F Word reader Erica referred to this song by Katy Perry (currently number one in the US charts) in the comments section of the latest Ask A Feminist, and the damn thing won’t get out of my head, for a number of conflicting reasons:
Ignoring the lyrics, it’s perfect pop, I have to admit, and scarily catchy. But let’s not ignore the lyrics:
This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
It’s not what, I’m used to
Just wanna try you on
I’m curious for you
Caught my attention
OK, so she thought she was het, but she got a little tipsy and suddenly a girl catches her eye. Fair enough, from where I’m standing – heterosexuality is assumed to be the default, it is pushed, it can take a while for other desires to come out in some cases, and alcohol can certainly bring out our hornier sides. However, this new feeling of attraction is described as a loss of discretion. Clearly she would never have done anything as foolish as kiss a member of the same sex if she hadn’t been pissed. Hmm.
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it
Ah, here comes the boyfriend reference – she’s not a lesbian, kids, don’t worry! – and the justification that the kiss was meaningless. Which is fair enough, if that meaninglessness stems from a lack of emotion, just having fun, but it becomes clearer as the song progresses that it was meaningless because it happened with a girl.
No, I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
Again, fine by me – plenty of us pull people we don’t know, and I don’t think the implication here is that it doesn’t matter because she’s a girl. But then we get:
You’re my experimental game
Just human nature
Human nature – good, we do like to play, try things out, and copping off with other girls isn’t unnatural. But gay and bi girls aren’t – as certain men and, I think, the writer of this song seem to believe – walking laboratories for het girls’ sexy experiments. Personally, I’d be quite happy to be Katy Perry’s experiment, but it’s not all about me. As Erica points out:
I feel like every time two girls (whether straight, lesbian, bi) perform sexual acts for straight men it perpetuates the idea that we are there for their entertainment. Putting up with this on a regular basis really gets me down.
Then we get:
It’s not what good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey
When I first heard this, I mentally stuck my middle finger up. Not only does it imply that kissing girls is wrong, but it also has the whole “look, boyfriend, I’m so naughty and sexy” thing going on that again portrays female same sex attraction as something for the boys. However, this can also be read as the genuine confusion of coming to terms with sexual feelings that society does say are deviant, that do go against how girls are supposed to behave. In the context of the video, with its close-ups of Perry’s body, feminised women who don’t actually kiss and the stereotypical boys’ wet dream pillow fight, and with the current trend for framing all-girl sexual activity as intended to stimulate men, as foreplay for the “real thing”, the former interpretation seems more likely to be in line with the production team’s intentions. The kiss is certainly portrayed as totally non-threatening to her boyfriend – girls are just soft and cute and innocent:
Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent
Yes, it’s good she happily admits she thinks women are attractive, but they’re certainly not fuckable – she wakes up in bed with her man. Again, girl-on-girl action is just foreplay for the real thing.
BUT but but… While I think the most obvious interpretation of the song and video is as a reinforcement of the current trend of heterosexual male co-option of female same sex attraction, it’s also pretty heterocentric to assume that the gaze here is male. Why can’t it be female? Why can’t Perry and her ladies be performing for the girl? For us women watching who think she’s hot? The fact that she wakes up in bed, even if it is with a man, does suggest that all that’s gone before was some kind of dream fantasy, that the women are dancing and playing for a woman (Perry), not for men.
And while women kissing women simply to turn men on is certainly problematic, if the social sanctioning of girl-on-girl action enable girls to explore and have shame-free fun, can we maybe just say to hell with the boys and get down to it?