Praying is the culmination of years of abuse and degradation, and what can come out of being able to move through such darkness into a glimmer of light. When Kesha told the world that Dr Luke, her producer and mentor, had abused her sexually and emotionally, women around the world relived their own abuse. They recognised the patterns in their own experiences and the sense of vulnerability and worthlessness that Kesha was left with. Women everywhere heard of Kesha’s experience and they believed her because they knew. Praying, then is a chance for all those women who supported Kesha to rejoice alongside her as she releases her first song in years in the form of a fierce blow to Dr Luke, and all those who doubted her.
Sexual violence is experienced by many women, and some men, and is most often perpetrated by men. There is something about gender relations that make these men believe that they are entitled to have power over women which they express by forcibly using women’s bodies for their own sexual pleasure. This “force” doesn’t need to be physical, however. Coercion, deception, and manipulation are far more common uses of force.
Men who commit sexual violence take advantage of their position in social life, specifically that of all men as a homogenous group over all women. That is not to say that all men hold the same level of power and that there are not some women who hold enormous influence. Nobody would argue that a young black man living in Flint, Michigan holds the same level of power as Hillary Clinton. But all men overall do hold more power as a group than all women as a group. This is evidenced by the gender pay gap, the lack of value caregiving holds, and of course, gendered violence. Gender inequality only deepens when you consider race, class, sexuality, and ability.
This gender inequality is core to the Kesha/Dr Luke saga that we have witnessed unfold. I find it hard to believe that a powerful producer would be able to exercise the lame level of manipulative control over a young male artist. Although men certainly experience body image issues, their appearances are not considered as up-for-debate as women. Women have forever been subjected to hot-or-not styles of constant comparison, and constant competition. We might be starting to see some changes in this arena, or at least alternative institutions countering this narrative, but the cultural notion that women’s bodies are ripe for public consumption is enduring.
This public consumption is, of course, sexualised and is part of what makes men who commit sexual violence believe that they are entitled to sex with women’s bodies in the first place. To these men, it doesn’t matter whether that woman wants to engage in sex or not because she is simply a sex object to them, and nothing more. The idea that women are sex objects first and foremost is so pervasive that the larger public is more comfortable engaging in victim blaming than believing that they contribute to a system that perpetuates violence against women. No wonder so many people would rather believe that Kesha was lying about being sexually assaulted.
Praying is raw and sounds as if Kesha continues to feel the pain of her experiences and that these wounds are fresh. This resonates with other victims of abuse who might feel their metaphorical wounds rip open even years after the abuse has occurred. I think Praying is even more powerful though because it resonates with anyone who has ever felt pain and it forces you to feel Kesha’s pain in her emotional delivery.
Not only is this the strongest vocal performance from Kesha that we have heard, but her vocals demonstrate an enviable maturity and control. When her voice cracks and the music builds, you feel her pain rip through you as if it is tearing a hole in your heart. But then, the beat picks up and you want to clap along, with the rest of the world, and applaud Kesha for taking on the powerful giant that is the music industry, and importantly, broader cultural notions of what it means to be a woman. She screeches, hitting an incredible high note, and you want to scream along with her at the injustice of it all.
Kesha, in her accompanying letter published on website Lenny, describes Praying as the beginning of a rainbow that appears after dark storm clouds start to disappear. Rainbow is also the name of upcoming LP due out on August 11, and I for one can’t wait to hear it.