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In this essay it will examine Lily Allen’s music video “Hard Out Here” (2015) by using feminist tools of analysis, which means that some representative scenes and lyrics from the music video will be picked out and paraphrased with reference to the course content. In general that four-minute clip depicts an ongoing liposuction operation on a signora who already has two children, while birth-giving might be the main cause of her obesity.
To begin with, when questioning whether or not Lily Allen’s music video could be assorted as feminist, there is no binary answer to define this media production.
Throughout the video (song) the anti-sexism tone has effected both its content and embodied meaning. In the lyrics there are a few lines saying that for female artists “you better be rich or be real good at cooking” and “should probably lose some weight” in order to earn your place in the world of entertainment. Also at the very beginning the operating doctor’s prejudiced and discriminated words that judged the housewife’s body shape greatly demonstrated the double standards for men and women not only in the realm of media world, but also in reality.
In Bell Hooks’ article Feminism is for Everybody (2000) she defined feminism as a movement that aims to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression (Hooks 6), which coincides with Lily Allen’s lyrics in the song.
By speaking out Lily Allen’s own experiences as an artist who remains active in mass communication area, this music video as an outlet of her personal voice, according to Gay’s argument in the introductory part of her book, could be categorized as an effective practice of feminism (Gay xiii).
When Lily Allen tried to elevate personal experiences to a political level, another important issue to talk about is the music video’s aim of consciousness-raising. Living within a patriarchal social context and with the ultimate aim of overthrow patriarchy, the first step for feminism advocators to do therefore is to empower all women by “changing themselves” (Hooks 7), while letting women know about how this patriarchal system works and has restricted female activities constitute a vital part of this enlightenment. Hence “Hand Out Here” has adopted this mechanism, in which way the grim reality of sexist oppression on women is revealed to the public, letting women have that realization of ‘what is happening’ and ‘something should be done to change this situation’.
Nevertheless, “Hard Out Here” also includes aspects that make the masses suspect the nature of the production, questioning its visual messages as anti-sexism or pro-racism. This censure from the public, especially black community’s, somehow indicates the possible problems when one tries to represent a certain group of people, which could be engaged with Linda Martin Alcoff’s discourse on the problem of speaking for others.
Firstly one’s position and location of speaking may have great impact on the embodied ideas and authenticity of one’s words, in the end may reinforce exploitation on the group one is trying to speak for (Alcoff 7). Lily Allen as a white women who has obtained great success in her career, her undoubtful privileged position ensures that her claims can be widely circulated and even be understood. Whatsoever in “Hard Out Here” Lily Allen as an individual is in charge of both lyrics and visual languages. When Lily Allen herself is lying on the operating table, the camera constantly gives close-up shots to the television in the room — it leads the viewers to another space where a group of black female dancers are ‘twerking their bodies, at the same time rolling on the floor with short pants on. However, Lily Allen as the central figure for most of the time she neither do the same postures nor wearing the same costumes as these black dancers do, rather she seems more self-controlled and self-conscious than her followers. Therefore these women of color are highly sexualized in this video in an anonymous way, along with the lyrics that is keep emphasizing the dirty words such as “bitch” and “slut”. This kind of depiction has arosen a series of debates over Lily Allen’s intention of making this music video. Some believed that “Hard Out Here” has marginalized and ignored the existence and contributions of black women when Lily Allen speaks up for herself, so as a whole has eliminated the representational nature of music video. The discursive context of Lily Allen’s lyrics makes “Hard Out Here” have only assimilated famous female artist’s disturbing gender problems, along with the class-biased representation of women, ultimately turns feminism into a ‘colorblind’ practice.
When arguing on Lily Allen’s racial stance in the piece, another fact has made the analysis of this music production more complicated: the distinction between speaking about and speaking for others in “Hard Out Here” is not quite clear, or else to say, Lily Allen even does not intend to draw any distinctions. In Alcoff’s reading she avoids providing a absolute line between speaking for and speaking about others, rather she brings forward the indistinguishable nature of those two notions by saying that speaking for others and narrating one’s personal stories are inseparable (Alcoff 9). Indeed, Lily Allen’s narratives may merely represent herself that drives her out of the realm of “speaking for others”; at the same time the presentation of personal experiences marks the starting point of representing others as well, if viewing this music video from another angle. As what was stated in the first part of my essay when discussing whether “Hard Out Here” feministic or not, the verbalized sexism in the song somehow makes it qualified to “speak for others”. That is to say, this universal phenomenon of sexism will resonate among viewers with different social and racial backgrounds.
Moreover, another possible reply to the apprehension of racial discrimination and misrepresentation in the song intertwins with the fact that “one might only speak for oneself” (Alcoff 8), which simplifies the the possible effects of media production on others. Even if Lily Allen’s voice in this music video is autonomous and totally isolated from the essential truth of ‘others’, from viewer’s perspective they would have their own understanding and impression on the work whatsoever. Analyzing from the realm of epistemology, “speaking for myself” in fact means that one is reproducing one’s personal experiences along with the human knowledges and discourses that were learned from the ‘world’ (Alcoff 21). Therefore the resources of one’s knowledge are collaborations of one and others, indicating that self and others are still inseperable, whilst the errors when trying to speak for others are inevitable (Alcoff 22). So backing to the point where saying that her music has arosen racial controversy, although in Gay’s discourse the definition of feminism can be “pluralistic” (Gay xiv), which means feminism can either derive from a ‘group’ or a ‘person’; however, being personal does not qeual to being ‘partial’, even for Gay she also emphasizes the importance of inclusion of “women of color, queer women, and transgender women” (Gay xiii) in the feminist propaganda.
So is the depiction of those black women really that humiliating? Comparing Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” to a black hip hop feminist work “Bitch Bad” (2012), a song by Lupe Fiasco that was meantioned and discussed in class, both songs’adoption of the word “bitch”. In Durham, Cooper and Morris’ discourse on hip hop feminism, they state that “the persistence of respectability politics often impedes hip-hop feminism’s attempts to formulate an unapologetic pro-sex stance among black and Latina women” (Durham 724). In Lily Allen’s case this quotation could also be a possible response to those people who question the contumelious nature of her lyrics. By presenting the audience this terrible word, both songs try to rename the meaning of “bitch” by producing a stinging satire on the patriarchy society.
To sum up, the visual representations of “Hand Out Here” have several intersections with gender, race and class issues, whereas all of them are will finally end up going back to deal with the question of whether this music video could be sorted as “real” feminist. Rather than keep questioning the intended audience and intended messages of this music piece, there remains no doubt that Lily Allen vividly portrays her own stories and feelings as a woman who has suffered from a certain degree of oppression. No matter what effects it has made, at least she has awaken the world to pay attention on relevant topics, which makes her endeavor valuable.
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