Lily Allen’s new song has created somewhat of a controversy. Whilst some are branding it a feminist anthem, others have criticised it for being racist and only encouraging sexist stereotypes.
I’m somewhere between the two. Whilst I think it’s great that these issues are getting aired on such a public platform, and are being debated in arenas that would previously be unaware and uninterested in them, I’m not sure she’s exactly gone the right way about it.
The race issue is perhaps the most obvious, and has been the most debated in the media since the video premiered. Allen’s privileged position as the unmarked white (and, on a separate note, middle-class) cannot be disputed. The black women in the video, ‘twerking’ in the background, are still sexualised and anonymised. Allen is walking away in the end of the video, but they remain on the ground, their autonomy removed and no other choice available to them. And it’s all cleverly sheathed under the veil of ‘irony’. Although Allen should not have to speak for all feminists, this blatant dichotomy between her and the black women made me uncomfortable. The privileged white body rises above The Other again: she is the exception to the sexist objectification the black women are performing,
Allen’s representation of motherhood has also attracted some criticism. The balloons in the video spelling out “Lily Allen has a baggy pussy” have been linked to her having two babies, whilst also directly ridiculing Robin Thicke’s ridiculous “Robin Thicke has a big d-“ declaration in his own video. Anything which makes Thicke look stupid is fine by me, so my joy at this part of the video outweighs my concern for the motherhood issues. However, the point about a monolithic version of motherhood being peddled is a fair one. As Glosswitch put it, “while motherhood is an absolutely valid identity, if there’s only one version of it, it’s no identity at all”.
The consumption of feminism is also something to be debated. Whilst academic or political feminism has no place in popular culture, this sugar-coated, popularised feminism is acceptable. It has had to be mutated and changed before it can be aired to the public – something which is disappointingly appropriating discourses of the lack of space for feminism in the public sphere. It’s even more depressing when you read articles about how Allen has ‘saved feminism’. Nope, we’re all still here, battling away in the background. We’re just not usually allowed in popular culture, you see.
Is it not depressing that Allen is being applauded just for identifying as a ‘feminist’? Why is it such a big deal to associate yourself with this term? But in the media industry, it seems to be. Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Katy Perry have all denounced the term, with Perry saying “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women”. Why are you not a feminist then? What has stigma done to the term, how has it damaged it so badly!? The belief that all feminists are bra-burning, man-hating lesbians is still common amongst many. Lady Gaga insisted she wasn’t a feminist because she “loves men”. Why are the two mutually exclusive concepts?
The stigma of ‘the f word’ is, in my opinion, the biggest crisis facing the feminism movement at the moment. It’s hard to be taken seriously when everyone assumes you’re some sort of extremist, angry man-hater. There are some great blogs and books dedicated to reclaiming the word, and movements like this are slowly become more mainstream.
When all is said and done, I do think it can only be a good thing that Allen is encouraging these discourses in popular culture. Having these debates opened up to new audiences can encourage wider thought about the issues raised, and will raise general consciousness about feminist issues. Even if it is sugar-coated.