Pop culture has a tendency to glorify certain aspects of femininity, while constraining women into certain prescribed roles. Women who do not fit into these roles are shamed by the media; for instance, women who do not fit the prescribed role of beautiful and thin are often backhandedly complemented by the media. Women who work in media-- whether they are actresses, models, singers, or journalists are constrained by very real gender roles that are slow to change. If, for example, a woman does not behave in a manner that the media deems appropriate, she is often spoken about in negative terms by the media; women who conform rarely deal with negative press in this way. When famous celebrity women have babies, instead of commenting on their new parenthood, the media is quick to discuss their bodies and how quickly their bodies return to “pre-baby” shape. It is no wonder, then, that it is difficult to find women who contribute to feminist thought and theory in the public eye; the media often shames them from discussing any potentially feminist sentiment, if they have any. Kesha, formerly Ke$ha, may seem to be the anti-feminist icon at first glance. However, a deeper look into her music and her media presence reveals another, deeper side to her media image that may potentially indicate that Kesha could be considered a feminist or pseudo-feminist icon.
Kesha’s music may, at first glance, appear to be rife with the kind of anti-feminist sentiment that many second-wave feminists abhor; she is vulgar, and speaks openly about her party lifestyle. However, in an interview with The Financial Times-- reproduced on her website, Kesha’s Party, when asked if she is a feminist, Kesha says:
In some ways. In the ways that I feel I can do the same things men can do, and be just as rock ’n’ roll and bad ass [sic] and not feel shameful or be shamed for itIf men can talk about drinking in every awesome rock ’n’ roll song and every awesome rap song, why can’t a woman? Just because I drink doesn’t mean I’m a drunk. Just because I have sex, and I’m not embarrassed about it, doesn’t mean I’m a whore. If men can do it, why can’t a woman do it? I really feel one of my main reasons for being on this earth is to level the playing field just a little bit (Kesha, from Unknown).
This is, of course, the essence of third-wave feminism; Kesha is attempting to take back power from the society that tried to control her behavior, and she does so by writing songs about drinking and having sex, because these are the types of things she enjoys. Butler writes, on the subject of personal autonomy, that one of the problems that women face is that the political community makes attempts to speak for women, instead of listening to women speak; in this case, Kesha is making attempts to build her own reality (Butler). She has the power to do so because of her celebrity and media power.
Mouffe may argue that Kesha’s power to redefine her own identity is relatively meaningless in the fight for feminist equality in radical democratic politics and in a democratic society, however. Mouffe notes that white women have a decidedly different struggle than non-white women; she focused on the idea of pluralism, and the pluralistic nature of society. In this sense, Kesha’s attempts to redefine her own experience under the framework that men experience is meaningless, because Kesha is a powerful woman-- much more powerful than most men could ever hope to be, let alone most members of minority or excluded fringe groups (Mouffe). Mouffe notes that it is impossible to reduce an individual to a set of generalizations, which is what Kesha is attempting to do in her interview; although men may be able to do the things that she claims, trying to frame her own experience through the eyes or the lens of a male experience is a largely meaningless task (Mouffe). Sandoval would similarly note that Kesha’s implication that feminism can be reduced to “doing what men do” in terms of partying and having sex is reductionary and exclusionary for those who are not part of the privileged class in which Kesha finds herself.
Many of Kesha’s lyrics deal with issues like the ones she discussed in her Financial Times interview quoted previously. Investigating her lyrics uncovers a slew of lyrics dealing with her one-night stands, sexual aggression towards men, and her partying lifestyle; however, the question remains whether or not this type of lifestyle-- and her insistence that women can and should be able to party like men-- constitutes a feminist icon in popular culture. Does Kesha, who often performs heavily sexualized performances rank with feminist academics in terms of those moving the feminist movement forward, or does she merely pay lip service to the idea of the feminist movement, using it to push her own agenda and abandoning it when it no longer serves her needs? This question strikes directly at the heart of the conflict between second and third-wave feminism, and is incredibly important and interesting to discuss and elaborate on.
Liberal feminism commonly pushed the concept that women were-- or are-- equal to men in every way. This school of thought bred within it the concept that women must behave in ways that are equal to men, and if they do not behave in these ways, they are not acting in a way that can be considered feminist. While Kesha is using liberal feminism to behave in the manner that she wishes, she has overlooked one of the key aspects of many forms of feminism: class. Kesha is able to defy social standards and media standards because of her class, rather than in spite of it, and this is something that she does not often acknowledge.
Kesha can be considered a pseudo-feminist role model or figure in American pop culture, but there should be hesitation when considering applying the “feminist” label to her actions. Kesha’s actions suggest that she tries the feminist label on for size when it appeals to her. However, later in the same interview in The Financial Times, Kesha refuses to state her personal opinions on abortion, stating that it is too controversial an issue to discuss in an interview like the one she was giving (Kesha, from Unknown). Despite their differences, most feminist scholars would probably agree that feminism is not and should not be a mantle taken up only when it suits a celebrity or public figure; those who claim to be feminists should dedicate themselves to acting the part of a feminist, rather than playing into patriarchal values when it suits them. For this reason, it is impossible to call Kesha truly feminist based on her public persona; however, calling her a pseudo-feminist icon is much more logical.
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Unknown. "Kesha." The Official Kesha Site, 2014. Web. 11 Mar 2014. <http://www.keshasparty.com/us/home>.