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

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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

In the 1990s, Judith Butler dedicated much of her philosophy to the notion that the power of the male phallus was in its symbolism for male privilege—and that the subversion of that symbolism could be powerful.

Are we to accept the priority of the phallus without questioning the narcissistic investment which an organ, a body part, has been elevated/erected to the structuring, centering principle of the world?

In 2011, Ke$ha and her mom brought new, can't-be-unseen imagery to the idea of subverting the symbolism of the phallus, and took Butler's idea that "gender is performative" to an awesomely gross level:

I played in the central square of Budapest. ... My mom wore the penis costume that I always carry around with me during the tour and danced around like a crazy person onstage when I played "Grow a Pear."

THE REJECTION OF "CONVENTIONAL" BEAUTY

Robin Morgan, in a fiery 1968 protest against the Miss America pageant, lamented that women who were visible and esteemed in society were under intense pressure to be conventionally beautiful.

Women in our society [are] forced daily to compete for male approval, enslaved by ludicrous 'beauty' standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously. ... Conformity is the key to the crown—and, by extension, to success in our Society.

Ke$ha, meanwhile, has been rejecting conventional beauty standards since grade school.

I started making my own outfits when I was young. It didn't win me many friends in school, but it helped me out in the long run. ... My main influences for my stage outfits are pirates and seventies male rock stars like Keith Richards and Marc Bolan.

My face paint changes from night to night. Sometimes I do it myself, and other times I have a makeup artist help me out, but I try to do something different for every show. Then right before I go onstage, I tease my hair to get it as big as a lion's mane.

THE ROOM (OR ISLAND) OF ONE'S OWN

In her 1929 extended essay "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf posited that in order to maximize their creative potential, women just needed some quiet space to be alone with their thoughts.

My belief is that if we live another century or so ... and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; ... then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.

After finishing a two-year world tour, Ke$ha embarked on a trip by herself to the Galápagos Islands earlier this year. Her mission? To hang out with some animals and start writing her second album—a full-length release now called Warrior, due out on December 4.

As I sat there on that rock in the middle of the ocean, in a place stuck in time, I was smiling, but I knew that the biggest challenge of my life was staring me in the face. I knew that if I didn't rise to the challenge and write a spectacular sophomore album, my career could be short-lived. I took a deep breath, meditated, and felt the wind hit my face.

I looked at the blank page and realized that I was right back where it all started, a girl with a crazy dream and a notebook. I took my pen and wrote one word: warrior.
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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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