Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gaga, ooo la la!

Today we're talking Gaga. My favorite! I was really hoping I'd be able to do a post just gushing over the Alejandro video...but unfortunately I have no gushing to do over that. You see, on Tuesday, at 9 am, Lady Gaga released her much anticipated video for one of my favorite songs off The Fame Monster, Alejandro. I had only fallen asleep at 5 am (I have horrible insomnia, in case you don't know) but I still managed to wake myself in time to watch it as it premiered. By 9:07, I fell back asleep, wrought with disappointment. Here is the video:

I guess that there isn't anything particularly wrong with the video. It has interesting themes. I of course love how she mixed homoeroticism, militarism, and Catholicism together as those are themes you generally don't see combined even though they share so much. Especially in the wake of Don't Ask Don't Tell's final days, it's an interesting statement, and Gaga is all about interesting statements. But as any Little Monster can you tell, it's just not classic Gaga. The 'wow' factor, the 'omg' factor, the 'holy shit!!!' factor are all missing. Gaga is known for these incredible videos that just blow everyone away, videos her fans want to watch over and over again (see Bad Romance, Paparazzi, and Telephone videos). But Alejandro is just...boring. Which is kind of crazy because the song itself is one of her catchiest and most universally fun tracks.

Anyways, there isn't much I can say about Alejandro. Obviously this one misstep isn't going to make me love her any less, she's still my hero, my Mother Monster. However, since I can't really talk about Alejandro, I figured I'd dissect Lady Gaga, give my perspective on her, both as a huge fan, and as a feminist. Of course, there is so much about Lady Gaga to talk about, so today I'm just going to write about one of the major fascinations I have with Gaga culture: the penis thing.

So much about Lady Gaga fascinates me, specifically who she is, and how she is perceived. I think the whole 'Lady Gaga has a dick' phenomena is pretty interesting. It's evident that physically, this woman does not have a penis. I mean, we've all seen her in onesies, leotards, catsuits, and other outfits that don't leave much the imagination and there is no penis in sight. Now, of course you can make the teenage boy style 'tucking' joke, but....

...let's face it, she clearly DOES NOT have a penis. I think it's interesting though why there is such a persistence in saying that she does. It's obvious that this idea comes from the fact that she doesn't fit the usual image for a female, and DEFINITELY not for a female pop star. She goes against everyone's schema for what a female pop star is supposed to be, breaking the mold set out by Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls, etc. People don't know what to think of her. And since she breaks the female mold, obviously, she must be a guy. Because everyone woman is supposed to act the same, and if they don't....they're either male or a lesbian. In her case she gets the male one.

Lady Gaga doesn't dress to be beautiful or sexy, she isn't looking for male acceptance. She often presents herself in what could be perceived as an ugly manner. And society expects women to always be presenting themselves in a way that is going to attract men, because that's all women need to do. Gaga isn't trying to be some kind of a centerfold. Of course, she's beautiful and sexy in her own way, but it isn't the usual way. Let's compare a Nicole Scherzinger (of the Pussycat Dolls) photoshoot to a Lady Gaga photoshoot:

The Nicole picture is obviously directed towards men. She's in a classically sexy pose, her hair and makeup are done to compliment her, she has a classically innocent look on her face. The Gaga photo is a little weirder. We don't know who it's directed towards. She's posing strangely, wearing an outfit that isn't exactly sexy, her makeup isn't complimentary, she even has bleached out eyebrows, and she isn't making eye contact.

Now, who Gaga does dress for is up in the air. I'd like to think she dresses for herself, representing her inner freak, and often time her clothes carry their own social commentary about the fashion industry and our standards of beauty for women. However, a lot of people just think she dresses for attention, to sell records and get press. That's debatable. However, you can see from how she presents herself that she isn't dressing to get male attention. Her style is confusing, it isn't feminine, it doesn't make much sense at first glance. Who else is associated with having a confusing style, one that doesn't fit into our male/female style schema? Trans people, drag queens, the ones who really break gender barriers. So of course, that's what we associate her with.

The belief that Lady Gaga MUST be a man is a representation of classic sexism. She isn't traditionally feminine, and that scares people. She's a woman who is stepping out of line, what if she inspires other women to also step out line and defy traditional femininity? It represents society's fear of losing control of women. And that's the biggest obstacle women face, being controlled. Whether it's people trying to control our reproduction or in this case how we dress and present ourselves, it's a global fear. And probably my favorite thing about Lady Gaga is that she just says 'eff you!' to this fear.


  1. Oy. While I think you're certainly right about the fact that the rumours about Gaga are caused by people policing her gender expression and refusal of the male gaze, you might want to read up on trans and intersex issues before you start throwing around transphobic phrases like "is a dude."

    To state the obvious, many trans women and/or intersexed women have penises and are STILL women.. therefore if Gaga, who clearly lives as a woman and identifies as such, had a penis then she would remain female.

    Gudbuytjane has a post about Gaga's response to this rumour, and the comments in the thread from trans people about why it bothers them are illuminating.

    I also recommend the 101 bar section at Questioning Transphobia, especially these two posts:

    Trans women are an active part of the feminist blogosphere (eg there's at least one if not more at most of the large blogs), so I do suggest you read up. Because the next trans woman who clicks on a link to a post like this really won't be so kind.

  2. Oh my gosh, I seriously did not mean to come off as transphobic at all, and thank you so much for assessing my error. It's funny because I literally JUST finished Whipping Girl by Julia Serano a few days ago (and it was great) and since then I've been thinking a lot about transphobic rhetoric, etc. Seriously, that was not my intent at all, I didn't see it, and I am not transphobic in any way. I'll go through my piece and try to re-word it.

    Thank you so much for pointing that out.

  3. Also, using the 'is a dude' quote was more a reference to the exact wording many of my male teenage peers use when trying to convince me that she has a penis.

  4. No problems, Sally.

    I understand that it can be difficult to separate authorial voice from the voice you're critiquing - you have to conjure it first to critique. You're right that the way she's described *is* as "really a man," but what they *mean* is either intersexed and trans, and it's important to register that difference.

    Whipping Girl is a great place to start on trans issues, Julia's really been tremendously influential on how trans women see themselves and transphobia. Plus, she's super nice :)

  5. If there are any other books on the subject you could recommend, I'd love to hear them!

  6. Hmm. There's so few decent books on trans issues, since most of them are written by cis people with their own dubious agendas (regrettably common even among feminists. Of those actually written by trans people, I like Viviane Namaste's Invisible Lives a lot. It's a bit more academic than Serano but definite worth a read. Her Sex Change, Social Change is good too. Joanne Meyoritz's How Sex Changed uses some problematic terminology (MTF and FTM) but is an interesting historical study of the emergence of trans women in American public culture...

    But yeah, most books really suck, so beware..