Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”: Racially questionable feminist pop

In her comeback single, Lily Allen satirizes the standards with which the music industry and society pressure women. The video opens with Allen on a surgery table defending her body to her male manager and doctors who say she let herself go (“Um, I had two babies”). The song goes on to discuss about the pressures on women to be thin while having a booty, being able to cook and be beautiful.

A highlight of the video is Allen’s balloon banner, a la “Robin Thicke has a big dick” in the casually sexist rape culture-promoting anthem that is “Blurred Lines, which here reads “Lily Allen has a baggy pussy.” Lily Allen certainly does not care what men think of her or her body.

But perhaps this is exclusive “white girl feminism,” because while Lily Allen is asserting the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated world, she still surrounds herself with women of color who are subjected to the same objectification that that men do. The women of color twerk and dance sexually, get champagne poured on them and get money thrown on them. I get that Allen is intentionally put in the “male” role, but it leaves me questioning the video in terms of race. Because even if it is satire, it is still an outlet for the continued ogling by men at these sexualized and objectified colored bodies. Is this “ironic” piece just racist? Because Allen is essentially accessorizing black bodies like Miley Cyrus does while tearing down what popstars like Cyrus deal with in the industry.

In terms of raising issues of gender inequality, this song succeeds, but many have seen it as racially insensitive. In the end I think that it is all satire, given Allen’s penchant for severely biting sarcasm. Unfortunately the music industry does use women of color as booty-shaking objects, and while I think this knowingly pokes fun at that, it still leaves me a bit uncomfortable. I would love for someone to respond.

2 thoughts on “Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”: Racially questionable feminist pop

  1. oliviaesse

    I just saw this video yesterday as well. As I was thinking solely in terms of gender, I did not look so critically at the racial aspect of it, so I am glad you pointed it out. It is hard because it is a very thin line to walk between proving a point through satire and simply reinforcing what you are commenting against. I think that media-literate viewers like us, who have also been studying the objectification of women and especially black women in music videos, recognize and appreciate the statement that Allen is trying to make. However, as the video so directly depicts these issues, it is easy for one to misinterpret and only see a typical, women-degrading music video. It will be interesting to see what kind of reactions spring up in the media.

  2. rlaur2013

    As a woman of color, who also happens to be half-Black, I found this video to be offensive.

    Even if it was meant to be satire, I’m sure there could’ve been a better way to critique the use of black women in music videos than just, well, using black women in videos the way they’re always used. I was also bothered by how the clips of black women portrayed as sex objects were shown as Lily Allen, a white woman, would say lines like, “Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain.” Then it begs the question: Well what does this say about the black women dancers you’ve got shaking their butts around you, then? This dynamic strangely reminded me of how bell hooks, in her piece about the black female spectators, mentioned that white women have used black women to uphold their own “womanhood” and sexuality in various forms of media, and I guess that’s another aspect of this video that made me very uncomfortable.

    I think that this video is a perfect example of the dangers of lacking intersectionality, or in this case specifically lacking the POC lens, in feminism. I get the feminist message that was supposed to be said in this video, and the song is very catchy. But frankly, I’m just so tired of seeing women like me portrayed as mindless twerking machines, especially in this case where some claim it’s in the name of “satire”.


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