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

June 29, 2010

"Lady" Gaga

Even the name is confusing. A lady? Seemingly far from it. Gaga? A reference to baby language or men's ogling eyes? Just what does this 23-year-old think of herself? And is America really paying attention?

In the piece that I shared with the Magdalene sisters, several points have emerged that I think are worth thinking about as modern, Catholic women (and by the way, Edith, the beats at the very least are helpful in cardio workouts, so I think you can cut yourself some slack).

1. In a postlapsarian world, women use sex (or at least their "wiles") to manipulate men to get what it is that they want. This sin is not new, ladies and gentlemen. Gaga has not invented it. Here I disagree with the author:

The genius of Gaga is to make it seem obvious — more so than even Madonna once did — that feminine sexuality is the perfect shucking knife. And Gaga is explicit in her insistence that, since feminine sexuality is a social construct, anyone, even a man who’s willing to buck gender norms, can wield it.

What is rather shocking to me, though, is the explicit, grandiose, and very "in-your-face" manner in which Lady Gaga is using her sexuality (and oftentimes a violent sexuality) to assert power, self-expression, and liberation from any cultural stereotypes of a woman. I think we have arrived at a place where even her actions are not as shocking to us as they should be. We are becoming comatose in the face of such wild sexual escapades. What will happen when our children think these images are normal to see and experience? What will happen if men (even good, Catholic ones) continue to expect rather extreme behavior in the bedroom to be turned on? What will happen when my young, female students think it is normal to hum, "I want your horror/I want your disease/I want your everything as long as it's free" at a younger and younger age?

2. A Catholic feminist must know that Simone de Beauvoir does not offer the answer for the liberation of women from being objectified by men.

The goal of “The Second Sex” is to get women, and men, to crave freedom — social, political and psychological — more than the precarious kind of happiness that an unjust world intermittently begrudges to the people who play by its rules. Beauvoir warned that you can’t just will yourself to be free, that is, to abjure relentlessly the temptations to want only what the world wants you to want. For her the job of the philosopher, at least as much as the fiction writer, is to re-describe how things are in a way that competes with the status quo story and leaves us craving social justice and the truly wide berth for self-expression that only it can provide.

No, Nancy. Men aren't going to objectify women an less if we throw out a "age-old" norms of what it means to be a woman. I think lumping sexual gratification of men into the same category of other "gender norms" is a mistake. De Beauvoir not only "re-defines" femininity, but she says that femininity is not even a reality. However, there are some realities to femininity that can't be dismissed, or redefined, or relegated to social conventions. Instead, they should be celebrated by women. The gifts we have are actually very powerful, and can be used very powerfully for the good. The problem, as I see it, is that Simone de Beauvoir and Lady Gaga both fail to escape becoming objectified by men. Both are on a quest to move beyond stereotypes and to break from from what they find to be oppressing. The problem, though, is that what is oppressing them both is a failure to see their value precisely in their creation as women -- ladies, even. To be a lady is a privilege and a responsibility, and it requires more guts, more confidence, and more self-respect than what is being offered today by pop star or philosopher alike.

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