The Blog

Responses to Lily Allen's 'Hard Out Here' Have Largely Missed the Point

'Hard Out Here' is undoubtedly flawed, but it's certainly more accessible than 'The Female Eunuch', and by expressing her impatience with the slow progress of gender equality, Lily Allen is forcing the issue to the forefront of public consciousness.

As 'Hard Out Here' slides out of the Top 10, and we all begin to forget about just how baggy Lily Allen's pussy really is, online reactions to the single have far from disappeared. The music video for the track sparked widespread debate about whether Allen should be hailed as a 'feminist icon' or chastised for making a statement that, at best, borders on slut-shaming and, at worst, projects racial superiority. However, I can't help but feel that the majority of articles I've read condemning Lily Allen for 'hand-on-slapped-black-buttocks racism' - yes, Suzanne Moore, I'm looking at you - have largely missed the point.

The video is intended to parody of the sexually provocative music videos usually released by young, female artists, but its aim is not to cut down other women. Instead, it attempts to critique the music industry and the way in which it has cultivated the belief that any female artist hoping to succeed will need to twerk up against Robin Thicke's crotch as a rite of passage.

The more Miley Cyrus performs mock-fellatio upon inanimate construction objects, the harder it gets to buy into the argument that female stars are empowered by sexualised music video. It seems more likely that female artists are pressured into these career moves, with artists like Brittney Spears and Grimes having recently expressed such sentiments. Allen's lyrics insightfully highlight the fact that, despite some progress being made towards gender equality, media portrayals of women continue to undermine the prospect of female liberation.

Obviously a video like 'Hard Out Here' is contentious, but this is exactly where it's strengths lie - Lily Allen has brought the topic to the forefront of public consciousness and forced us to debate whether we can continue to condone an industry that tells women they're only worth their weight in sex appeal. Equally, this single is far more likely to reach those young people in most at risk of being brainwashed by Miley Cyrus deep-throating a sledgehammer.

The video has also been heavily criticised for propagating 'anti-black feminism'. However, I feel that these reactions have entirely missed the point of what the video was trying to achieve, in criticising the way black women are often objectified in music videos. Just as the laughable mock-fellatio of a banana is a nod to Miley's tragic need to sexualise herself, the inclusion of these women in 'Hard Out Here' is a commentary on the way black women are often portrayed as background props in music videos. Much less fury was generated by 'We Can't Stop'; a video in which black women are legitimately treated as twerking accessories to Miley's cultural appropriation menagerie.

Critics have been quick to point out that Lily Allen, a white woman, is the only clothed female in the video. However, these criticisms fail to acknowledge that the entire video is a commentary by the singer on the regularity of this in most music videos. Quite simply, critics are missing the point, and widely underestimating Allen's intelligence and capacity for social commentary. Equally, the black women portrayed in 'Hard Out Here' are implicit in the mockery being made of your standard-issue music video - they are joining Allen in exaggeratedly parodying 'video hoe' twerking to highlight just how laughable it is.

Lily Allen has also been accused of 'waxing superior', and of rejecting a type of consumerism particularly associated with African American culture, in refusing to brag about 'cars' or 'chains'. However, I don't feel that a slightly misguided, undeniably self-important rejection of a certain type of consumerism constitutes racism by Allen, particularly when such status symbols have become so prolific outside of black culture. Although I accept that my privilege disqualifies me from holding any sort of an authority on the subject, I can't help but despair at the lack of outrage that was caused by Miley popping in a gold grill before twerking with her nameless, identity-less backing dancers. I feel that this, in itself, is illustrative of how differently society reacts to those women who are passive, and those who attempt to make some sort of a statement.

'Hard Out Here' is undoubtedly flawed, but it's certainly more accessible than 'The Female Eunuch', and by expressing her impatience with the slow progress of gender equality, Lily Allen is forcing the issue to the forefront of public consciousness. Those criticising the track clearly don't realise just how hard it is out here for a bitch, and I can't help but wonder if a man making a similar statement would have been met with so much animosity. The irony of the hook ostensibly sums up the challenge of trying to root out a prejudice that is so deeply engrained that we often fail to notice it when it's right in front of us - 'it's hard out here for a bitch'.