In the History of Sexuality, Foucault lays out what he considers the “principal features” of the relationship between sexuality and power. The first principal, and the principle I’m going to focus on is called the negative relation. The negative relation suggests that there is no connection between power and sex that isn’t negative. Foucault gives rejection, refusal, and masking as examples of this (83).
A demonstration of this idea can be found in Katy Perry’s Part of Me music video. In the video, Katy is seen breaking up with her boyfriend because she thinks that he’s been cheating on her. She proceeds to cut her hair short in a gas station bathroom, then signs up for the Marine Corps. The rest of the video just shows her going through the various stages of Marine Corps training alongside some obvious ad placements.
Foucault’s ideas about power and sexuality came up in the video, first in the scene where Katy cut her hair. Long hair is a symbol of femininity and cutting it to a traditionally male style and length is meant to be symbolic of her shedding that part of her. In that scene, she also wraps her chest to make it look flat. This too symbolizes the shedding of a sexualized element of femininity. We find Foucault’s ideas again when Katy has flashbacks to being at a fair with her boyfriend while doing target practice during boot camp. In the flashback, Katy and her boyfriend were playing a game where you have to shoot a water gun at a target. Her boyfriend is shown as the more dominant of the two even though Katy is winning the game. While shooting an assault rifle at boot camp Katy is thinking about that moment as a way to show a contrast between who she was and who she’s becoming. She is ridding herself of a past image as dainty and submissive – again traits that have historically been assigned to females – by asserting physical power and dominant behavior. Lastly, there is a scene at the end where Katy is putting on war paint as opposed to putting on makeup.
Katy’s understanding of power drove all of her decisions, both in her unhappy relationship and in the Marines. She was on a mission to claim power for herself, more specifically to claim power over herself.
This video was clearly meant to be empowering for women, but the way sexuality and femininity are depicted in the video contradicts that goal. Connecting power and powerful behavior to masculine traits is on the same level as depicting women in a hypersexualized way in a video. Both paint women and the decisions they make into a corner and makes the assumption that assuming masculine traits is the only way to be powerful.