Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

June 28, 2010

Today's Feminism: Grappling with Gaga or Going Gaga?

Well, I could never have anticipated the day that the Magdalene sisters would post about Lady Gaga. But Julian brought this interesting NYT piece on Lady Gaga's rather, well, bizarre brand of feminism to our attention. Now, I'll admit (even if I loathe to do so), two of her songs have grown on me. In some bizarre way, I feel that I can relate to her song "Bad Romance" given my past experience, which was not a good one. And I love dancing to her "Telephone" in my Zumba class (which, by the way, I have found extremely therapeutic - Zumba, that is, not Lady Gaga). Yes, be shocked. I, Edith Magdalene, just admitted to liking two Lady Gaga songs and even relating to one of them. Trust me, no one is more shocked about that than yours truly. And at the same time, I am utterly repulsed by her vagrant sexuality, horrific outfits, and slight meglomania. (Oh, wait. Can meglomania be slight? Perhaps nothing ending in 'mania' can ever be slight...)

And yet, Tufts Professor Nancy Bauer and many others (not least of all, Lady Gaga herself) consider her a cultural icon, taking modern feminism to whole new level. Just consider the most recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine. Lady Gaga is scantily clad, with the most prominent piece of clothing she dons being a bra with two, um, assault rifles attached. What kind of message of female empowerment does something like that send? It makes those bra burning feminist of old look peaceful. I've also read that Lady Gaga is working with scientist to acquire corpses to put on state at a show next year. That makes Madonna look quite tame.

In her NYT article, Nancy Bauer uses Gaga's wackiness to describe the feminism of today's young women, who are perhaps suffering from the "Lady Gaga Syndrome". On one hand, today's young women have everything they could ever want. According to Bauer, they excel academically and fill the highest level university classes. On the other hand, after class, these same girls go home, put on the scantiest outfit they can find and go out for a night of sexual exploits (where they are usually the ones who are exploited). As Bauer puts it: "Is this an expression of . . . strength as a woman or an exercise in self-objectification?" Here's what else she has to say:
Lady Gaga idealizes this way of being in the world. But real young women, who, as has been well documented, are pressured to make themselves into boy toys at younger and younger ages, feel torn. They tell themselves a Gaga-esque story about what they’re doing. When they’re on their knees in front of a worked-up guy they just met at a party, they genuinely do feel powerful — sadistic, even. After all, though they don’t stand up and walk away, they in principle could. But the morning after, students routinely tell me, they are vulnerable to what I’ve come to call the “hook-up hangover.” They’ll see the guy in the quad and cringe. Or they’ll find themselves wishing in vain for more — if not for a prince (or a vampire, maybe) to sweep them off their feet, at least for the guy actually to have programmed their number into his cell phone the night before. When the text doesn’t come, it’s off to the next party.

What’s going on here? Women of my generation — I have a Gaga-savvy daughter home for the summer from her first year of college — have been scratching our heads. When we hear our daughters tell us that in between taking A.P. Statistics and fronting your own band you may be expected to perform a few oral sexual feats, we can’t believe it. Some critics of “hook-up culture” have suggested, more or less moralistically, that the problem is that all this casual sex is going to mess with girls’ heads. But whatever you think of casual sex, it’s not new. What’s mind-boggling is how girls are able to understand engaging in it, especially when it’s unidirectional, as a form of power.
I think even Carrie Bradshaw cannot compete with this. And it is really, really, scary. Even Bauer, who's quite liberal, sees that today's young women are consciously choosing exploitation and self-objectification as a form of female empowerment. The Lady Gaga Syndrome is even more destructive than Carrie Bradshaw et al. Thoughts?

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