Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hard Out Here for Lily Allen

Behind every successful woman, there is an even more successful man. Just ask Lily Allen.

BBC Radio 2 recently afforded the controversial pop star an opportunity to ask the questions, rather than answer them. Yet even during her “trading places” moment with British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, Allen gave the most memorable quotes.  

When Shulman observed most of Allen’s fiercest competitors in the music industry were women, Allen responded, ''You'll also notice, of those big, successful, female artists, there's always a man behind the woman-piece."

She continued to discredit every songstress imaginable by listing their puppet masters; "Whether it's Beyoncé it's Jay Z, if it's Adele it's Paul Hepworth, with me it was Mark Ronson, same with Amy Winehouse."

So there you have it. No matter how accomplished the lady, there is always a gentleman nearby, pulling her strings and facilitating her fame. These cringe-worthy statements came directly after Allen’s ShortList takeover, where she professed her distaste for feminism, and women in general.

While collaborating with the UK’s lifestyle magazine for men, Allen was asked to address double standards affecting women in music. Hinting at some of her more recent lyrics, ShortList suggested Allen was often critical other female artists. Taken aback, Allen explained:
It just dribbled out! It’s not supposed to be provocative and it’s not attacking anyone, although it does namecheck a few people. [like Katy Perry] It’s about how girls are pitted against each other, unlike men. I know you had it in the Nineties with Blur versus Oasis, but it’s not the same thing. It’s like ‘Who looks the best?’, ‘You’re getting too old to do this, you shouldn’t be doing that’. There seems to be a moral undertone when women are concerned that doesn’t happen with men, and that’s what that song is about. Stop this now [laughs]. 
Excellent observations, but Allen continued-- perhaps overcompensating for her previous statements when she set her sights on feminism and its futility:
Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore. We’re all equal, everyone is equal so why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. There’s no reason for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, Allen is unaware there certainly are men’s rights activists. It’s just no one takes them seriously. When you’re a member of the dominant group, you cannot be oppressed.

ShortList positioned Allen as some sort of gender authority because she usually has such honest, insightful things to say about women. Even they seemed confused by the contradictory stance she took during her interview: 
The theme of Lily’s ShortList is ‘How To Be A Man, By Women’, which is done in the spirit of improving gender relations. However, she is quick to say, “I’m not an archetypal woman. All my best friends are boys.
Known as a red flag, “all her friends are dudes” is less about preference, and more about self-hatred. Sisterhood is powerful, and if you can’t relate to other women about your shared experiences, that's just sad for you. Also, who will you borrow tampons from? 

Women who don’t trust women aren’t to be trusted. But Allen takes her insults even further, revealing that she is an adult operating like an insecure adolescent:
It’s much the same. But I don’t think men are the enemy, I think women are the enemy. I know that when I’m sitting in a restaurant and a really beautiful woman walks in, who’s skinny, I instinctively think, “Oh she’s really skinny and beautiful and I’m really fat and ugly.” Every man I speak to always says they find that kind of woman gross, and they prefer a bit more meat on their ladies. So it’s more of a competitive thing. It’s weird. It’s just really unhealthy and we’re our own worst enemy. We should stop being so horrible to each other.
Once again, she pledges her allegiance to the mens. But more importantly, why is she mad at that stranger? Is it because you've internalized the idea that all women get out of bed every day to fight for male attention like the hunger games

The worst part is when she admits that only reassurance from her gentlemen companions can restore her inner peace. Their approval is everything. So Allen does not want to be a feminist, and yet her negative body image is a problem for which feminism is the remedy.

We live in a patriarchal society where men’s perspectives are valued over women’s, and their preferences are prioritized as social norms. Those standards affect how we feel about ourselves and, as Allen described, how we interact with others.

Allen’s recent controversies stem from the release of her new album Sheezus. And “Hard Out Here,” was the empowering single announcing her triumphant return. Or at least it was, until she unveiled the accompanying video.

With better words than visuals, it was all sorts of problematic. Even though Allen claimed it was oh-so-unintentional, there was something unsettling about a fully-covered white woman surrounded by scantily clad women of color-- twerking, of course.

And while they twerked, she barely moved, making her "feminist anthem" more like a disappointing example of mindless appropriation. Yes, it IS hard out here for a bitch. But it’s even harder for the back-up dancers you just exploited and objectified. Not very subversive. In fact, mostly just more of the same. 

Allen is not the first seemingly feminist pop star to take an inexplicable stand against feminism. And she certainly won’t be the last.  Her supposed adversary Katy Perry had a similar guffaw, completely unprovoked, when she accepted the Billboard “Woman of the Year Award” in 2012. While distancing herself from the f-word, she assured the audience she did believe in the strength of women.

Even Gwen Stefani, with her timeless battle cry “Just a Girl,” rejected the label in a devastating interview with Bust back in 2007. Sure, this is all kinds of frustrating, but do we really need our pop stars to be well-versed in feminist theory? Should we care if celebrities are feminists?

Yes, and no.

Personally, I’m tired of expending the effort to determine whether or not celebrities are feminists. Seriously, it’s exhausting.

Remember how upset we were when Beyoncé showed up on that Ms. Magazine cover? Who did this “Mrs. Carter” think she was? But then her secret album dropped. And she became a spokesperson for Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaignNow, she’s our favorite feminist icon, not to mention the patron saint of lady business. Who knew?

Let’s be clear. I don't really care if Lily Allen, Katy Perry, or Beyoncé call themselves feminists. Their identities do not affect my own feminist beliefs. At all. But their declarations do have the ability to influence young girls. And this is where the explicit aversion of public figures to feminism begins to matter. From princesses, to pop stars, to CEOs, role models are important. And girls need them, because you can’t be what you can’t see

Beyond recruitment, and the satisfaction of mainstream validation, there are other benefits to Top 40 representation. Feminism is rooted in academia, perpetuated by individuals fortunate enough to take a gender studies course. But it desperately needs to be more accessible, beyond the ivory tower. Women in pop culture openly identifying as feminists could advance the conversation, making the ideology more inclusive. 

But let’s say the Katy Perrys and Gwen Stefanis of the world continue to throw feminism under the bus. Can art be feminist, without the artist identifying as a feminist? If the piece provokes a “click” moment, unleashing the consumer’s feminist consciousness, must the creator also own the label to certify the authenticity of the recipient's relationship to the work in question?

Writing, painting, music—it’s all subjective. Sure, lyrics might seem to touch on women’s issues, like wanting “to eat spaghetti bolognaise and not feel bad about it for days and days and days.” But even that is open to interpretation.

Pop stars are pop stars because they can sing and dance. Not quote Judith Butler. And it’s terribly limiting to only consume products aligning with your political ideologies. However, I’m growing very tired of celebrities denouncing feminism without really understanding complicated power structures or the world around them.

Every time Allen sings about body image, women's sexuality, and the challenges of being female in the music industry, those are all feminist acts. That being said, there are a few things she should consider before her next interview. So Lily, this last part is just for you.

You see men helping women get ahead? Great. Nobody ever got anywhere completely on their own. When men get help from men, that’s called mentoring. Their connections are seen as assets. Why should the assistance women receive from men discount their accomplishments?

And you hate feminism? Guess what—some days, so do I. But men don’t need their own version because male privilege is real and the odds are already in their favor. Don’t ever say male-ism ever again. Otherwise, they will know you are simple and they will drown you in the river.   

And yes. Women compete with other women. But there is a man in a very larger corner office somewhere, counting the money he earned peddling needful things for the beauty-industrial-complex, and that is a very important concept for you to understand.

And women aren’t born hating other women. That is a learned behavior. If I were you, I would begin seeking lady-friends immediately. When you find the right ones, they will provide you with the most rewarding relationships of your life. Trust me. 

Your subjective experiences are valid. The personal is, in fact, political. And it is most definitely hard out here for a bitch. Because you’re not really supposed to be “out.” Typically, women are confined to the private sphere. Feminism means knowing your actions are meaningful and just walking out the front door is a rebellion.

Never forget that. And never stop singing your truth—no matter what you call yourself.   

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