Gaga Feminism: Possibilities and Limitations

Halberstam’s “Gaga Manifesto” laid out a series of promising liberatory possibilities outside of traditional institutional frameworks, but swept away the very real issue presented by the lack of directed vision in social movements without really addressing it in-depth.

I agreed with the piece’s rejection of the emphasis many modern social justice movements place on working withing existing institutional systems, and Halberstam’s allusions to new, more anarchic methods of organization struck me as prudent. Oftentimes, movements become so caught up in attempting to change things from within that they fail to see that they are becoming a part of the systems they hate and strengthening those systems’ legitimacy in the process. The university provides one such example, where, by allowing for limited forms of classroom-based dissent providing places for activists within the faculty, rich investors are able to harvest tuition from a larger, more diverse student crowd while strengthening the image of academia as a place of lively, enlightened debate. Thus, universities come to be considered progressive despite their role in exacerbating class and race divides—as a demonstration, next time you’re at the dining hall, take a look at the students ordering the food and the people serving it.

Unfortunately, Halberstam seems to fall prey to the same problem he critiques, as he goes on to name his new brand of feminism “Gaga feminism” after a woman who has a net worth of approximately $275 million and who, far from being an outsider, fits neatly in amongst the most finely groomed elites in Hollywood. Gaga’s deviance is performance, a temporary departure from normality that fades with the lights of the stage. This, also, is what Halberstam misses in his critique of Slavoj Žižek’s rebuke of Occupy Wall Street: Žižek desires societal change just as much as Halberstam, but he recognizes the futility of a movement content to waver aimlessly outside the castle gates. No matter how “revolutionary” the moment may feel, eventually the police will come calling with their guns and their tasers and their riot shields to make sure everyone finds their way back home. Žižek is calling for a greater revolution, not a lesser one.

Halberstam’s piece opens up many interesting avenues of discussion, but ultimately fails to pursue them in favor of a politics centered literally on “failure.” The worst thing to lack in a world spiraling towards disaster is a plan.

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3 thoughts on “Gaga Feminism: Possibilities and Limitations

  1. This was an eye opening blog post and I like some of the point that were made. While reading the Halberstam’s piece I did not make some of the connections you did, and was more focused on the academic side of things and his focus on finding something new to make a change. When you brought up Gaga being an interesting person to focus on you had my attention because when reading it I thought she was a perfect example. I know am leaning towards your argument of her being someone who is out there and stands for what she believes in but she is indeed a generally accepted figure who fits into her pop culture society and make a lot of money doing what she does. I think it would have been hard for Halberstam to pick a figure who wasn’t famous to focus on because it would not have made a compelling argument if we did not recognize the person he was writing about. That being said I see your point, that he is basically contradicting some of what he is saying by picking someone who technically does fit in with society. This in a way puts those who actually feel alone in the world to shame for feeling like they can’t fit in when Gaga did it. This could also be analyzed the other way, giving those who feel like outsiders hope that they can be accepted by society because if she can voice her opinions and dress the way she does, so can they.

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  2. I see where you’re going with this. I disagree however when it comes to going against the whole new “gaga feminism”. Yes, Lady Gaga is a rich woman and is not leading an “anarchist” mindset or whatever but she still is super important for leading women to be strong feminists. Her opinions are very important and she is a huge hero to many of the LGBTQ community. She stands up for gay rights/equal rights and is always speaks her mind. If more celebrities were like her and stepped up to show younger women how to treat feminism, I think the world could change a little quicker towards equal rights. What I’m trying to say is we need women of power like her to stand up and speak for the multitude in order for us to head in the right direction. Thankfully there was a lot of celebrities to step up and go to the women’s march a couple months ago but that’s not enough. We need more.

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  3. This blog post really gave me a new perspective on this reading. I tried to read it with an academic lens, but some of these points you made are very analytical and made me think more about this piece from a social standpoint. I think Halberstam probably chose Lady GaGa because she’s insanely famous and serves as a good figure to pick to support his context, however, you make a good point about that fact that he did pick a Hollywood millionaire who is definitely not an outsider in society, even with her extroverted fashion and taste. Basically, I can see why he picked her but I think your argument is pretty valid as well. Also, I agree with you about the “revolutionary” point. I feel like I’ve seen more wind range protests nowadays that actually might cause a negative backlash rather than a good one. The police always come and certain (not all) protests could actually work against the overall goal. Although I think we need more celebrities and public figures to step up and call for change, I don’t know how much I support Halberstam’s idea of the “revolutionary” aspect.

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