Inequality Promises That it’s Here to Stay
English singer, songwriter Lily Allen gained acclaim beginning in 2006 with the release of her first album for her outspoken lyrics and frankness in dealing with current issues. Her most recent single “Hard Out Here” released in 2014, is no exception as the song and accompanying music video has been described as a satirical commentary on the objectification of women in modern pop culture. (Michaels) The lyrics of “Hard Out Here” argue that while society claims equal rights between men and women, women continue to face prejudice with regards to beauty, work and sexuality. Elements of the music video support and emphasize the claims made in lyrics yet, other elements complicate the lyrics due to the visual representation of back, Hispanic and Asian female bodies. “Hard Out Here” has been praised by current, prominent, feminists of the day as a “Feminist Anthem” but can it really be that when others claim that the music video degrades women of color?
The music video opens with Allen lying on an operating table surrounded by dominant males; a doctor and her manager. She appears to be under going a cosmetic liposuction like surgery as the two men stand above her. Both the doctor and her manager treat her as an object, discussing her weight gain and how it will affect her image in the music industry, acting as if she isn’t even there.
Manager: “We need more off the stomach and then we’ll start on the legs… Jesus how does somebody let themselves get like this, huh?”
Doctor: “Lack of self discipline I suppose”
Manager: “God, it’s terrifying”
This introduction highlights the section of Allen’s song devoted to the criticism of western stereotypes of female beauty standards where she sings
“You’re not a size six, and you’re not good lookin’,
Well, you better be rich, or be real good at cookin’
You should probably lose some weight
‘Cause we can’t see your bones
You should probably fix your face or you’ll end up on your own”
Allen’s lyrics call out misogynistic beauty standards, claiming that as a woman unless you are attractive or have other admirable qualities, such as wealth or the ability to cook well, you are of no other value to society. This commentary responds to the growing field of evidence that girls and women are constantly presented with advertisements and other forms of media that objectify the female body and portray unrealistic stereotypes. In her documentary Jean Kilbourne reports that 91% of all cosmetic procedures are preformed on women, and that more than two million cosmetic surgery’s, such as breast implants and liposuction, occur every year. (Kilbourne)
The opening lyrics of the song address another prominent issue women face in modern society, the inequalities women face in the work place. Within the first verse of the song Allen asserts that she is hard working, and wants to be respected for her professionalism as she sings,
“You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen
I won’t be bragging ‘bout my cars or talkin’ bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you cause I’ve got a brain”
Contradictory to traditional feminine standards she won’t be working at home, but rather in a male dominated industry where the majority of male singers find success by talking about their wealth, and female singers find success by objectifying their bodies. Throughout the music video Allen is pictured with her manager who directs her to present herself in sexualized ways such as twerking and deep throating a banana. Despite the assumption that Allen should be in control as the as the singer and songwriter the manager’s intrusion is a physical indication of male dominance in the music industry.
Furthermore, the male manager instructing Allen to twerk and erotically eat a banana draws attention to the inequalities women face in regards to sexuality. The second verse in “Hard Out Here” states “ If I told you about my sex life you’d call me a slut, When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss.” This line refers to the phenomenon where men are glorified and praised for their sexual interactions, while women are slut shamed and made to feel dirty for theirs. Society encourages women to present themselves sexually, wearing revealing clothing and interacting with men in specific ways, but rejects them if they act on sexual impulses, labeling them sluts. In addition to Allen’s actions emphasizing such issues, the representation of the dancers in the video are the most obvious visual indication of the sexual inequality women face. Women are often portrayed in music videos scantily clad, twerking and touching themselves. Intended to be enacted in a satirical manner the women are shown licking their fingers and rubbing their crotches, twerking aggressively, licking random objects, slapping each other’s butts and pouring Champaign down each other’s breasts.
While the satirical notions of the hyper sexualization of the dancer’s can be read, many have noted that the use of solely black, Hispanic and Asian dancers is racist. The use of only minority race women insinuates that these women are of lower value than Allen herself. As she says in the song “don’t need to shake my ass for you, cause I’ve got a brain”, cut to women of minority races shaking their asses. These women are therefore automatically associated with the brainless women Allen mentions earlier in the song. In comparison Allen appears fully clothed throughout the music video and is not shown dancing in the same sexual manners as the other dancers. One blogger writes “The non-white women in Allen’s video act as dehumanized proxies of patriarchy- assumed to have neither brains nor agency.” (Siddiqi) In response to such claims Allen insists that the dancer’s were chosen for their abilities, not because of their skin color and that much of the shoot was improvised by the dancers themselves. None of the dancers have spoken out against the video.
Listening to the song alone “Hard Out Here” can be largely interpreted as a feminist anthem. Allen works to reclaim the word “bitch” as she repeatedly refers to herself using this term and in place of the word women. She calls out the notion that women have broken the glass ceiling and now reside at an equal level as their male counterparts. One of the most blatant lines in the song states “Inequality promises that it’s here to stay, Always trust the injustice cause it’s not going away.” This line in particular captures Allen’s disappointment with the current status of society and is intended as a wake up call for women, something that the lyrics of the song achieve as a whole. Unfortunately, after watching the music video it is hard to believe that the issues which Allen addresses will actually undergo change as the video undermines notions of female solidarity through it’s careless casting of dancers. The visual representation of “Hard Out Here” ignores the intersections of feminism and race. If only there could have been racial diversity represented in the dancers, and more thought had gone into clothing choice the video might have been able to stand next to the lyrics and read as a call for women to band together against the oppression of the patriarchy.
Allen, Lily. Lily Allen- Hard Out Here (Offical Video). Youtube.com. November 12, 2013.
Allen, Lily. “Hard Out Here.” Sheezus. May 2, 2014.
Kilbourne, Jean. Killing Us Softly IV: Advertising Images of Women. 2010.
Michaels, Sean. “Lily Allen Denies Accusations That Hard Out Here Music Video is Racist.” The Guardian. November 14, 2013.
Siddiqi, Ayesha A. “Lily Allen’s Anti-Black Feminism.” Noisy. Novem