Watching the video for Lily Allen’s new single “Hard Out Here” for the very first time, a grin began to spread across my face.
After her offhand delivery of the line “don’t need to shake my arse for you cos I’ve got a brain”, it continued to grow, and by the time she was prancing around in front of giant balloon words proclaiming “Lily Allen has a baggy funny” I was punching the air (yeah, stick that in your pipe Robin Thicke). Hard out here feminism? I could get down with that.
I thought it was provocative and brazen in order to lay very plain the bullshit contradictions women face in the music industry and wider Western world. Those contradictions aren’t subtle, so why should her video be. And all with added autotune – something which seemed to be a gripe for many, but I thought was a fairly obviously dig at the manufactured nature of today’s pop industry.
Then I started reading about the “backlash”, and I immediately felt like a bad woman, or more specifically, a bad feminist. How had I completely missed that Lily’s video was exploiting women, in the same terrible way as the men and structures she was complaining about? (I don’t think she was, but I began to doubt myself). Why had I not questioned if there were issues with race representation in the video, with – as Suzanne Moore argued – “anonymous and sexualised” black female bodies? And wouldn’t her message have been gotten across far more successfully with a video that featured women represented in the way we’d like to see them, rather than sending up those representations as they are now?
Because while it certainly is hard out here for a bitch, it also feels like hard out here feminism is rife. The contradictions are just as complex, because you fight not only the restrictions and expectations placed on you, but also those about the “right” way to respond, or fight that fight.
One of Unsorry Team ladies hit the nail on the head for me when she said: “can someone tell me how I’m supposed to feel about this?”
So here are the two best answers I found to that question last week: Firstly from Ellie Mae O’Hagan, who points out Lily does not have to represent all feminism, not should she. Whatever your take on HOH, she is one voice in an ever-changing debate, and is not in danger of single-handedly transforming nor bringing down that movement.
And from Radio 1 DJ Jameela Jamil, who sensibly points out that showing images mimicking the exploitation of women in music videos does not necessarily short-circuit the point. If we’re making programmes about war or mental health for example, we don’t shy away from images of those things. We confront them head on, and see them for the awful/moving/poignant things that they are.
There is no “right” way to feel about it, because the motivations and experiences behind everyone’s responses will be different. And the concerns raised about HOH all hold weight.
But it might be helpful if every time a strong, feminist critique of some kind makes its way into the mainstream, we don’t assume that person is trying to speak for all women, or all feminism. Whether it’s Lily’s hard out here feminism or not.
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