Camille Paglia Thinks Katy Perry Is Ruining Women: I Sincerely Disagree
Growing up my musical heroes were leaders of the grunge era -Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Scott Weiland- and then the angry women came -Alanis Morissette and Courtney Love -rounding it out were the heart wrenching soloists Tori Amos and Fiona Apple – all rock stars who sang about substance, poetry and were anything but “girly.”
When the pop-star movement cartwheeled into the late 90s bringing their fluff lyrics and bare midriffs, unlike several of my girlfriends, I refused to join. I made fun of all of it, particularly Britney who Lolita-ized girls in the music industry for generations to come. Perhaps Britney was our contemporary reaction to Madonna. But where Madonna used her sexuality for empowerment at the height of her fame, Britney capitalized on the damsel in distress, making an empire by embracing the subordinate female with songs like "Baby One More Time", "Born To Make You Happy", "I’m Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman", "Toxic", and "I’m a Slave 4 U". To this day Britney remains the second highest paid woman in Hollywood but unlike Madonna who has created a living legacy, Britney struggles to stay relevant and is watching the new girls like Katy, Taylor, and Rihanna quickly rise at the backs of her heels. Are the girls who grew up watching Madonna writhe around in her underwear now empowered women? What does it mean when a woman who grew up watching Madonna guest stars on Sesame Street wearing a bustier? Are girls who grew up with 16 year-old Britney’s Rolling Stones cover papering their bedroom walls worse for wear? In my experience -- I should note my middleclass white girl experience -- whether Madonna or Britney or Alanis was on your wall, being a teenage girl was still just as difficult. Maybe feminism has left us all confused. But if we were inspired by the Madonna years and survived the Britney years, maybe we can actually flourish in the Katy Perry and Taylor Swift years.
Much like Eminem gave a voice to poor, angry white boys, Perry and Swift are giving a voice to middle class white girls who are dealing with the very things they sing about – finding strength. As for Perry’s songs about the partying habits of young girls, it teases the old chicken and egg question. In this case, the culture of party-til-you-drop came way before Katy Perry "Kissed A Girl" and while Swift is not breaking any poetic grounds with her lyrics, is it so bad to hear a fourteen year old girl singing her heart out to the words, We are never- ever- ever getting back together? At my wedding a little over a month ago, the song that was on the top of my must play-list was the song that brought everyone to the dance floor - young and old, white and people of color, men and women – in a soul-revealing sing-along burst with arms in the air and hugs. The song was "Firework".
As far as Hollywood goes, I agree with Paglia that the aging woman has indeed become invisible and that Tinsel Town does a disservice to women but mostly to themselves. If you write the roles, if you cast the women, the audiences will come. But why are we crucifying the women who choose to delay that aging process? I recently was part of a conversation with two of my drop-dead gorgeous friends who were weighing the pros and cons of Botox injections at the age of 31. When I asked one of them about the fear of aging she responded, “I’m not afraid of aging. I just don’t want a line on my forehead.” If the spearhead of the feminist movement was about having more choice, is it possible to look at something like the prevalent use of Botox injections among Hollywood actresses as a woman’s personal choice for how she chooses to look? Maybe for some there is a genuine fear of aging. Certainly, there is something to be said about the power we associate with youth and beauty and how that gets overestimated and then reaffirmed every day in the media. But while Botox might keep us from evolving both literally and metaphorically, condemning a woman for making that choice chips away at our humanity.
All of this is to say, Ladies, where is the love? Perhaps it is not Perry and Swift who are ruining women, but feminists who tear down women who might want step outside or even above the baggage now associated with that label. To say Perry and Swift are ruining women makes me wonder, according to whom? Is it possible that Perry and Swift belong to a different kind of feminism, one that encourages love of self, captures the struggle to find strength, and is elevated beyond the confines of an 8-letter word? Is it possible that the reason the feminist movement is stalled or even losing ground with young female celebrities is that the movement gets pissed when they speak outside of what they would like them to say? Maybe if we remembered the fight the feminist movement was originally based on – the right to have a voice- we could set aside labels, and expectations and interpretations and elevate the movement into something powerful young women wanted to be a part of.