Nancy Bauer: “Lady Power” (in the N.Y. Times)

The New York Times has just published the first contribution of Nancy Bauer (Philosophy, Tufts University) to their new philosophy blog, The Stone. To access Prof. Bauer’s post, entitled “Lady Power,” please click here. Very exciting! We wanted to make sure you all knew of this.

As you can see, I’ve embedded the Lady Gaga video she discusses above, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. Two quick notes about the video: first, I apologize for posting a “sanitized” version, but it was the only one I had ready access to — to access the unaltered “explicit” version, click here (log in required); second, sorry for the annoying banner ads that cover the lower part of the video (they appear once you hit play) — they can be minimized by clicking on the tiny “x” located in the upper right-hand corner of the ads.

Here is how Prof. Bauer’s piece begins:

If you want to get a bead on the state of feminism these days, look no further than the ubiquitous pop star Lady Gaga. Last summer, after identifying herself as a representative for “sexual, strong women who speak their mind,” the 23-year-old Gaga seemed to embrace the old canard that a feminist is by definition a man-hater when she told a Norwegian journalist, “I’m not a feminist.  I hail men!  I love men!”  But by December she was praising the journalist Ann Powers, in a profile in The Los Angeles Times, for being “a little bit of a feminist, like I am.” She continued, “When I say to you, there is nobody like me, and there never was, that is a statement I want every woman to feel and make about themselves.” Apparently, even though she loves men — she hails them! — she is a little bit of a feminist because she exemplifies what it looks like for a woman to say, and to believe, that there’s nobody like her.

There is nobody like Lady Gaga in part because she keeps us guessing about who she, as a woman, really is. She has been praised for using her music and videos to raise this question and to confound the usual exploitative answers provided by “the media.” Powers compares Gaga to the artist Cindy Sherman:  both draw our attention to the extent to which being a woman is a matter of artifice, of artful self-presentation.  Gaga’s gonzo wigs, her outrageous costumes, and her fondness for dousing herself in what looks like blood, are supposed to complicate what are otherwise conventionally sexualized performances.

In her “Telephone” video, which has in its various forms received upwards of 60 million YouTube hits since it was first posted in March, Gaga plays a model-skinny and often skimpily dressed inmate of a highly sexualized women’s prison who, a few minutes into the film, is bailed out by Beyoncé.  The two take off in the same truck Uma Thurman drove in “Kill Bill” — à la Thelma and Louise by way of Quentin Tarantino — and stop at a diner, where they poison, first, a man who stares lewdly at women and, then, all the other patrons (plus — go figure — a dog).  Throughout, Gaga sings to her lover about how she’s too busy dancing in a club and drinking champagne with her girlfriends to talk to or text him on her telephone.

Is this an expression of Lady Gaga’s strength as a woman or an exercise in self-objectification? It’s hard to decide…


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