I think Kesha has both perpetuated restrictive gender roles and purposely reversed them. I’ll explain why in this post. First, how she has used gender roles negatively and why she has been accused of transphobia for her lyrics…
Kesha’s song “Grow A Pear” criticises a man for being feminine. I talked about this in my first post about Kesha.
Barry Walters from Spin magazine reviewed the EP and wrote: “Like most messes, Ke$ha is crazy with contradictions. On her chart-topping ‘We R Who We R’, she sends out pride vibes to bullied gays. On ‘Grow a Pear’, she emasculates a potential boyfriend: ‘I just can’t date a dude with a vag.’” The song Grow a Pear has been accused of being problematic, and I think it is problematic because the lyrics perpetuate strict gender. I think the song is criticising the man for being feminine, and I disagree with it.
You can listen to the song here.
Lyrics from the song that I will look at first are:
When we fell in love you made my heart drop / Then you had me thinking bout you nonstop / But you cry ’bout this and whine ’bout that/ When you grow a pear, you can call me back
Yeah I think you’re hot, I think you’re alright / But you’re acting like a chick all the time / You were cool and now you’re not just like that / When you grow a pear, you can call me back
Looking at the choruses, it seems that she preferred him when he was not emotional and sensitive, and considers him to lack manhood because of it. To Kesha, crying and whining is “acting like a chick” and not cool.
You were slipping and flipping / But here is the sit(uation): / I signed up for a man / But you are just a bitch
Her lyrics perpetuate restrictive gender roles because in society, it is acceptable for women to be emotional and sensitive like the man in the song. For men, it is looked down on to discuss feelings or cry or be sensitive. Men are expected to be tough and strong and protective. This is what Kesha expected of the man in the song. She found it sexy when he was sensitive (evident by the lyric “When I first met you / panties dropping”) but she had such an intolerance for him being feminine that she left him (“One day you asked if we could just talk / And that’s the reason why I’m walking), labelling him a “bitch”, an insult aimed at women.
The transphobia accusations of the lyrics (which can be considered hypocritical after Kesha said “I just like people” in regards to her sexuality) is because having a vagina doesn’t make you a woman, and having balls do not make you a man when it comes to gender. The lyrics that can be considered transphobic are:
- “I just can’t date a dude with a vag”
- “When you grow a pear, you can call me back”
- “And no, I don’t want to see your mangina”
The reason I don’t think these lyrics are transphobic is because they are not about a transman. They can be interpreted in a transphobic way, but Kesha was likely criticising a cisgender man for having feminine traits and not being traditionally masculine.
On the other hand, Kesha has had or talked about reversed gender roles is in her life and lyrics. Speaking about her mother, Pebe Sebert:
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.
I don’t like how Kesha has a tendancy to equate male genitalia with confidence and assertiveness, and female genitalia with being sensitive. Therefore, if a man is sensitive she’ll call them a “dude with a vag” and a “bitch”. Examples of when she calls men bitches are in “Grow a Pear” and “Blah Blah Blah”. In the latter, she says “Don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat / just show me where your dick is at”. Kesha seems to support no-strings-attached relationships, but at the same time she has been negative about women who have a lot of sex.
For me, it’s not super-important to wear, like, high heels and push up bra, and be like a girly girl. To me it’s more important to be, like, in something (comfortable) so if I don’t come home for a few days, I can kick it … The one thing people can take away from it is that you can look cool and feel confident without having to look like a slut, and without having to spend a lot of money.
In the lyrics for her song “Crazy Kids”, she says, “Them boys they want my coochie / I say nope, I’m no hoochie”. So the flip flopping makes it confusing to understand her stance; at one point she will say women don’t have to look like a “slut” to be confident and say that she won’t have sex with a guy because she isn’t a “hoochie”, and then in another instance, like in her lyrics, she will talk about no-strings-attached relationships. In her song “Booty Call”, the lyrics go: “Don’t get attached when I call you up / trying to get some ass all night” and “Don’t want a boyfriend / Just want to get some”.
Talking about writing the “Blah Blah Blah”, Kesha said:
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.
Another time she said:
I have very empowering lyrics for women. I kind of take how guys talk to women all over this industry and throw it back at them. And they’re all getting their panties in a wad, and I think that’s hilarious. I’m literally just talking to a man the way any rapper talks about women in every rap song on the radio.
“Panties in a wad” is, I think, her equating sensitivity with feminine things again (panties). While Kesha thinks her lyrics are balancing out how men sometimes talk about women, I don’t think it’s necessary to degrade men in order to be “empowering” to women. I don’t think Kesha’s lyrics are as empowering as she seems to. A commentor on another post said:
She has songs with lyrics like “Fuck Him He’s a DJ” and “Whenever you tell me I’m pretty That’s when the hunger really hits me”. Still focused on using sex for status, still focused on being told she’s sexually attractive by men. If she is this milleniums feminist pioneer, feminism is dead. She knows sex sells, booze, drugs, partying, sell and she’s giving people what they want. She cranks out electropop club hits, just like everyone else.
I think that with Kesha’s lyrics, it’s fine if she wants to sing about sex, drugs, alcohol, and partying. What I have an issue with is how the way she does it is perceived as her flipping gender roles when in reality, I think she’s just giving people what they want. Like the commentor said, those controversial things get attention and sell.
I don’t think it’s appropriate for Kesha to call a man “a little bitch” if he wants more than sex (imagine if a man said about a woman, “Don’t be a little bitch, let me hit that”?) It is fine for her not to want more than sex, but I think she partakes in prude shaming in instances like those. I also have a problem with what Kesha said in an interview about how she approaches men. She said on Conan in 2013, “I can be kinda rapey”. Describing yourself as a sexual predator because you are assertive with getting sexual partners is not appropriate. I don’t think it’s empowering of her to basically compare a woman being assertive with their sexuality to being a rapist. There is a big difference.
If men can talk about drinking in every awesome rock ‘n’ roll song and every awesome rap song, why can’t a woman? Just because I drink doesn’t mean I’m a drunk. Just because I have sex, and I’m not embarrassed doesn’t mean I’m a whore. ‘If men can do it, why can’t a woman do it? I really feel one of my main reasons for being on this earth is to level out the playing field just a little bit.
… but I think Lily Allen did a better job of criticising double standards with her song “Hard Out Here”, which has its problems alongside its music video, but it was more clear and could not be misconstrued:
If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut / When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss
Kesha has said that if you don’t get her lyrics, you don’t get them.
- She will reverse gender roles in one instance and perpetuate them in another.
- I think she is pandering to what will sell, and selling it under the guise of it being “empowering” and feminist.
- I don’t think Kesha’s lyrics degrading men are going to get women anywhere. I know she is talking about men the way they talk about women, but you can’t fight fire with fire. I think you have to fight sexism, or any injustices, with education and critical thinking and comeuppances.