Katy Perry, Naomi Wolf And The Real Problem With Women’s Combat Equality
5:15 pm, March 30th | by Amy Tennery
I’m all for women on the front lines of battle. Claims that all women somehow aren’t strong enough to serve in combat are absurd — particularly in our age of digitized, tech-heavy warfare.
So why does Katy Perry’s controversial video for the song “Part of Me,” in which she enlists in the Marines as an act of female defiance, leave me feeling conflicted?
Some background: Perry’s song is actually about rebounding from a breakup and, as gossip rags are very careful to point out, was written before her separation from her husband Russell Brand (for what it’s worth). In the video she catches her boyfriend canoodling with another gal and — in a fit of rebellion — lops off her hair and joins the Marines.
There are several arguably pro-women moments in the video — Katy Perry (in, sigh, full makeup) running drills through the mud with weights and shouting things and what have you. For a second, let’s overlook the fact that she finds self-realization with a bayonet, rather than, I dunno, maybe starting a journal or something a little less extreme. There are way worse messages you could send to women than this video.
Yes, woven into it are a few moments of bumper-sticker level patriotism; Perry dances beneath an American flag the size of a circus tent and gets her inspiration to join the armed forces from an actual bumper sticker reading “All Women Are Created Equal, Then Some Become Marines,” et cetera. This is either awesome or lame, depending on your point of view.
Watch for yourself:
She’s so empowered! She’s moved on! …And she wouldn’t have gotten there without the Marines?
It’s no wonder, then, that feminist critic Naomi Wolf came out guns blazing (if you’ll pardon the pun) this week, calling for a boycott of the video and claiming that it was nothing more than propaganda for the Marines. Here’s a statement from her Facebook page:
“Have you all seen the Katy Perry Marines video? It is a total piece of propaganda for the Marines…I really want to find out if she was paid by them for making it…it is truly shameful. I would suggest a boycott of this singer whom I really liked — if you are as offended at this glorification of violence as I am .”
But is it that simple? While you can argue that the video is pro-military, is it all bad for women? Has avowed Katy Perry Fan Naomi Wolf really watched the whole oeuvre and only now found a problem with one of her videos? I’d argue that, as far as being pro-woman goes, this is leaps and bounds beyond her other efforts:
Perhaps having a video that cheers on military women (you know, just one every decade or so?) isn’t so bad?
And let’s consider for a moment the timing of the “Part of Me” video — released roughly a month-and-a-half after the Pentagon ruled to reconsider its regulations on women in the military. Specifically, military officials have decided to reevaluate women’s right to serve on the front lines, something that could improve our chances for promotion. And while Perry’s video reads as an impulse decision by a heartbroken woman, the combat stuff has real ramifications for career military women. To prove they’re fit for combat, military women have been entering cage matches against men. This is sort of rad.
But between the combat changes, the Katy Perry mascara-laden wind sprints, and Wolf’s advocacy, there’s an uncomfortable truth: It’s really hard to advocate for equality in a career you find problematic.
Would I like to see more women working on Wall Street? Hypothetically, sure. Am I about to start working 80-hour weeks for six figures? Nope! And I think I could make a fairly reasoned argument for why I think that’s nuts. Similarly, with support for the Afghan war dropping sharply, and this years’-long conflict dragging on longer than anyone could have expected, I’d imagine I’m not the only one who wants more for our armed forces. And, yes, that includes women.
I want more women on the front lines — except, I don’t. And that’s the problem.