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Why Critics Shouldn't Be So Quick to Shame Katy Perry

Critics of Perry's disavowal of the "feminist" label missed a crucial opportunity.

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When it comes to messaging, the often-wide gap between Perry's intent and reception seems to signal the pop star's rhetorical problems. While the video for 2012’s “Part of Me” is problematic for its failure to recognize the grave problem of women’s sexual assault in the military, it is about acknowledging your own power after a break-up, hence, “This is the part of me that you’ll never ever ever take away from me.” It’s also the theme and title of her 3D documentary  Katy Perry the Movie: Part of Me, the major message of which is that Perry’s career is the most rewarding part of her life, and more important than a man — her former husband Russell Brand. The film’s biggest moment comes after a rare break down (presumably related to their divorce) before Perry must take the stage. Still in tears when her helicopter candy-cane circle discs boobs start spinning, Perry’s tears turn from sadness to joy when the crowd starts chanting, “We love you” in Portugese.  As Perry muses in the film, she never thought that she would have to choose between a man and her career, because she thought her husband would love her completely for who she is. But, for Perry, things didn’t work out how she planned. Life is not a candy-coated fairytale — and for Perry, it never was. 

Seeing Feminist Potential

Of course, Perry’s life and lyrics can be analyzed endlessly. But these are a few examples that illustrate how Perry is not only misunderstood, but also is a feminist in her own way. This is what we can embrace, while trying to comprehend why Perry is hesitant to wear the feminist label.

In fact, Perry's past was strange and oppressive. And while Perry appears to believe that she was robbed of the conditions of a normal childhood, she also makes a clear effort to separate herself from the Christian oppression under which she grew up.  Still, despite all Perry's valiant attempts at open-mindedness, she is who she is, and growth and healing take time.

From Vanity Fair:

“I didn’t have a childhood,” she says, adding that her mother never read her any books except the Bible, and that she wasn’t allowed to say “deviled eggs” or “Dirt Devil.” Perry wasn’t even allowed to listen to secular music and relied on friends to sneak her CDs. “Growing up, seeing Planned Parenthood, it was considered like the abortion clinic ... I was always scared I was going to get bombed when I was there. … I didn’t know it was more than that, that it was for women and their needs. I didn’t have insurance, so I went there and I learned about birth control.”

To me, at least, Perry’s anti-feminism, which may be predictable, makes me sad. As feminists promoting the advancement and happiness of all women, we should take pride in inclusion and compassion, especially when it comes to women who were victims of extreme oppression. Perry has shown ability to open her mind and expand her understanding of the world beyond what she was taught by the church and her tongues-speaking parents. For Perry, that seems to include sexual freedom, partying and anatomical celebration instead of suppression. She clearly wants to be a symbol of female creativity and inspiration. And that’s exactly what many of her female fans consider her — despite the fact that she symbolizes female strength as boobs with whipped cream launchers.  Perry might not call herself a feminist yet, but the idea that she may one day is within reason.

Of course, Perry is not a perfect — or maybe even a “good” — feminist. But who is? Every action I take, unfortunately, is not for the betterment of women, though I wish the opposite were true.  Still, should I decide to react to the suppression of my body by shooting whipped cream out of it, or have a wild night out with some regretful consequences, I would much prefer an outstretched hand than a slap in the face for not realizing and announcing to the world my own oppression. The sad reality about being a young woman in the modern world is that there’s a good chance you have not encountered too many supporters of feminism. Without any real knowledge of what feminism means, the word is stripped bare to its bra-burning stereotype, one that only a certain kind of girl can fit. 

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