The Age Old Question: Is Gaga a Feminist?

A few weeks ago – okay, maybe it was a few  months ago – V – of The Porch fame brought up the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities. The topic raised concerning this list was the fact that Lady Gaga had sprinted past the big O earning the #1 spot. At the time I was pretty flabbergasted and called for an explanation – I wanted details – I wanted to genuinely understand the credentials that made one eligible for this position and it turned out that in this case the argument was quite limited. The list only dealt with a year at a time, and it was Gaga’s domination of the social networking phenomena that earned her number one status.

To be honest – at first glance I found her sort of gimmicky and never really looked back until her “power” to shape and influence came to my attention and then I was suddenly interested.  What to we make of this intentional enigma? I studied. I watched her on Letterman:

I read about her on the Ms. Blog, QueerPlanet, Bitch, The New York Times, and the LA Times. I listened to her music and trolled her social media sites. Admittedly, she is more than meets the eye – and pretty catchy. And  I also noticed that there are a lot of people trying to decide if she represents anything feminist. Is she third wave feminism? Is she the end of feminism? And if she has all this influence that Forbes says she does will she influence a generation one way or another with regards to feminism?

The quote most often turned to regarding gaga and feminism is as follows:

I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…

Clearly, Gaga is making the same mistake that so many have made before her – she is reading feminism as a political movement that hates men – and all things that have been associated with stereotypical masculinity. But despite this comment many have identified her as a third wave feminist because she sees herself as powerful – and perhaps some would argue that second wave feminists paved the road upon which she’s walking – in other words they helped create a world in which a woman could claim power of all kinds.

But either way – I am fairly certain that Gaga will play a role in how we define gender in the future – mostly because she is very post-modern. She doesn’t seem to define herself as belonging to anything in particular and she constantly seems to redefine the boundries of normal and gender performance – very Judith Butler, if I do say so myself. I apologize these thoughts on Gaga are just beginning. I have to think about this some more…

What do y’all think?  

– feed my brain, think about this with me.

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5 responses

  1. I’m actually disappointed that she said that, and I thought she was smarter than that. Either she really doesn’t get feminism, or she is really trying to protect her image as being a certain way and won’t stand up as one. Either way, boo hiss from me.

  2. I think she is smart, but the question is to what end. Similar to Madonna in the ’80s and early ’90s, don’t you feel like you are watching marketing at work. Gaga is a spectacle for a whole lot of reasons – foremost it seems her constant performance and agitation keeps her famous. (I am also reminded of Ozzy Osborn in the bat eating days.) Feminism is a word we throw around a lot as if it has the same meaning to all people – which clearly it doesn’t. And if I were to gander a guess at the most frequently assumed definition – speaking of the stranger on the street here – I think we’d find that there is an assumption that feminist =man-hater. I am clearly a feminist who doesn’t fit into this category, and I think there are more feminist like me than not – BUT who are Gaga’s little monsters? How do they feel about feminism and how does that affect her behavior? I think if she were better informed she would clearly call herself a feminist or at least a post-feminist. (<- I hate that term.) There is a discussion on In Media Res worth reading about exactly this idea: Most interesting to me is Gaga's constant reinvention and her boundary defying costuming – albeit much of it relies on a feminine tradition – she often makes me think of an observation I once heard a really smart woman make about Second Life – the avatar world thingy. This woman said – when it comes to an Avatar we have all the options in the world – we can take on any corporality and for so many the boxes are so constricted that all they do is change race or gender or age – they could be anything a dragon, a bowl of pasta, anything but they cant think that far out of the box. I tend to think that Gaga – or at least the house of Gaga is thinking outside of the box. This is why I liken her to Judith Butler's philosophy. She is all about performative behavior and I think her performance shifts the constructed understandings of gender. That said, she may resonate as a complete anomaly and therefore provide little change in terms of gender construction. Thoughts?

  3. She definitely seems like a marketing product in some ways. I hate that I had to say product, but it’s true. She does have her own point of view, and appeals to the fringe, and pushes gender boundaries (remember the hullabaloo about whether or not she had ambiguous genitalia?), but sometimes it pales in comparison to the publicity stunts, like meat dresses. You’re right that a LOT of people don’t understand what feminism is at its core (and yes, its variations can mean different things to different people), and that they think feminism = anti-man, or lesbian, or anti-femininity. (Post-feminist = awful!) I think most people she appeals to would be open to thinking outside the box or pushing their understanding of gender anyway, and the fact that she is just everywhere and is known for her extreme fashion, etc., can push people away. You said it much more eloquently than I, but this is me agreeing with you.

  4. Interestingly, she has actually said in other interviews that she IS a feminist. I hadn’t read the quote you mention here before, so it’d be interesting to wonder whether she’s staying ambiguous on the subject to please people or whether she genuinely isn’t sure where she stands.
    In any case, I think she’s a hell of a lot more interesting than a lot of her other female pop counterparts, so she gets a huge thumbs up from me!

  5. If you listen to the interview, this sounds a lot like a parody of particularly obnoxious interviewer. “I celebrate the American male… beer.” If I recall, the rest of the interview was about how she just wanted to be a rock star with him insisting that she might consider being defined by gender, clothes etc. I imagine she is laughing at this critique by feminists as much as she is laughing at him even as she leapfrogs the debate.

    The pop icon making system isn’t one that typically highlights perfect people. Even if we could pick feminist people, they likely would turn out not perfect.

    She is a female pop icon who men (even men in armies) sing to with delight. Madonna never crossed this line. As far as I could tell, women could be her. Men couldn’t. This is a milestone. It lets her get into the zone of Micheal Jackson. She casts herself in iconic male roles including that of God, gang leaders and priests (she manages to do this while being very respectful of her faith remarkably).

    Additionally there are dancing boys (vs naked girls with fairly unattractive men in hoodies), and songs like ‘boys boys boys’ which seemed surprisingly more realistic. Almost all the analogues talked about how boys would probably hate you if you had any relationship with them. Hers was more like the experiences of most people I knew.

    She makes it clear that her job is not to be beautiful, it is to engage people and make music. She stated explicitly that they had made what had seemed unattractive or ugly into the culture and they would no try as hard as they could to bring in women’s and gay’s equality.

    Gaga is more than we deserve given our systems. She is interesting committed and compelling for many people. She clearly has been an architect of her own success and is as strong in business and leadership as she is in singing dancing or looking pretty though she is improving on all fronts. This in itself opens horizons for girls who identify with her. Beyond this, the narrative she tells is one of enabling everyone and she takes this work very seriously.

    She is open to feminism at the least and I believe that if we celebrate what she does right and give her space to grow and experiment, GAGA will be the route into feminism for many. If we reject her, it will be one more thing to alienate young women from feminist traditions.

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