Gaga As A Role Model
INFAMOUS feminist contrarian Camille Paglia has caused controversy again recently by describing everyone’s favourite pop goddess Lady Gaga as a “plasticised android” whose popularity heralds the death of sex. Numerous fans in the media have come to Lady Gaga’s defence – she’s clever, she’s funny, she’s a great performer. Meanwhile, the internet has been a-flutter with responses to the ‘meat dress’ Lady Gaga wore to the MTV Video Music Awards, which has been variously interpreted as a protest against the objectification of women and a meaningless fashion statement. Whatever your opinion on Lady Gaga – and even if you have none at all – her music, her videos and her public persona have become battlegrounds for debate around porn, pop culture and the status of women in the music industry. The debate rages on as to what exactly Gaga stands for. Is she a feminist icon as many would like us to believe ? Is she an inspiration to women around the world? Or is she damaing to feminism? >>
1. Female emancipation is not about being able to wear hotpants
THERE is a pervasive myth in pop culture that suggests that women choose to wear revealing outfits to demonstrate their fearlessness and their self-confidence, rather than their unimaginative accommodation of society’s obsession with sex. Gaga poses in revealing outfits and her videos are often brash and pornographic in nature. There is nothing liberating in this so-called self-confidence. Feminism is any “political, cultural, and economic movement seeking greater, equal, or, among a minority, superior rights and participation in society for women and girls.” Gaga has never concentrated on the real issue that so many before her have fought for. If she is to declare herself a true feminist then she must remember the real issues, such as the worthwhile and tangible (but boring) goals of equal pay and fairer childcare provisions.
2. Saying the word enough times doesn’t make you a feminist
GAGA calling herself a “feminist” is no different in spirit than Labour Leadership candidates calling themselves “socialists.” The Labour candidate is using the word to communicate substance-less popular sentiments such as “we believe in the people” and “we’re all working together.” It is crazy to assume that simply because Gaga likes to say that she’s a feminist, she automatically becomes one. There is nothing daringly original in anything Gaga has done. As Hadley Freeman (Guardian) argues ‘from her name (which she stole from the Queen song ‘Radio Gaga’), to her music, to her every look, everything has been done before… Even the meat dress she wore was done by Elsa Schiaparelli more than 70 years ago.’ Same goes with her feminism: she is adopting the mantle without earning it.
3. She’s an attention seeker not a feminist
GAGA’S flamboyance is not a statement for feminists. Quite the contrary, it’s an attention-seeking ploy that has enabled her to grab the media spot light at every opportunity. Every new dress she dons and every sexually ambiguous video she makes has her followers raving and her critics foaming. Camille Paglia highlights that Gaga is “so artificial at all times that very little of the real, the emotional and the passionate is allowed to leak through”. The façade that she hides behind has meant that we never get to see or understand who she really is. Guardian journalist Kira Cochrane highlights that “Gaga seems to live inside a mass of contradictions: one moment she says she’s not a feminist, “I hail men”; the next she’s declaring she is a feminist, and making feminist remarks (“When I say to you, there is nobody like me, and there never was, that is a statement I want every woman to feel and make about themselves”).” A real feminist would not be so ambiguous about it.
4. Gaga’s “inventiveness” is overrated; she is profoundly conservative
GAGA’S celebrated inventiveness is nothing more than an extension of the familiar themes explored by other female pop stars. She frequently identifies herself with symbols of authority and guarantors of the status quo: in her videos she can be seen making out with a police woman and dancing in piles of money; the video for Telephone is set in a prison full of sexy gyrating dancers. Some claim that her videos are artistically parodying porn, but – as porn is already a parody of sex – this is just a redundant attempt to parody the parodied. She might pretend not to be the same as other anaesthetized, passive female pop stars, but we cannot escape the recognition that she has turned herself into an object in an uncannily similar way. She is slim and attractive too, so it can hardly be said that she is setting herself up in opposition to the usual prerequisites of female pop stardom.
5. Dance to her music but don’t elect her
THERE is no harm in enjoying Gaga’s music, but we shouldn’t look to her for our opinions on politics. If we did, her influence would be damaging. Gaga is clearly and repeatedly endorsing contemporary society’s superficial values, and only getting away with it by cleverly duping people into believing that she’s doing something different. The contradictions in persona should stop any wise person following her and thinking she’s great. Yes her music might be something that people admire but don’t for one second let Gaga be the face of feminism just because she says she a feminist. There’s a lot of talk but very little substance.
1. Gaga brilliantly undermines porn culture
DESPITE her cavorting and bare flesh, there isn’t a sense that Gaga is offering herself up for sexual consumption in the same way that other female pop stars are. She uses her body in an imaginative and playful way that is not necessarily sexual – in fact Gaga’s pop persona is more about the grotesque and the strange than about sex appeal. The persistent rumour that “Gaga is a man” stems exactly from this: how can (straight) hot blooded men not find her sexy, despite the obvious use of pornographic tropes like the lesbian prison ward in her video, Telephone?. Gaga’s liberated, ironic attitude to her body will help women everywhere dissolve the self-undermining body anxiety that porn culture foists on all women. For this alone she should be celebrated as a feminist.
2. Saying the ‘F’ word is precisely part of Gaga’s fearlessness
IT IS true that the term “feminist icon” is thrown around too much, and often facetiously. Even Katie Price has been called a feminist. But, because “feminist” is a tainted word, the very act of using it to describe herself actually does make Gaga a feminist. She is not afraid to use the term, despite the negative connotations that people attach to it. Gaga’s entire persona is an argument for feminism and questions what is expected of women in today’s society. The contradiction in her name is the perfect example: “Lady” suggests gentility and sweetness while “Gaga” directly contrasts this with craze and madness with her excessive make up, tight dresses, high heels and false eyelashes she exposes the role of sex and often femininity. Guardian journalist Kira Cochrane points out that in fact, Gaga exposes femininity as a sham in all sorts of ways. If the typically feminine woman is supposed to be simpering, seductive, weak, manipulated – essentially submissive – Gaga kicks against all these qualities.
3. Gaga is being herself and there is no better message for feminists
GAGA does things her own way, with great fun, a real relishing of exuberant freedom and an entirely original style. Her costumes will be remembered for their visual splendour and utter bizarreness. She shows a refreshing sense of humour. And many of her costumes actively demonstrate defiance and strength rather than passivity, like the suit of armour she wore in one video. Caitlin Moran wrote of Gaga’s influence that it would be “hard to oppress the generation that have been brought up on pop stars with fire coming out of their tits!” She is indulging her own sense of humour when she kisses a police officer in her video. Just listen to the humourlessness of the old-school feminist argument that such a humorous kiss is an identification with existing power structures! We are in deeply worrying territory if her attractiveness is used against her. Her encouragement to be completely oneself is itself an empowering feminist ideal.
4. Have a bit of fun with your feminism
HAVING a sense of humour about feminism is what will bring more people around to it. Of course it is a serious issue, but Gaga is telling us not to forget that it can be a joyful ideology too. People are more likely to have the energy and the will to champion the unglamorous but worthwhile aims of feminism if they can also enjoy the freedom that Gaga so impressively embodies. Even when she is perched on a toilet she is making an empowering point. Gaga is not a manufactured industry product – she exudes wilful self-invention.
5. She is truly an inspiration
GAGA should be a true inspiration to women. She avoids Paglia’s implication that modern female stars need to be ‘sexually appealing and charismatically sensual’ and instead has won countless fans by being the exact opposite – a thorough non-traditionalist. Her ‘Meat dress’ worn at the MTV Music Video awards took her inspiration even further. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres after the show, Gaga offered an insight into the dress. She explained that she was making a statement against the US Military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on sexuality and argued that “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in… if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as many rights as the meat on our bones.” Gaga is a fighter. What more do feminists want?
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