Why Ke$ha's New Memoir Is 2012's Answer to 'The Feminine Mystique'

Just hear me out on this one.

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Betty Friedan; AP Images; Shulamith Firestone

If prominent feminist thinkers of the last century or so were to get together and design their composite "woman of tomorrow," what would she be like?

Weirdly enough, she might look and act kind of like... um, Ke$ha.

It's been said before that Ke$ha's work speaks directly to sexual double standards. In fact, MTV heralded Ke$ha as "perhaps the most empowering artist on the planet" in 2010 for her bold, no-apologies reversal of gender roles. Now, let's be real—it'd still be a big, big stretch to cast America's frattiest female pop star as the neon-painted face of the feminist movement on that basis. Virginia Woolf almost certainly would have objected to lyrics like "I don't care where you live at, just show me where your dick's at," and the ever-sensible Betty Friedan might have gently suggested toothpaste for oral hygiene rather than whiskey.

But some revealing nuggets from Ke$ha's frighteningly glittery new autobiography, My Crazy Beautiful Life, suggest that in some ways, she might be just what some of the 20th century's most famous feminist thinkers had in mind.


THE DETONATION OF THE NUCLEAR FAMILY

In the 1970s, Shulamith Firestone rejected society's dependence on the one-father, one-mother family unit. Firestone wanted to eradicate childbearing in general, but in The Dialectic of Sex, she calls for "not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility—the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing."

In an essay called "Women and power in Cuba" from 1985, Germaine Greer also endorsed the relaxation of the rigid "nuclear family" in favor of something a little more open and flexible:

In sex, as in consumption, the nuclear family emphasizes possession and exclusivity at the expense of the kinds of emotional relationships that work for co-operation and solidarity.

As it turns out, Greer and Firestone might have had reason to award Ke$ha's mom, songwriter Pebe Sebert, a gold star in radical-feminist parenting. Ke$ha writes:

Before I was born, my mom wanted to have another child, but she didn't want to be in a relationship. Because some sperm banks had reportedly been infected with HIV, my mom decided to ask some of her friends to try to get her pregnant. I've never known for sure who my father is, and I don't want to know. My mom played both parental roles for us growing up.

THE LIFELONG COMMITMENT TO AN ART

Betty Friedan's seminal work of feminist literature, 1963's The Feminine Mystique, revealed that many full-time wives and mothers of that era felt stifled and unfulfilled because they lacked a craft to which they could devote their intellect and creativity.

The only kind of work which permits an able woman to realize her abilities fully ... Is the kind that was forbidden by the feminine mystique: The lifelong commitment to an art or science, to politics or profession.

Ke$ha, on the other hand:

I never stop thinking about my songs. I often wake up in the middle of the night to write down lyrics or record ideas into my phone. Sometimes after spending days or even weeks on a song, ... it's just not good enough.

The process can get frustrating, but I have high standards for my music, and if everyone doesn't love a song, then it's not good enough. Every song has to be undeniably good.

THE RECIPROCATION OF THE MALE GAZE

Naomi Wolf, in her famous 1991 book The Beauty Myth, reasoned that the way men viewed women wasn't actually so different from how women might view men if certain social taboos weren't in place.

The fact is that women are able to view men just as men view women, as objects for sexual and aesthetic evaluation; we too are effortlessly able to choose the male "ideal" from a lineup and if we could have male beauty as well as everything else, most of us would not say no. ... Women could probably be trained quite easily to see men first as sexual things.

Friedan chimed in with a similar sentiment when she talked to Playboy in 1992.

I suppose sometimes women are sex objects—and men are too, by the way. ... Women can celebrate themselves as sex objects; they can celebrate their own sexuality and can enjoy the sexuality of men as far as I'm concerned. Let's have men centerfolds.

Ke$ha, on writing her raunchy 3!OH3-assisted hit "Blah Blah Blah":

I've never censored myself for anyone, but when writing that song in particular I decided I wanted to talk about men the way men talk about women. I wanted to level the playing field. I'm a young, responsible woman who can work and party as hard as any man. So, if I want to talk about drinking and sex, I'm going to do it.

THE SUBVERSION OF "MALE" IMAGERY

Presented by

Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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