critique the culture that values this narrow brand of feminism. Though criticizing “Hard Out Here” is only a microcosm of this societal flaw, it is certainly a start.