Fighting against the fetishisation of women, doesn’t work if you fetishise women

November 13th, 2013 by

“Whilst I don’t want to offend anyone,” Lily Allen writes in response to the backlash against her video for ‘Hard Out Here’, “I do strive to provoke thought and conversation. The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women with modern pop culture. It has nothing to do with race, at all.” This is perhaps hard to see. The video (which starts promisingly, and later with a well deserved quip at Robin Thicke) moves into dance sequences, the focus on women of colour who gyrate.

Allen says it’s not about race. The women weren’t chosen because of their colour but, rather, because of how well they dance. Allen might be poking fun at Miley Cyrus – she might not have even meant something so specific – but her video is absolutely about race and here is why: Twerking is a dance synonymous with black women. It has already been culturally appropriated by Miley Cyrus, who set up a routine in which black women point in awe at Cyrus’ expertise of the dance, before showing them a thing or two on how it’s really done. It is an industry in which – whether Allen sees it, or not – differentiates between female white popstars, and black ones. The genre, outfits, lyrics are tailored so without even seeing her face we know her ethnicity.

‘I don’t see colour’ is a luxury afforded by privileged white people who have never had to. It undermines the reality that experiences, and indeed feminism, are not born or existed the same. It forgets that a white middle class woman will not encounter identical issues with sexism – or, indeed, fetishisation – in the manner in which black women do, or a Muslim woman, or Trans. It forgets the relationship with different sexual orientations, it overlooks immigration, class, ableism. ‘I don’t see colour’ doesn’t cut it. Start looking. Because good intentions don’t define racism – racism does.

“This is for my women all around the world,” Christina Aguilera once sang. “Can’t hold us down,” she chants, holding back the large group of black women behind her. Strutting into shot a black man reaches for Aguilera’s bottom because, you know, black men like big bottoms, because, you know, black women. “Situated in the widespread mockery of twerking,” Reni Eddo-Lodge tweets, “is a deep seated revulsion and fascination with black women’s bodies.” And she is right.

So here it is: You don’t satirise race. Just as you wouldn’t black-up and call it parody. If the message is not to materialise women in music videos, don’t materialise them in your own. Just as Robin Thicke was not ‘satirising’ sexism by being sexist. A hapless, careless minstrel show of black women who exist to jiggle arses and douse themselves in courvoisier, applauding the white woman liberator.

Mainstream high-profile feminists are already lauding ‘Hard Out Here’ a feminist anthem. How basic, yet not surprising. Lily Allen’s indignant, “I’m not going to apologise because I think that would imply I’m guilty of something,” is all too familiar: the Lena Dunham feminism of rich white women who ignore the screams of every other woman not being heard. It fits against the backdrop of Dunham’s show ‘Girls’, the lack of representation of people of colour, and Moran who, on the topic, stated that she “literally could not give a shit.”

“I thought the video was funny[...]” Hadley Freeman said, “Are people expecting Andrea Dworkin?” No. But it would be helpful if those who maintain a career speaking on behalf of women, listen to the very same women who are trying to tell them something. “I do strive to provoke thought and conversation,” Allen says. But only if, like many others speaking on our behalf, we agree with them. If it’s to highlight the disservice done to women then listen when they are saying something is fucked or misrepresentational; believe them, apologise, stop making excuses and pass the fucking mic.

“The lyrics are about what STUPID things women do in pop videos,” Caitlin Moran replied to me in a tweet. “Are the only stupid things done by black women?” I asked, “Do you see my point, and the issue many have?” Moran stopped replying (perhaps her capslocks broke), but ‘fuck you, I don’t need to see you’ is a motif all too familiar in white middle class feminism, suited for the patriarchy that pays for it.