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Is Lady Gaga A Feminist Icon?

Is Lady Gaga A Feminist Icon?

I’ll admit this before I start: I love Lady Gaga.  It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but I am finally jumping on the Gaga bandwagon – and everything from her catchy music to her crazy aesthetic has won me over.  But most of all, Lady Gaga’s increasing media presence has led to discussion of whether she is that magical creature, the feminist pop culture icon.  These conversations float around controversial female celebrities every few months or so (see my post from November about Megan Fox, who I concluded did not really fit the bill for feminist icon status), but I am increasingly impressed by Lady Gaga, or Stefani Germanotta, the pop singer who rocketed to stardom after her album, “The Fame,” was released in August 2008.

The question of whether Lady Gaga is a feminist may not seem like a pertinent topic for an activist blog like Care2, or indeed for anyone who does not listen to her music.  But as a blogger who writes consistently about celebrities who serve as less-than-feminist role models (Kate Moss joins Megan Fox here), I am frustrated by the lack of positive portrayals of female sexuality in the media, and in pop music in particular.  The idea that Lady Gaga might fill this void is thus exciting to me, and her popularity has interesting implications for gender in pop culture generally.  Gaga is also something of an activist – most recently, she spoke at the National March for Equality in Washington, D.C. last October.

An article in the L.A. Times on Sunday explored Lady Gaga’s feminist leanings, which the author, Ann Powers, suggests have grown as her career and music have matured.  Gaga told Powers about her own brand of feminism, saying, “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’ “

And in an interview with Barbara Walters, Gaga said that one of her goals as an artist is to “try to be a teacher to my young fans who feel just like I felt when I was younger, I felt like a freak. I guess what I’m trying to say is I wanna liberate them, I wanna free them of their fears and let them know they can create their own space in the world.”

Lady Gaga herself certainly seems to be fearless, in her music, her aesthetic, and her willingness to be open about her life.  One of her latest music videos, for the song “Bad Romance,” depicts her kidnapping by a gang of supermodels and subsequent sale to the Russian mafia.  Describing the video, Gaga said that she wanted to show “how the entertainment industry can, in a metaphorical way, simulate human trafficking — products being sold, the woman perceived as a commodity.” 

The song “Poker Face,” according to Gaga, describes a woman fantasizing about another woman while in bed with a man.  Gaga herself is bisexual, although she later said that she regretted disclosing this because of the way the media spun her sexual orientation, explaining, “”I don’t like to be seen as somebody who is using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like. I don’t want people to write that about me because I feel like it looks like I’m saying it because I’m trying to be edgy or underground.”

Gaga also walks an interesting line between “the desirable and the grotesque,” unlike other celebrities, who merely project a sense of unnattainable sensuality.  She focuses on the bizarre, trying to convince her fans to accept and even be empowered by “a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they’re always trying desperately to hide.”  She says that she wants this “freakishness” to become something that they cherish.  And certainly, her videos show up the ridiculousness of high fashion, and the unnaturalness of the female ideal.

Grotesque imagery runs throughout her videos, and Gaga’s aesthetic is unabashedly bizarre (as Jezebel’s slideshow of a year of her outfits shows).  But the disturbing aspects of her work are also intensely appealing, and her fame is very real.  So what does Gaga’s popularity mean for pop music?  I will certainly have my eye on her, especially with the release of her new album, “The Fame Monster.”  But I completely agree with Ann Powers, who says that Gaga is a “a monster talent, with a serious brain.”

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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9:15PM PST on Dec 6, 2013

i liked a few of her songs but never thought much about her being a feminist

9:37AM PDT on May 31, 2011

Im sick of Lady gaga. Im sick of every single thing she does. Why is she so famous? Because daddy had the money. When your singing with auto tune, wearing stupid outfits, not to mention the one outfit made of meat, and write songs about sex, thats just a great for the younger generation. Shes going to turn them all into freaks.

9:49AM PDT on Sep 16, 2010

I'm so sick of the term Feminist. Why can't you just be women with a conscience? I don't think it is beneficial to anyone including women to prop one gender up against another and that is what it seems Feminism does. Here's a little piece of info for you. Gloria Steinem was a plant as was the Sexual Revolution (that gave birth to Feminism) It was orchestrated by the Illuminati to basically destroy the family structure, which it did in fact do along with other artificial facets of American Culture. I don't want to be an enemy of the male counterpart, whether I'm a Lesbian or not. It isn't good for my children and it isn't good for society for me to submissively lay down on my back for the Illuminati as Lady Ga Ga is doing and destroy the very things that sustain me and my family.

11:28AM PDT on Apr 5, 2010

I really love GaGa. I look up to her uniqueness and how much she stands out. I love her music and her style and her everything!

10:08AM PDT on Apr 1, 2010

Ooops! J'ai oublié commént, Merci Amelia for this great poste et links.

10:06AM PDT on Apr 1, 2010

Hmmm? Feminist? I refuse to bother even acknowleging what that word means so no poll takens. Her costumes, style et unusual approach to life is what makes her unique. There is only one negative aspect to her, she has used a skin from a big cat in the video Big Romance, Wrong move. Other than that, great to see someone to defy the 'norm'.

10:30PM PST on Feb 20, 2010

I think she's as feminist as we're going to get with a pop star.

12:46AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

Lady Gaga is great, open and bizarre entertainer/singer, but I do not thing so she is a feminist icon.

2:54AM PST on Jan 10, 2010

I recently, like in the last two weeks, got turned on to Lady Gaga by a friend. He was worried that his young niece was into her music, and sent me the "Bad Romance" video as an example. I thought it was bizarre, but I was interested enough to check her out. (At 50, and an avid music fan my whole life, I am always interested in new music.) I ran across her "acoustic" version of "Poker Face" on AOL sessions. Here: I fell in love, not with her, but with her talent. The piano is more of a prop for her than a necessary musical backing. I took the time to read her Wiki (the picture above is from it) and find that she's "paid her dues" in the art world. She is open, and honest, and very, very talented. She also has enough of a sense of humor to not take herself too seriously. Note the end of "Bad Romance" which could also be a poke at Madonna. She would have done something else that would have made her famous if she hadn't made it this way. She has a lot of guts. I think she is a fine roll model for my friend's niece. I pray that she gets around all the pitfalls of fame, and wish that she does nothing but succeed. By the way, I think that following up her album "Fame" with "The Fame Monster" is telling. A year and a half must feel like a lifetime. Peace, Virgil.

7:45PM PST on Jan 1, 2010

Just another angel-whore pop star with a marginal voice surrounded by a lot of hype. Strictly commercial.

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