There’s a very vibrant Caribbean feminist cybersphere of networked bloggers, #catchafyah twitterati, activists, academics and members of online feminist communities. And we’ve been generating quite a bit of chatter about the Lily Allen video (and the larger issues which it presents).
Amina shared the video stating:
damn though. i used to be ALL for lily allen…then this…Black women (and our asses) of course as accessories
Barefoot Contessa responded that she felt the lyrics were feminist and the video a parody and asked for others to contribute:
Amina, i got the impression that she was playing on the stereotype of Black women as “video girls” and the video acts as a kind of parody, no? the lyrics are overtly feminist.
Charissa explained that:
I was extremely put off by the lyric: “Don’t need to shake my ass for you, cause I’ve got a brain” while they showed lewd close ups of the black girl twerking. What does she mean by that?
Is she mocking Miley for appropriating hip hop culture or is she mocking her for wanting to be be like those “stupid bitches”…..AKA WoC? To me, it seems like she’s elevating herself at the expense of black women. Why are we back to this binary all of a sudden? Why is it always assumed that women when BW dance overtly sexually it’s objectifying and for the male gaze? Weren’t people JUST defending Miley’s twerking as ~sexual expression~ and calling out slut shamers. Does the slut shaming analysis just NOT apply to black women in mainstream feminism? Hm.
Tonya drew reference to Lily Allen’s ridiculous defense of the video:
big dutty stinkin stupse @Lily Allen & at being forced to discuss miley cyrus against my will :). please tell Lily Allen that there is no such thing as chronic cellulite. there is chronic illness, chronic fatigue, chronic pain but cellulite is just fat and yes, some people love to see it. Lily Allen did a satirical piece about how hard it is for white women in the music industry & how easy it is to cast black women as props who shake their asses for lack of a brain that would permit them to do anything else. Clearly, there is more than one way to “eat the Other”.
Patrice questioned Lily’s ally currency:
does Lily Allen have the “ally currency” to do this? Has she done enough work and shown enough solidarity with Black women’s struggles so that it would be obvious to all and sundry that this is satirical and she is making a commentary on the use Black women’s bodies in music videos? Yes? No? Because it looks to me like she is simply using Black women as props to make a point.
She said the women were not selected because they were black. this had nothing to do with race. it was a twerking meritocracy & black women just happened to win out. you can ask them. Lilly Allen provided their twitter handles so you could do just that. she also said she would have been right there in a thong twerking with the raceless top-tier twerkers but she cannot twerk (she tried!) and she suffers from chronic cellulite which no one would want to see. ally currency or not, she and miley cyrus share the same political consciousness (or lack thereof). the only difference is that Lily Allen seems genuinely surprised that ALL women aren’t collectively high-fiving her.
Debra pointed out that the theme of the song was pretty played out. Done already and better by others:
this theme has been tackled by other artists who did not need to rely on fetishizing black women’s bodies to make their point. Why do I feel that Pink did the same theme only better and without this fetishization of black women’s bodies thinly disguised as satire?
WomenSpeakPro felt that we were somewhat hypocritical in directing all the criticism at the Lilys and Mileys of the world when black women themselves self-objectify:
this is different from rihanna’s video how exactly? I get what you’re saying to a point but then is it ok for a black women to perpetuate this same kind of sexual fetishisation of black women? I have to say I find all these videos including the Miley bruhaha to be quite boring. Is this news? That women get naked for publicity? That black women are degraded in videos? I have lost my sense of outrage a long time ago. Can we blame women for selling sexuality in a world where it is their most sell-able asset? And if we are to be outraged about this prostitution, who are we asking to make it all better?
Patrice responded that Rihanna makes no claims to self-righteous social justice critique:
This is different to a Rihanna video because Lily is attempting to be enlightened, social justice oriented and empowering to women and, in the process of doing so, perpetuates the same dynamic she overtly claims to be fighting against, thereby demonstrating that her feminist struggle does not include the empowerment of Black, female bodies and highlighting the racial chasm that can exist in feminist discourse when it ignores intersectionality .
Rihanna’s videos make no such claim.
Tonya suggested that not all black women’s performances should be read in a unitary way:
i’m not at all against women’s sexual expression through dance. i find wukking up to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. i objected to the self-congratulatory tone of Allen’s vid especially as it relied on the same eating of the other as Miley’s did. bell hooks offers the concept of eating the other to account for both the consumption of black bodies by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy AND the ways in which white people deflect their own sexual desires onto black bodies. nonetheless, that does not mean that that is the only way in which black women’s sexual performance is to be read. our performances may be queer, transgressive, liberating or just plain pleasurable. despite the fact that our bodies are always already marked by race, gender, class etc does not negate our capacity for agency. Another writer noted that in Rihanna’s pour it up she identifies with the strippers rather than objectifiying them or assuming a masculinist gaze. I think this is an important reading that demonstrates that black women’s performance cannot be all read in a single way. and that there is a difference between being a performer in your own right and being a stand-in for some white woman’s sexual maturity.
Debra pointed out that what was at issue was:
I think the point is this video claims to be a statement against the objectification of women’s bodies and against the exploitation of said bodies for the purpose of capital while ironically doing the same. Its aims of high satire fall flat when you dissect its images and when you think about how power works. The satire also falls flat when you take a closer look at the images and read the lyrics of the song and see the inconsistencies. I can’t speak to Rihanna because for the most part I do not look at her videos. She is just as enmeshed in the music industrial complex as Allen and Cyrus. The only difference is she isn’t trying to mask this with some lame attempt at satire.
Lina was adamant that she had better things to do than discuss Lily Allen. And one young Caribbean blogger took issue with the distinction between issues that were deemed worthy of Caribbean feminist attention and those that were not.
I put this post together because I was dissatisfied with the way in which Sociological Images chose to report audience responses to the video. I found their approach to be uncritical, apologetic, sympathetic even and extremely weak on the analysis of race and power. After seeking permission I made this “private” conversation among Caribbean feminists a public commentary that goes beyond the Lily Allen video to think about black women’s sexual expression in the face of social relations of power of gender, race, class, among others.
Big Up Batty Mamzelle for excellent commentary always. Our convo would not have been the same without it.
Shout out to WOMANTRA, the Caribbean feminist online community that hosted this conversation.