British singer Lily Allen released her music video for the song “Hard Out Here” last week.
Though Rolling Stone labeled the single a “feminist anthem,” the video sparked debate concerning Allen’s take on feminism and white privilege.
The video begins with Allen on a surgery table, prepping for liposuction. As the song progresses, Allen sings, “if I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut / When boys be talkin’ about their bitches no one’s making a fuss.” The video also includes scenes of Allen satirically washing tire rims in the kitchen and black women dancing behind her.
There are references in the video to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which recently caused controversy about rape culture, sexual consent and the objectification of women.
Allen claims the video is meant to be a “lighthearted satire that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture.”
However, many feminists and critics argue Allen’s video is problematic because of its slut-shaming lyrics and objectification of black women.
Slut-shaming means making a woman feel ashamed for expressing her sexuality. Allen takes part in this by singing “don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain.” These lyrics suggest women who “shake their asses” don’t have a brain.
University of Minnesota’s Women’s Center blogger Amber Jones wrote that Allen’s slut-shaming lyrics are especially controversial because they perpetuate stereotypes about women in hip-hop culture and, inevitably, women in black culture.
Allen’s lyrics put down women who “shake their asses,” and in hip-hop culture, the majority of those women in music videos are black.
In the video, in which black women are dancing behind Allen, they’re dancing in the way Allen condemns through her lyrics.
Allen said casting black women for the roles wasn’t intentional.
“If anyone thinks for a second that I had specific ethnicities in mind for the video,” she said on Twitter, “they’re wrong.”
Jones argued that putting women of color in scantily clad roles in front of a backdrop that connects them to hip-hop culture is a racialized statement regardless of Allen’s intent.
The fact that Allen refused to apologize on Twitter highlights how she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the video.
When I watched the video for the first time, I didn’t see anything wrong with it either — a feeling I attribute to white privilege.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project defines white privilege as the preference for whiteness saturating society.
It’s white privilege that is blinding Allen from understanding how her perpetuation of negative black female stereotypes is just as harmful as the stereotypes she aims to satirize.
This isn’t the first time white feminists have misunderstood feminism in relation to women of color.
In August, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trended on Twitter. The hashtag’s creator, Mikki Kendall, started the hashtag to bring attention to how often feminists of color are told that the racism they experience isn’t a feminist issue.
Feminism is an issue for all women. If white women like Allen are going to label themselves feminists, they can’t pick and choose which women they want to celebrate.