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Katy Perry and the Sexualization of Girls

Katy Perry and the Sexualization of Girls

Editor's Note: This article contains graphic language and descriptions.

Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour came to my home town last night. The sugar-laced extravaganza of candy canes, cupcakes, lollipops, cotton candy, and other sweet treats is an ode to childhood fantasy. The show features a mish-mash of references to the Brothers Grimm, Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, and Rainbow Brite as it tells the story of a girl named Katy visiting a vibrant candy land in search for her pet cat, Kitty Purry, and the love of her life, the Baker Boy.

But the kid-themed bright colors, spinning peppermint forest, and wide-eyed kewpie-doll smiles belie Perry’s underlying raunchy adult-themed sexual message.

Eating it Up

Perry joked about s-l-u-t-s and b**ches, sang about kissing girls, pretended to eat a pot-laced ”brownie,”  and talked in code about getting drunk, partaking in sexual orgies (meanage a trois), melting boys’ popsicles, dissing parents, and having wrong things feel so right. She appeared in an endless parade of glittery, precociously sexual ”little girl” outfits that focused attention on her breasts–with spinning peppermint candy plastered on them like targets, bras shaped like cupcakes and Hershey’s Kisses, and even one that projected from the center of her nipples to shoot the audience with whip cream bazookas.

The audience ate it up.

The crowd, largely made up of screaming pre-adolescent and teen girls and their moms, matched Perry’s candy-coated visuals of rainbows, hearts and peppermint swirls. They were almost as colorful as the action on stage – sporting blue and pink wigs, cupcake bras, blinking hearts and glowsticks covered in cotton candy. Girls just wanna have fun! Right?

It’s Just Mindless Fun

The local media lauded Perry for providing endearing pop entertainment that “appealed to the 10-year-old girl in every young woman” . . . “Mindless fun!”

. . .  But is it? Really?

To me, the fluffy, pink, girly, candy-and-fun-wrapped package is just an underhanded way to deflect criticism from the way the show subtly promotes the sexualization and perversion of young girls. The over-the-top, frivolous nature of its presentation shouts, “Hey, this is silly, fun fluff, so don’t take it seriously, OK?” (Katy’s only joking. Lighten up! Ha. Ha. Ha.)

But is this the type of message that we ought to toss at our children under the guise of “fun”? Wrap it up in as much pink cotton candy as you like, but the idea of an adult telling a 10-year-old girl that she should get drunk, disobey her parents, use pot, dress provocatively, kiss girls, have sex, and try to melt a boy’s popsicle is appalling and irresponsible. Not fun.

Just a Bit of Poison in this Apple

I know that the millions of parents that paid to have their little girls take in Perry’s worldwide tour will differ. I know that they’ll say that the negative message is negligible . . . that the good far outweighs the bad. That it IS just harmless fun. Yet I can’t help but think that the reason Perry needs to use so much sugar and sweetness in her presentation is to mask a message that parents would otherwise find extremely distasteful.

After all – as the fairy tale makes abundantly clear – you can’t get a girl to swallow the poison unless you hide it in a beautiful, sweet apple. Or in this case, a sticky sweet piece of Katy’s candy.

This article originally posted on (c) 2011 Mary Kassian.

Mary Kassian is an author, speaker and professor of women's studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared on her website, Born and raised in Canada, she lives with her husband in Edmonton, Alberta.