It’s Hard Out Here for Black Women

By Amber Jones

Let me preface this post with this image:

Amber is not impressed.

Amber is not impressed.

On Tuesday, November 13th, Lily Allen released her first single and music video since 2009 titled “Hard Out Here.” The track is intended to be a satirical response to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” which was released earlier this year as well as his MTV VMA performance with Miley Cyrus. But before I go in, please watch the video and read the lyrics:

[Verse 1]
I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinkin’
You’ll find me in the studio, and not in the kitchen
I won’t be braggin’ ’bout my cars, or talkin’ ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cuz I got a brain
If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut
When boys be talkin’ ’bout their bitches no one’s making a fuss
There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh huh there’s money to make
And now it’s time to speed it up ‘cuz I can’t move at this pace

[Chorus]
Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say
I’ll go ahead and say them anyway
Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits
It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard out here for a bitch
It’s hard (for a bitch, for a bitch)
For a bitch, it’s hard
It’s hard out here for a bitch

[Verse 2]
You’re not a size 6, and you’re not good looking
Well you better be rich, or be real good at cooking
You should probably lose some weight, ‘cuz we can’t see your bones
You should probably fix your face, or you’ll end up on your own
Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?
Have you thought about your butt, who’s gonna tear it in two?
We’ve never had it so good, uh huh we’re out of the woods
And if you can’t detect the sarcasm you’re misunderstood

[Chorus]

A bitch, a bitch, bitch bitch bitch bitch

[Bridge]
Inequality promises that its here to stay
Alway trust the injustice ‘cuz it’s not going away

[Chorus]

———————

I wish I could be content with “Hard Out Here” because Lily Allen’s not afraid to call out Robin Thicke and his psuedo-feminism. But I cannot because yet again, in the midst of this satirical battle and Allen asserting her personal brand of feminism, women of color are being used as collateral and hip-hop culture is undergoing another misinformed/limited destructive critique.

Y’all, I’M OVER IT.

The praise “Hard Out Here” has been receiving is very troublesome for me. From the exaltation of Allen and other artists like Lorde, (Lorde is a reoccurring conversation for me apparently), to heralding the track as a “feminist anthem,” the need for a thoughtful, holistic conversation surrounding feminism in popular culture is very necessary.

In the midst of me writing this post, Lily Allen has experienced a lot of criticism and pushback from many who are noting the racial undertones of the video.  She has recently released an extended Twitter post where she addresses these concerns.

With all of this in mind, coming from my perspective as a black woman intersectional feminist, I do not listen to “Hard Out Here” or watch its video and feel empowered. I recognize her sentiments, and I regard them in one sense, but what Allen fails to recognize is the repercussions of her decisions. White privilege is at work, and I don’t have time for it.

#SOLIDARITYISFORWHITEWOMEN

I frankly do not care if race was or was not a factor in choice of dancers in the video. When you employ women of color, dress them in scantily clad clothing, place them in a backdrop that most directly connects them to a hip-hop video, and ask them to shake their ass and smack each other’s asses while pouring champagne on their bodies, that is clearly a racialized statement. Conscious intent is not necessary because the impact becomes all-encompassing. “Hard Out Here” becomes not just a critique on “Blurred Lines,” but also hip-hop culture. It becomes a critique on the women of hip-hop culture. It becomes a critique on black women.

And do not say it does not simply because Allen “sees past race.” It doesn’t matter. Every day we still make racial judgments based on the images we see in the media. It still affects the way people of color maneuver throughout society. The post-racial mumbo jumbo is old and tired, and it’s time artists start making informed decisions again. I’m all for creative license, no doubt–but when we have seen one too many debates surrounding this topic in the public eye, you gotta take note. We’ve chewed Miley out, Lorde out, Robin out–the list goes on and on. And if Lily Allen is claiming through “Hard Out Here” to be a cut above the brim, then I’m going to hold her accountable.

But it’s a satire. It’s not meant to be serious. I’m all for satirical commentary. But what I learned in high school about satire is that through its over-reaching, borderline offensive humor, it reveals some truths about whatever subject it satirizes. I’m not saying Lily Allen is racist–but through white privilege, an entire sector of women have been left out of the equation again, and I don’t vibe with it. We never leave any room in the conversation to assess how these images of women of color, mostly black women in particular, have a grave impact on the community as a whole. We laugh at how “Hard Out Here” goes “over-the-top”, but there has to a very real top to go over, a top that we believe is authentic and valid and truthful. When we see Miley Cyrus smacking big, black asses, we don’t think twice. But the mainstream feminist circle will stand up in outrage over a “Blurred Lines” video’s objectification over white women’s bodies with the token black model? Aw, okay.

And let’s not talk about how she co-opts hip-hop culture for her own elevation. Taking a look at the lyrics, she takes a jab that’s very similar to the one thrown by Lorde in “Royals:”

I won’t be braggin’ ’bout my cars, or talkin’ ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cuz I got a brain

We seem to forget the luxurious images of pop culture artists of other genres, but let it be a rapper, and we’re suddenly over the cars, chains, and Cristal. #imnotimpressed

But in the video, she expands this critique to include this mock hip-hop video set, a scene where she’s unnecessarily scrubbing chrome rims, teaching her manager how to twerk, a fancy car, etc. To be honest, had I not read some of the commentary of the video prior to watching it, I would not have thought this was coming at “Blurred Lines,” but hip-hop culture. Even her hook is a play on Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

By creating this subversive message on hip-hop culture masked in a bitter bite to a white male artist,  it undermines the continuous strides made by women of hip-hop from the very beginning to create a culture of inclusion. No, it is definitely not perfect; the first woman MC or DJ or dancer will tell you that. But in 40 years of its existence, hip-hop still has bomb-ass women investing in its success and its destruction of misogyny in the industry.

I want to like “Hard Out Here.” I grew up with Lily Allen’s first album. I like her as an artist. I do clearly see how this track can be viewed as a feminist anthem, and I believe those sentiments are genuine. But “feminism” has seem to become the female artist buzzword this year, and I see right through it, especially when it makes no effort to be holistic in it’s approach.

Lily Allen, I’m not impressed. Try again next time.

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5 thoughts on “It’s Hard Out Here for Black Women

  1. You are 100% on point here and I love it.

    I love that the pop music scene is embracing music that calls out problems, whether it be our consumer driven culture or sexism, but it’s repeatedly being done to the exclusion of people of color. And this is all too familiar in feminism, which has a long history of excluding the voices of anyone who isn’t a white, upper middle class female.

  2. Pingback: #WeCantStop Appropriating Black Bodies: A Bibliography | hiphopocracy

  3. The problem is that hip hop culture is the worst genre in terms of objectifying women. You’re not likely to see half-naked girls twerking when you’re listening to Michael Buble.

  4. Pingback: In Defense of Outrage | Opine Season

  5. This is difficult…I kinda, kinda, see the point of the other commentor “a different light” (though I strongly disagree that hip hop is the “worst genre” in regards to objectification…have you ever listened to Katy Perry? Country music? seriously), because yeah, the stuff that is being called out about hip hop culture is pretty justified in my opinion. Hip Hop is a HUGE genre and not all of it is focused on the materialism that is being called out in Lilly Allen and Lorde’s music. If they were mocking music along the lines of what Talib Kweli, Mos Def, or others write, more substantial messages, it’d be a different story. Also, hip hop is not the only genre with massive materialism in it. Kesha? The girl has a damn dollar sign in her name! Country music- I cannot count how many songs refer to mansions, expensive booze, and Mercedes Benzes (as well as other high priced cars). I don’t think either of these are aimed specifically at artists of color, but more specifically at superficial lyrics that are found in more mainstream music in general. Critiquing a message of excess isn’t a bad thing just because the artists are usually folks of color. I love my reggaeton as much as the next person but if someone critiqued it I wouldn’t be jumping to defend it because the messages in most reggaeton are messed up and mysoginist, like Pitbull, yeah he’s an artist of color and a part of a community I identify with, but his music is totally bull, and I’m not going to deny that just because he’s a part of my community. If, however, someone were critiquing or mocking Choquib Town messages, I’d be jumping all over that because those songs do good work in terms of making people think about social issues.

    Aaah, I can’t articulate myself very well right now, but I guess my point is, why not call bullshit on the bullshit, or at the very least, question it (in all genres)?

    Sorry for my super-ridiculously-long comment =/ these things just get me thinking.

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