Given that we’re moving into “catcalling season”--the most abhorred of all seasons by the women who are forced to endure months upon months of strange men making unsolicited, threateningly sexually explicit comments when they’re just trying to walk down the street in peace--Katy Perry might want to rethink naming one of the lipsticks in her Katy Kat Matte with Covergirl range “Cat Call”. That’s right: there is a lipstick in Katy Perry’s range for Covergirl that seemingly celebrates, or at least makes light of, sexual harassment. So we can all go back to facepalming over the plight of celebrity feminism.
Perry has been confused by feminism in the past. In 2012, when feminism was just starting to become a buzzword in celebrity marketing, Perry said, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” In 2014, she sort-of backtracked, saying, “A feminist? Uh, yeah, actually. I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.” Apparently no one had quite explained to her the bit about social, cultural, political and economic equality. Last year, Perry appeared on the cover of Forbes saying, “Hopefully this cover can be an inspiration to women out there that it’s okay to be proud of hard earned success and that there is no shame in being a boss.”
Clearly, Perry has been bumbling through "feminism", and whatever the word means for the brand of a female popstar these days. Beyoncé, for instance, has managed to employ the politics of feminism to create a rather robust brand that’s able to withstand her not-so-feminist business practices, like the allegations that she uses slave labor to create her Ivy Park range. Perry, on the other hand, hasn’t managed to carve out her own feminist manifesto in a world where, without one, your pop brand can become totally obsolete.
Look: I don’t think there’s anything particularly revolutionary about the PR teams behind female celebrities slapping a feminist sticker across albums in order to make sales. But I do think that there’s a responsibility amongst women, branding aside, to reject the language of rape culture. Catcalling is the manifestation of male entitlement. It’s the thing men do in the street to assert power and dominance over women and it’s designed to intimidate. When men tell you to “Chill out at take a compliment” that’s just another way of policing female propriety. It’s a way of saying, “A man has told you how to feel, so now you must feel it, and any other feeling you’re having is inherently wrong.” Nevermind that not only can catcalling be downright threatening, it can also be followed up with aggression when the male perpertrator doesn't get the reaction he was hoping for. Catcalling is genuinely part of an implicit culture that not only objectifies women but maintains a status quo of fear for any woman appearing in public.
The Katy Kat lipstick is going for a theme. Every lipstick has something to do with cats. But there are plenty more cat puns that haven’t been made, and so many of them more sensitive to the dire state we force women to live in on a daily basis. She could have called it Catty Girl, or unleashed some Cat-titude, or Purr-suasion (this is why I don't work in makeup branding). Catcalling is restrictive and terrifying. It’s not cute or sassy or something that many women covet. A beauty product that suggests the latter is a beauty product that is vastly out of touch with a generation of women who are trying to fight for a space where they can be seen as more than just a sex object to be leered at in the street.
For Katy Perry’s sake, lets hope she and the Covergirl team can get their act together and correct this mistake. Lipstick, of course, can and should be worn as an active choice, not as an anachronistic bending to the will of a misogynist society that requires female sexuality to preceed female autonomy. Afterall, you don’t even need to proclaim yourself a feminist to know that harassment isn’t hot.