Friday, 22 November 2013

How about we all leave Lily Allen alone?

Now, as a number of you might have noticed, I'm a man. I can't help it - I was born this way. And so, some of you might argue that I shouldn't really have a view on this, or that it isn't my place to start 'getting involved'. I also consider myself a feminist - which only works to confuse things further. But, a lot of the stuff I've read about Lily Allen's latest single, 'Hard out here' is such rubbish, that I feel the need to take it down a peg or two. Yes, it might not be my place to say anything, but it's never stopped me before, so let's begin.

Lily Allen is a pop star. She makes pop music. She didn't write The Feminine Mystique, that was Betty Friedan. They're different people. She didn't write The Female Eunuch, either, because that was Germaine Greer and I'm sure they've both been in the same room at the same time. Lily Allen has released two albums to date, one of which contained a song joking about the size of her ex-partner's penis. I know this because I once bought a copy of the album from a supermarket for £4.99.

Unlike Betty Friedan or Germaine Greer, or whoever, people don't expect Lily Allen to always talk about feminism. People expect her to make music and sing sometimes and occasionally launch ill-advised chat shows on BBC3 (remember that? Sorry if you, like me, are still having harrowing flashbacks). That's why I think that a lot of the scorn heaped at Lily is ill-advised. Her single, 'Hard out here' has been lambasted by stalwarts of the female left because it abandons the sisterhood, ignores the singer's privilege and because the video is racist. Now, I'm not talking about the video, because that's a whole different question, but I will have a go at the song.

Our beloved Suzanne Moore wrote in the Guardian 'As hard as it might be here, I still know it's a damn sight harder for some bitches than others.' Moore's argument focuses on the idea that Lily should be more aware of her own background before preaching about womens' issues, and especially the way black women are portrayed in pop. Essentially, she's wearing a big badge reading 'Check your privilege', she's smiling, and she's tapping it.

Another talking head wrote about Lily abandoning he
r sisters - a cardinal feminist sin. Admittedly, this is a sticking point, albeit one I'll forgive. The lyrics do read 'don't need to shake my ass for you, 'cause I've got a brain'. Does it suggest that she's better than a dancer? Yes. Does it judge people who, after years of training, are paid to dance in music videos? Yes it does. Is the criticism fair? I don't think so.

And this is the crux of it. If a self-identifying feminist firebrand had come out and started talking about dancers in that way, I'd be first in line to argue against them. But, Lily Allen isn't any of those things. As I said, she's a pop star. She hasn't done a thesis on the Male Gaze. She might not understand why people like Suzanne Moore (and myself, on occasion) walk around tapping 'priv' badges and glaring. And that's fine. Is this a faultless message of female empowerment? No. It's problematic in many ways. But, it will do more good than all of the establishment hand-wringing. Let's consider the reality. If I spoke to a fifteen year old girl about male privilege, it probably wouldn't be a very engaging conversation. But, she might listen to this song and think, for the first time, that other women get just as pissed off about their representation as she does.

That's powerful.

Issues of privilege or status are all well and good, but we must remember that most people don't listen to Woman's Hour. Most people wouldn't know who Femen were if they protested in front of them. But, most people do know who Lily Allen is and they feel kinship with her perspective. It seems important that we consider the exclusivity of the feminist intelligentsia. As with mainstream politics, messaging is key, and the message isn't worth anything unless people understand it. Lily's new single may be problematic, but it's a message that's going out loud and clear to a new generation of feminists and I, for one, am glad about it.

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