I had planned to write about this subject after the whole “Miley Cyrus VMA performance” happened, but I only wrote half a draft and never finished it. In light of Lily Allen’s latest video, “Hard Out Here,” and my current inability to sleep, I figured I’d be at least try to be productive. So, that’s why I’m going to call out white women who use cultural appropriation for entertainment purposes at 3 AM!
To put it succinctly: stop using women of color as props or accessories. It’s really not that hard, I promise.
To elaborate: It’s become a trend this year for pop stars, specifically white women, to have women of color dancing around them. In Miley Cyrus’s case, I think it’s her attempt to look edgy or “urban” (she specifically asked for her songwriters to write a song for her that “just feels black“). In Lily Allen’s case, I think it’s an attempt at satire– but it’s poorly done.
It seems like Lily Allen is trying to be feminist. The video begins with Lily on an operating table, having liposuction done, and her doctors and (assumed) manager are criticizing her appearance. That’s an obvious critique of pop culture/the media with its intense scrutiny of women’s bodies. There are also lyrics like: “If I tell you about my sex life/ you call me a slut.” Great! I absolutely agree with you, people are too judgmental of women’s bodies! Sounds progressive, right?
Until you get to this part: “Don’t need to shake my ass for you/ ‘Cause I’ve got a brain.”
Then, throughout the video, she has women of color dancing and twerking around her. Read that last line again. Yeah. Doesn’t seem like she thinks too highly of the women in her video.
Also, wasn’t she literally just saying that you don’t support the judgement of women’s bodies and what they do with them?
It’s so frustrating to see a woman who clearly cares about women’s rights throwing women of color under the bus to suit her agenda. Shaming women for being feminine, or for being sexy, or for having fun, or for enjoying sex, or for being a sex worker, or really, anything like that, is not feminist. The idea that a woman who is sexy or dances are certain way isn’t intelligent is both completely untrue and also very offensive. Try to tell me that Nicki Minaj, a woman who enjoys being feminine and sexy, isn’t intelligent (even when her lyrics are witty, funny, and also rated as the best rap verse of the last five years). Even Nicki knows she’s being shortchanged (she’s said: “Knowing that I am lyrically better than most of the male rappers out there…Yes, I’m gonna say it. I don’t get the credit that I deserve.”). Weird, it’s almost like we hold women to a different standard than we hold men to!
But of course, not only do we hold women to a different standard than we hold men to, we also hold women of color to a different standard than we hold white women to. “Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance” is a great piece that dissects this topic in light of Miley Cyrus’s recent performances. Cate (the author), says,
“And if you think that I’m grasping at straws, just look at the way that the media treats Miley and juxtapose it against how it treats Rihanna. This comparison is made often, and it continues to be relevant. It can be argued that Miley has almost literally remade herself in Rihanna’s image, and yet Rihanna continues to be attacked in the media for expressions of her lived culture, while Miley, who dresses up in black codifiers for profit, skates by. Miley is very literally trying on something that Rihanna has been doing for the better part of three years, and yet it only becomes acceptable when presented on a white body, playing into the long tradition of white artists stealing and/or appropriating from black artists and reaping the benefits.”
Miley’s VMA performance wasn’t the first time she was called out for using black women as props.
I know a lot of people are defending Lily Allen’s video, claiming it’s meant to satirize. However, just repeating an offensive action (in this case, having women of color dance around a white woman) doesn’t count as satire. What is different about Lily Allen’s objectification of black women vs Miley Cyrus’s, other than intent? A good satire of this phenomenon would be a black woman, surrounded by white women doing something stereotypically associated with white women (shopping, maybe?) and only emphasizing certain parts of their bodies. Or maybe it wouldn’t be. I don’t know, I’m not a professional satirist for a reason. All I know is that what Lily Allen and Miley Cyrus both did, regardless of intent, is not okay (because, surprise! Intent is not magic.). As soon as I finished writing this, I came across this post, breaking down the video scene by scene, which is very much worth a read.
Seriously, white ladies. It’s great when you use your platform to try and make a difference. But use that platform to be encouraging or trying to dismantle harmful power structures. Don’t use it to punch down.
At the end of her song, Lily Allen says, “Inequality promises/ That it’s here to stay.” You’re definitely right, Lily, especially when you’re helping to perpetuate that inequality.