I Kissed A Girl

// 19 July 2008

F Word reader Erica referred to this song by Katy Perry (currently number one in the US charts) in the comments section of the latest Ask A Feminist, and the damn thing won’t get out of my head, for a number of conflicting reasons:

Ignoring the lyrics, it’s perfect pop, I have to admit, and scarily catchy. But let’s not ignore the lyrics:

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

OK, so she thought she was het, but she got a little tipsy and suddenly a girl catches her eye. Fair enough, from where I’m standing – heterosexuality is assumed to be the default, it is pushed, it can take a while for other desires to come out in some cases, and alcohol can certainly bring out our hornier sides. However, this new feeling of attraction is described as a loss of discretion. Clearly she would never have done anything as foolish as kiss a member of the same sex if she hadn’t been pissed. Hmm.

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

Ah, here comes the boyfriend reference – she’s not a lesbian, kids, don’t worry! – and the justification that the kiss was meaningless. Which is fair enough, if that meaninglessness stems from a lack of emotion, just having fun, but it becomes clearer as the song progresses that it was meaningless because it happened with a girl.

No, I don’t even know your name

It doesn’t matter

Again, fine by me – plenty of us pull people we don’t know, and I don’t think the implication here is that it doesn’t matter because she’s a girl. But then we get:

You’re my experimental game

Just human nature

Human nature – good, we do like to play, try things out, and copping off with other girls isn’t unnatural. But gay and bi girls aren’t – as certain men and, I think, the writer of this song seem to believe – walking laboratories for het girls’ sexy experiments. Personally, I’d be quite happy to be Katy Perry’s experiment, but it’s not all about me. As Erica points out:

I feel like every time two girls (whether straight, lesbian, bi) perform sexual acts for straight men it perpetuates the idea that we are there for their entertainment. Putting up with this on a regular basis really gets me down.

Then we get:

It’s not what good girls do

Not how they should behave

My head gets so confused

Hard to obey

When I first heard this, I mentally stuck my middle finger up. Not only does it imply that kissing girls is wrong, but it also has the whole “look, boyfriend, I’m so naughty and sexy” thing going on that again portrays female same sex attraction as something for the boys. However, this can also be read as the genuine confusion of coming to terms with sexual feelings that society does say are deviant, that do go against how girls are supposed to behave. In the context of the video, with its close-ups of Perry’s body, feminised women who don’t actually kiss and the stereotypical boys’ wet dream pillow fight, and with the current trend for framing all-girl sexual activity as intended to stimulate men, as foreplay for the “real thing”, the former interpretation seems more likely to be in line with the production team’s intentions. The kiss is certainly portrayed as totally non-threatening to her boyfriend – girls are just soft and cute and innocent:

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

Yes, it’s good she happily admits she thinks women are attractive, but they’re certainly not fuckable – she wakes up in bed with her man. Again, girl-on-girl action is just foreplay for the real thing.

BUT but but… While I think the most obvious interpretation of the song and video is as a reinforcement of the current trend of heterosexual male co-option of female same sex attraction, it’s also pretty heterocentric to assume that the gaze here is male. Why can’t it be female? Why can’t Perry and her ladies be performing for the girl? For us women watching who think she’s hot? The fact that she wakes up in bed, even if it is with a man, does suggest that all that’s gone before was some kind of dream fantasy, that the women are dancing and playing for a woman (Perry), not for men.

And while women kissing women simply to turn men on is certainly problematic, if the social sanctioning of girl-on-girl action enable girls to explore and have shame-free fun, can we maybe just say to hell with the boys and get down to it?

Enough rambling from me: thoughts?

Comments From You

Helen G // Posted 19 July 2008 at 5:01 pm

I was a woman who is sexually attracted to other women *before* I heard this song (saw the video). I was (am) *still* a woman who is attracted to other women after I’d heard (seen) it.

Whether boys find lesbianism a turn-on is supremely irrelevant. Face it, boys will find *any*thing a turn-on. Their brains are in their dicks, and their dicks think only of their own self-gratification.

The (sad) fact is that I neither want nor need boys’ (dis)approval of my sexual orientation.

I wouldn’t mind but it’s such a rubbish song! Is this *really* the pinnacle of ‘lesbian anthems’? Frankly, I find that far more worrying!

Lauren O // Posted 19 July 2008 at 6:00 pm

I spent a while trying to figure out what bothered me so much about this song. I don’t see anything wrong with normally straight women kissing other women to see if the heterosexuality that’s been enforced all their lives isn’t quite what they wanted, nor do I necessarily have a problem with women kissing women to perform for men.

I think the thing that makes this song so annoying to me is that it congratulates itself so heartily for being edgy and risky, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. How many straight girls do you know that have kissed other girls while drunk at a party? One million? Two million? And many of those encounters are much more of a challenge to the status quo of heterosexuality than this song, but Katy Perry sings it like she’s a pioneer that deserves congratulations and awards for her groundbreaking acts of revolution.

Great, you kissed a girl. Then you giggled about how you’re not a “good girl” and sang a verse about girls being magical that sounds like a jingle a department store would use if they were selling girls. Not exactly Stonewall, there, Katy dearest.

Laura // Posted 19 July 2008 at 6:06 pm

Ha ha, spot on, Lauren!

Redheadinred // Posted 19 July 2008 at 6:32 pm

That ‘Felt so wrong, felt so right’ part makes me laugh – it’s so old-fashioned!

I’ve got this song on my mp3. It’s addictive, but yes, I do have a problem with the lyrics and Katy Perry in general. I think it does imply that bisexuals are not really, genuinely attracted to each other, they’re only ‘experimenting’. Perry has another song, which I dislike much more, called ‘you’re so gay’ which berates a man for not being stereotypically masculine.

Anne Onne // Posted 19 July 2008 at 7:19 pm

This song isn’t edgy. Catchy, maybe, but not edgy. I have conflicting feelings about it, because it isn’t the most accepting, pro-LGBTQ song out there, and it isn’t what I’d write if I was going to write a song espousing gay rights.

On the other hand, there can be many interpretations of the lyrics. I personally read the lyrics to be setting up a character who on one hand insists that it’s ‘innocent’, that she’s just experimenting, but that it is clear from the rest of the lyrics (say, her fixation on how girls are so ‘hard to resist’, so ‘kissable’ and ‘magical’) that she’s conflicted and questioning her sexuality. Kind of like 10CC’s song ‘I’m not in love’ is clearly about someone actually being in love but not wanting to admit it. On that level, it’s a song with many possible interpretations.

However, I don’t like that one of the few songs that aren’t very heteronormative have to be about denying that you’re gay, or hinting that being LGBTQ is wrong. If it was one of many songs devoted ot LGBTQ matters, I might let it pass as a song with a confused imperfect character. But in the context of how people really veiw LGBTQ rights, and on how few songs are devoted to it, it is far from ideal.

Helen: ‘The (sad) fact is that I neither want nor need boys’ (dis)approval of my sexual orientation.’ Definitely. I think this applies to all women, to some extent. Heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual or pansexual, we don’t need judgement. Even women who are attracted to men (myself being one of them) shouldn’t have to put up with the idea that their bodies and sexuality exist for men’s pleasure, not their own.

But it is especially problematic the way lesbian interaction is taken to be for male pleasure, women’s sexualities, interests and wishes completely erased from consideration. It’s not that men find it erotic (for anybody can find anything erotic), but that there is no acknowledgement that that is not the main purpose, or indeed, the purpose at all. It’s like people believe that on some level, lesbianism exists for men’s fantasies of threesomes.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but it’s like for some people, women can only exist in terms of what sexual gratification they provide men. Therefore if women are sexual, it must be for men. Well, funnily enough, it doesn’t work that way.

So, on this song, as on the topic, I’m conflicted.

sianmarie // Posted 21 July 2008 at 1:44 pm

arrggghhh. i hate this assumption that bisexulaity is a game, a performance. i did my dissertation on the spectacle of lesbianism in 20th century literature and it is so prevalent, all over the place. the lyrics of that song i find quite offensive, maybe because i have had to put up with that attitude for so long – that if you’re bisexual you probably aren’t really, you’re probably just doing it to turn some guy on, to prove you’re daring. it’s all BS. most people are bisexual because they fall in love and fancy people of different genders, duh. also this whole, im naughty, it’s not how a good girl should behave nonsense has had me spluttering my coffee over the desk – gee whizz way to go in bringing shame in to the brains of a teenage girls who may be confused.

i. despair.

Alicia // Posted 21 July 2008 at 3:22 pm

Meh – they just had to wait until most pop music listeners were too young to remember Jill Sobule’s take on being edgy and kissing girls.

Sarah // Posted 21 July 2008 at 4:05 pm

I’ve had people express astonishment and tell me I can’t possibly be bisexual because ‘you’re so quiet’ – which was puzzling at first (what does noise have to do with sexuality?) but I guess it’s this thing about bisexuality as performance. I am a quiet person, I come across as fairly shy and reserved, quite conventional in my dress and appearance, not interested in being the centre of attention or putting on a performance. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t in love with my girlfriend when we were together, or that I don’t find other women attractive. Why would it?

beent // Posted 22 July 2008 at 3:12 am

I personally read the lyrics to be setting up a character who on one hand insists that it’s ‘innocent’, that she’s just experimenting, but that it is clear from the rest of the lyrics (say, her fixation on how girls are so ‘hard to resist’, so ‘kissable’ and ‘magical’) that she’s conflicted and questioning her sexuality. Kind of like 10CC’s song ‘I’m not in love’ is clearly about someone actually being in love but not wanting to admit it. On that level, it’s a song with many possible interpretations.

polly styrene // Posted 22 July 2008 at 7:53 am

I don’t know if it’s been mentioned elsewhere but Katy Perry’s first song was called ‘U R so Gay’.

Nice (as they used to say on the fast show).

Louise // Posted 8 August 2008 at 11:44 am

The Guardian has a piece on this today pointing out that Katy Perry has previously had a song berating her (ex?)boyfriend for being “so gay”. More here.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds