Claire Black: Can you object to objectification while objectifying?

Claire Black. Picture: Jane Barlow

Claire Black. Picture: Jane Barlow

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‘Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say. I’ll go ahead and say them anyway.” On this, Lily Allen and I agree. But it’s about the only thing.

She’s released a new song – not the John Lewis ad one, no, a proper single. It’s called Hard Out Here and it’s a satirical swipe at the suppurating sexism of the music industry.

Good work, you might say. And you might expect me to say that too. Something like: “Well done, Ms Allen, in a pop world populated by the vacuous (Katy ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ Perry) and the (come on) vulnerable (Miley ‘what? I like licking hammers’ Cyrus) it’s good to have someone sticking two righteous fingers up to the patriarchy.”

But what the twerk is going on with the video?

It starts with Allen on the operating table with a bunch of men talking about what’s wrong with her body (OK, fine) and how it should get fixed (yup, got it) ­before she hops off to launch into her song. Great. Nice one. But then, somehow, for some reason she ends up surrounded by dancers, mainly black women, gyrating all around her, even though she’s just told us: “Don’t need to shake my arse for you ’cause I’ve got a brain”. So, what – they haven’t?

I get it – this is parody by way of ­pelvic thrust. She even says it: “If you can’t ­detect the sarcasm you’ve misunderstood.” But can you object to objectification while objectifying?

Well, I guess you can, it’s just that it doesn’t really work as well as if you’d had a think about what you’re also ­saying when you use dancers who are mainly black and they’re wearing hardly anything, while you, Lily – and a couple of the others – are white and you’re wearing much more.

It’s nothing to do with race, says Lily, defending herself. But how can that be? The dancers are black, choosing not to recognise that and what it means doesn’t make you post-racist, it makes you ­deluded.

I’m not saying it’s Lily Allen’s job to fight all of feminism’s battles, nor can she end racism with a mediocre pop tune. And it’s not that I’m saying she shouldn’t get to say and do what she wants. It’s more that I think it’s reasonable – actually necessary – for others to say that it’s a bit disappointing that Allen has missed the mark.

Let’s face it, the music industry isn’t ­exactly awash with feminist fierceness. For every PJ Harvey there’s been a ­Pussycat Dolls, for every Janelle Monáe there’s a Rihanna. And that’s before we get to the men – two words only: Robin Thicke.

That’s why I wish Hard Out Here ­­was better – smarter and more sophisticated.

Inequality and injustice are here to stay is Allen’s depressing end-note. And I guess we maybe agree on that too, especially if the best we can hope for is paltry parody and lazy pastiche.

NOT entirely unrelated I ask you this: how is it possible that we find ourselves in a situation where women’s lack of familiarity with their own bodies is so staggeringly profound that it leads them to undergo complicated and high risk surgery? You think I am exaggerating, but depressingly I’m not. According to experts, women’s lack of awareness of what ordinary female genitalia look like is a contributing factor in a five-fold increase in female genital cosmetic surgery in the past decade.

More than 2,000 women every year have labiaplasties on the NHS. In the past five years, 266 girls under 14 have undergone this kind of procedure. And this is before you take any account of those who opt to have these operations carried out privately. Truly terrifying.

AND just to end on a happier note, Evelyn Middleton and Edith ­Ritchie became the oldest living twins when they celebrated their 104th birthday on Friday. Born in Aberdeenshire in 1909, when Asquith was prime minister and Edward VII was king, they share their year of birth with tennis champion Fred Perry and Hollywood star James Mason. It was also the year that the first of the ­striking suffragettes were force-fed. ­Edith, who lives with her twin sister in a care home in Ellon, puts her longevity down to “hard work, a bowl of porridge every morning and a simple life”. It’s a ­little late, but many happy returns.«

Twitter: @Scottiesays

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