“Gaga Feminism”

The New York Times series, The Stone, organized by Simon Critchley, features philosophers writing on timely topics.    This week’s essay is by Nancy Bauer, and it is about Lady Gaga feminism.  That feminism features the idea that one can both strive to be the perfect object of male lust and, at the same time, a personally powerful woman, with the first enabling or constituting the second.  Bauer also uses Beauvoir to articulate how we might construct an alternative.

Bauer’s article has given me the first understanding I’ve had of the supposedly Third Wave feminist idea that wearing 4 inch heels is not just allowed by feminism but positively endorsed by it.

Bauer’s essay discusses the Telephone video features Lady Gaga and Beyonce; it is long, but I think anyone with young women in their classes should read Bauer and view the video.  Here’s a shorter series of clips in a behind the  scenes video:

There are in fact other good entries in the series which we haven’t covered, including Nancy Sherman on stoicism and  the military.  The idea, suggested by J.M.  Berstein , that tea partyers are involved in a metaphysical mistake evolves into a teaching gem.  I loved the readers’ reaction to Singer’s remarking that many of  them didn’t understand him – “If we didn’t undertand you, that’s your fault.”

19 thoughts on ““Gaga Feminism”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, jj! A phenomenally well-written piece — kudos and thanks to Nancy Bauer for some thought-provoking ideas. Looking forward to hearing my own Gaga-savvy daughter’s response…

  2. I’m glad someone liked the Bernstein piece, I was a little despondent after Leiter’s post…

  3. Mike, it was very negative! Did you think Leiter was wrong?

    I thought the piece was suitable for intro students, which might not be much of a defense.

  4. Thanks for the link! I’m actually reading Bauer’s book on Beauvoir at the moment and I’ve taken an interest in LG both as a pop artist (because I need new dance songs) and a pop icon, so this was a great find for me.

    Also, a lot of the comments on the NYT made me laugh, especially the one that said “Is feminism trying to make women incomprehensible to us males?”

  5. Bah…Janey-come-lately. Tell me this isn’t EXACTLY what Madonna was doing, oh, twenty years ago! (And better, I’ll add)

    Am I the only one who remembers Camille Paglia’s gonzo -Amazonian -use-whatcha-got-to-get-what you want argument? Paglia was a bad academic, certainly (probably the only academic in history to source HERSELF), but anyone who has the nads to call Naomi Wolf a “twit” gets a big feminist high-five from me.

    Forget Lady Gaga. As with most things being produced today, it’s eye candy coated trash. All phenomena, no noumena (sp?)

  6. I’m so glad my daughter actually LISTENS to music. She likes old psychadelia, grunge and newer hard rock that requires–oh, MUSICAL TALENT and poetry/storytelling ability.

    LG is only empowered by what she does because she gets paid for it. Where are all these girls that give away all these blow jobs anyway? Maybe I could convince them that $200 is a fair price for every post bj lipstick touchup. They’d be empowering themselves by helping their underprivileged sister :-P

    And last I checked , Madonna was still coming on the face of her Own (23-year-old) Personal (and beautiful) Jesus.
    THAT is empowerment.

  7. I find it *really* interesting–from a scholarly perspective most of all–that it is so easy for otherwise carefully-thinking people to dismiss female pop music stars as “talentless” and “mindless.” It is actually *very difficult* to write successful pop songs, to perform them, and to create/manage all the other aspects of contemporary pop-star success (image, videos, tours, etc.). Why do feminists, of all people, undermine and trivialize the accomplishments of female pop stars (and other entertainers)? Think about it: these pop stars are derided for exhibiting stereotypically feminine behaviors/values/traits: they’re supposedly all body, no mind; they’re “craft,” not “art”; they’re all surface, no depth; they’re unthinking drones, not canny career women; they’re puppets manipulated by others, rather than autonomous adults; etc etc. The devaluation of female pop stars turns on the already-established devaluation of femininity. Shouldn’t feminists be interested in critiquing the all-too-easy dismissal of female pop stars, rather than reinforcing and participating in it?

  8. In an illustration of the occasional societal tendency to question the sexual orientation, or even sex, of women who are seen as powerful, there are (mostly debunked) rumors that Lady Gaga is a hermaphrodite:


    To link this to an earlier discussion, do a google search on “lady gaga camel toe;” she supposedly deliberately went out in tight pants to debunk it.

    …and that’s the silly news for today.

  9. J-Bro, I don’t like to play a public game guessing about someone’s sexuality (don’t mean to suggest you do). But I think she deliberately plays with different indicators of gender identity. You might watch the full and uncensored telephone video. On the one hand, she deliberately denies her character has a penis, but then she also looks a lot like a drag queen in some scenes. She also says she loves androgyny. So I don’t know that power alone makes her gender seem ambiguous.

  10. Paglia: “Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.”

    An apt characterization of the video, at least.

  11. Rob, thanks for reminding me of the Paglia piece. You found her one notable remark, I think.

  12. I agree with Robin. Paglia is historically a brilliant mind. Since the 1980s she has addressed issues where others feared to tread. Sometimes I agree with her, sometimes not, but she is a true feminist philosopher.

  13. DJS, thanks for the comment. I haven’t seen much from Paglia recently, but I did think of her as brilliant. The piece in the NY Times seems to me not brilliant and not even very good. If you disagree about this one case, please let us know why in the post “Paglia Riff.” I wouldn’t mind being wrong.

  14. I’m surprised no one has said anything about Lady Gaga being the postmodern queen…

    Just a few examples. She plays with identity and gender. When asked who the ‘real’ Lady Gaga is, she has eloquently said that she is in some sense what ever you perceiver her to be. She even recognizes herself as the post-postmodern Madonna (Madonna being the postmodern queen of the 80s and 90s). Lady Gaga is constantly playing with postmodern themes. I recall in one interview she was asked when she stopped being Lady Gaga, when she ‘took off the mask’, so to speak. She made some remarks about how we are all constantly performing, remarks that sounded very much like something out of Butler’s work on performativity.

    To be fair, I hate pop, so I can’t really say if her music is any good. But I would suggest keeping an open mind and perhaps looking at her as a postmodern performance artist.

  15. If you want to know why I think it’s trash, try listening to it. *shrug* Shiny plastic pap without thought or talent, set to a dance beat. Pop music IS product–it’s selling the lowest common denominator to the highest bidder. Sure, it always makes good business sense, making money off crap, but sometimes making money just isn’t a mark of talent. Plus there are few pop stars who pull their own strings, so it’s someone else’s talents that get them where they are.

  16. @jj: That’s certainly a valid point; she does play around with gender identity. She may well be deliberately playing with the concept I referred to, or she may be doing something else.

Comments are closed.