Katy Perry, Billboard's Woman Of The Year, Wants You to Know She's Not a Feminist, and Why That Matters
Katy Perry at the Billboard Women In Music luncheon. Image via Billboard.
This week, at its Women In Music luncheon, Billboard awarded Katy Perry its coveted "Woman Of The Year" prize. During her acceptance speech, Perry bluntly stated "I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women."
I'm trying not to get mad.
Women have not always been taken seriously as musicians. Gasp! I know, but check this out: Andrew Loog Oldham admitted he signed Marianne Faithful not because she was talented, but because she was "an angel with tits." If this doesn't piss you off, try reversing it. Imagine if some Epic rep announced that he signed Death Grips because they had big dicks (side note, they probably do). Or if Bono had been called a slut throughout his entire career.
This is nothing new. Even Julie Burchill, a female journalist, was once quoted saying "I know it's a sexist thing to say, but women aren't as good at making music as men, just like they're not as good as men at football." This was in 1994.
These statements seem insane and illogical, because they are, even if you count the fact that both Oldham and Burchill are British. But the level of crazy in Perry's speech is at the exact same level. Perry denies being a feminist, but believes in strong women. What's the difference? And beyond that, why even bother coming down hard on the non-feminist side of the media world? Why not leave the declaration unsaid? In this case, it's far more damaging to say what you aren't, rather than say nothing at all.
Which brings me to my next question: I want to know what's so goddamn awful about calling yourself a feminist. Someone please tell me. I'd like to draw Ms. Perry's attention to this old VICE article, written by Lesley Arfin and Amy Kellner about eight billion years ago:
“We get so mad when some nitwit says she’s not a feminist. I guess if you’re cool with being raped all the time and having no options in life other than being a baby machine or a prostitute, then yeah, you’re probably not a feminist. But if you enjoy birth-control pills and not being beaten up by your owner—I mean, husband—then you pretty much are one so you may as well stop shaving your legs right now. Just kidding. Somewhere along the way feminism got a bad rep, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a sourpuss or that you can’t write tongue-in-cheek articles riddled with silly gender stereotypes. All it means is that you don’t hate yourself.”
Do you hate yourself, Perry? Do you? Oh my God. Wait…. Do you?
Katy Perry, fighting the good fight.
Katy Perry isn't "Woman Of The Year" because she's made any great strides for her gender, or questioned her position in popular culture, or challenged the dominant social structures in her life. She's "Woman Of The Year" because she's done the exact opposite on all counts. She's been quiet, complacent, and pretty, and she's made her executives and managers millions of dollars in the process. She's the version of "woman" the industry wants her to be - that is, the exact opposite of a healthy role model for young girls.
Look, this is all on some Disney princess shit, and I don't think anyone expects anything more or less from her… But that, in its own way, is the worst part.
It's already irritating enough that we need female-centric music awards just so that idiots will pay attention to women. It often ends up feeling like the Special Olympics of music. However, if we're going to live in a world that considers women as second class citizens (Kim Gordon's words, not mine), then I'm going to push my gender in the faces of whoever's looking. Everyone else is doing it for me, so why not fuck with them right back?
At the end of the day, though, I guess there's a reason I'm where I'm at and Katy is where she's at, onstage at a prestigious luncheon in her Spanx and designer dress: She follows the rules of celebrity. The rules of celebrity are fucked, especially when a female artist winning a "Woman Of The Year" award has to make sure the audience knows she's definitely not a feminist.
[Eds. Note: After Mish filed her copy, Amanda Hess wrote this piece for Slate, where she defended Perry's denouncement of feminism. Hess' argument went something like this: "I commend Katy Perry's statement against feminism because every time a woman shits on feminism she's dismissed as a moron by the female media establishment. Ergo, Katy Perry is brave." This is one of those if-you-can't-beat-'em arguments, and it doesn't hold water. What Hess, and ultimately Perry, fail to realize is that women's issues are hard, and that if you're too afraid to fight for them you should probably not be making public statements at an awards show, on a blog, or anywhere else for that matter.]