The singer retaliated online against claims that she has promoted toxic relationships and indirect racism, referencing a new wave of feminism and taking a stab at cancel culture
On 21 May, Del Rey posted a lengthy statement on her Instagram page, hitting back at “female writers and alt critics” who criticised her for glamorising abuse.
In the opening paragraph she wrote: “Question for the culture: now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating etc, can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money – or whatever I want – without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorising abuse?”
She added that although she is “not not” a feminist (whatever that means), there needs to be a space in feminism for women who look and act like her, “the kind of woman who says no but men hear yes – the kind who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate selves”.
The post immediately received an onslaught of criticism in reaction to what many considered racist commentary. Her description of the women she named as overtly sexual was deemed a perpetuation of the historic racist stereotype of black women as oversexualised, which she held up in comparison to her own delicate nature.
Her claim that women like her are threatened and should be able to make music without receiving harsh criticism unmistakably implies that the success of the women she later called her “favourites” should be put into question. This victimisation of her experience is all the more problematic considering that her identity as a white, heterosexual woman has historically been privileged over, and even oppressed, women of colour.
As many commenters noted, the enormous amount of disrespect that women of colour face in the entertainment industry was left completely unacknowledged in Del Rey’s statement.
In a comment under the original post, Del Rey claimed that her post had nothing to do with race, and that “it’s about advocating for a more delicate personality, not for white woman.” While racism may not have been Del Rey’s intention, much of the criticism pointed out her insensitivity to the fact that this depiction of black women is still incredibly pervasive in our society.
If anything, Del Rey’s reaction to the criticism highlights how difficult it is to call out racism, unintentional or not. While an apology and recognition that her comments were insensitive might have somewhat saved the situation, she was instead immediately on the defensive. “Don’t ever call me a racist,” she responded, adding that “making it about race says more about you than me.”
Though this last point was a stab at cancel culture – which she takes much issue with – the comment does, in fact, say a lot about her. Her reaction exemplifies the incredible fragility of whiteness – not the fragility that Del Rey claims to embody – but the (often subconscious) sensitivity that arises when the privilege held by those who benefit from systems of power is challenged.
Lana Del Rey’s outdated version of “not not” feminism is perhaps a manifestation of her nostalgia for an America of the past. While her longing for old America comes across so beautifully in her music, it is much less captivating when forced into the modern context of debates over gender inequality and racism. And while the delicate (white) femininity which she believes to be under threat may have been better valued in the past, women of colour were definitely not.
The failure of second-wave feminism to account for different experiences is precisely why third-wave feminism took its place, though Del Rey confusingly appears to believe this has not occurred yet.
Third-wave feminism emphasises the need for an intersectional approach, namely the recognition that we experience different levels of oppression and privilege. As highlighted by the backlash against Del Rey’s statement, feminism cannot be achieved through individual pursuits of equality or by tearing other women down in the process. If intersectionality teaches us anything, it is that gender equality is only possible if women work together to achieve a common goal, one which accounts for the intersections between class, race, sexual identity and economic and cultural background.
As a white woman myself, I hope that Del Rey’s other white fans will take the mistakes of this post very seriously. Defiantly shutting down any accusation of racism is never helpful, and in most cases probably unjustified.
We live in and through a system rooted in histories of patriarchal and racial oppression, which has inevitably shaped our understanding of the world. If we can take anything positive from this post, it is an opportunity for introspection; to reconsider the importance of history, to question whether our feminism is truly intersectional, and to interrogate our own complicity in perpetuating these systems of oppression.