“I Kissed a Girl” Is Not So Innocent

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past two months, you’ve heard Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” This song about a sexually curious young woman who kisses another woman is quite the sensation. You can’t avoid it on mainstream radio stations, and it’s quite common to see large groups of preteen girls jamming out to it.
I’ve heard several interpretations of the song. Some say it’s positive for promoting sexual agency and experimentation among young women. Some dismiss any actual analysis of the song, claiming it’s just catchy and that no one listens to the lyrics anyway. However, I’m going to argue that this song represents a troubling trend in the portrayal of female sexuality- particularly queer female sexualities. Perry’s lyrics reflect the trivialization of queer female sexuality and the cultural norms which state that female sexuality exists for the pleasure of men.
Hopefully, a simple look at the lyrics will prove my point.

In the first verse, we start out with something that could be interpreted as affirming in isolation: “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.” Clearly, this verse is setting the stage for a scene of unplanned experimentation, and that’s perfectly fine from a feminist perspective. Young women should have the ability to experiment with their desire in a safe and non-condemning environment. It would be nice if Ms. Perry did not allude to the necessity of “liquid courage” in this endeavor, but the sentiment remains the same.
And then we launch into the first chorus, where things start to get problematic: “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.” The problems are so glaring I feel like I don’t even have to explain them, but I’ll do my best to state the obvious. Perry’s gal-kissing narrator trivializes queer female sexuality by expressing her own bi-desire as a need to transgress the norms of her previously 100% hetero life. The woman the narrator kisses is simply “cherry chapstick,” a fleeting moment of forbidden fruit. The narrator is not “in love” with her, and (of course!) she never could be- She’s perfectly straight! Just ask her boyfriend, who apparently won’t view her kissing another woman as an act of infidelity. Why? Because, as far as the patriarchy is concerned, lesbian desire, lesbian sex, and lesbian relationships etc are not real. Female sexuality, in any of its forms, is simply a way to turn men on. It’s shocking how well Perry’s lyrics demonstrate the patriarchal interpretation of female sexuality as a commodity used and owned by men.
Alright, I’m exhausted already but let’s move on to the second verse: “No, I don’t even know your name/ It doesn’t matter/Your my experimental game/Just human nature/It’s not what, good girls do/Not how they should behave/My head gets so confused/Hard to obey.” Once again, queer female sexuality is a trivial matter. According to this song, it’s just an “experimental game” that “bad” girls play occasionally. BUT of course it can only be done with girls they don’t know- certainly never with girls they have romantic feelings for. Furthermore, “good,” obedient girls never kiss other girls. They remain romantically and sexually reserved for men.
And now the final verse: “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.” Here Perry expresses lesbian desire and subsequently dismisses that desire by labeling it “innocent.” For Perry, the occasional desire for a woman to touch the “soft skin” or kiss the “red lips” of another woman is “innocent” (i.e. not lesbian). As long as women only kiss women they don’t know and have permission from their boyfriends to do so, they remain within the realm of heterosexual privilege. Women who identify as queer, bisexual, or lesbian, however, are not “innocent.” Also, by labeling lesbian attraction as innocent, Perry frames it as unthreatening and trivial- as opposed all other forms of sexual attraction-which are certainly not considered “innocent” in our society.
So there you have it. That’s why I want to scream every time I see a group of tween girls singing this song. I’m certainly not arguing that it’s wrong for sexuality to be playful or that girls shouldn’t be able to kiss other girls without it “meaning” something. But I do think this song is really toxic portrayal of female sexuality. The enormous popularity of the song proves that feminists have a lot of work to do in reforming the way our culture views female sexuality.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Join the Conversation