Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lady Gaga, Racism and Feminism

There's been a fair amount of discussion about the Lady Gaga/Kanye West photo for the special edition of Lady Gaga's new album. You can find the picture through google if you'd like to see it but I don't feel the need to repost it here. I also don't want to restate what a lot of people have been saying already, but I do want to draw your attention to Thea Lim's coverage at Racialicious. The picture is posted at Racialicious also.

Recently I posted a quote from Lady Gaga's interview with the LA Times in which she discusses the difference between men and women in the music business. Thea is right to point out that this article, and notions of Lady Gaga's feminism, got a lot of attention, perhaps unjustly so. She responds saying:

While in my September article I gave a digital eyeroll to Gaga’s assertion that she is “redefining beauty,” I’m willing to reconsider that stance. I can see how Gaga often subverts viewer expectation, enticing us with views of perfect white beauty, but then ensconcing that beauty in the disturbing. She presents her “perfect body,” but covers it in fake blood. She dresses up in sparkly dresses and matching heels, but her shoes are creepily curved into scary bird feet. Juxtaposing images that are comfortable or normative with images that are unsettling or bizarre, Gaga turns the tables on us. Instead of simply refusing to allow voyeurism, she harnesses it, tricking and punishing the heteronormative in us, while rewarding our inner pervert.

And yet, like sooooo many artists who do interesting and progressive work in one area, Gaga totally fails in another. The very visible problems with the King Kong Gaga image suggests that along with some great parts of feminism – being sex-positive, being critical of how the entertainment industry uses women’s bodies – Gaga is also practicising the worst part of feminism: racism.

I think Thea is right on the money and a lot of us have overlooked this aspect of Gaga in exchange for desparately holding onto a subversive female artist. Feminists gets a lot of criticism for our treatment of women of color, where we throw race out the window in exchange for gender unity (or a gender unity that's silently/assumedly centered around white women's experiences).

While I know that we can't get it right all the time, we should at least try to get it right where it counts. The history of women of color being shunted by white feminists is too prominant and too on-going to ignore.

In this case, I held up Lady Gaga as a feminist role model by highlighting her quote. Although I still agree with her statement, I do want to take this opportunity to offer up Thea's sharp critique as a counter point to her image as a feminist. A feminist, yes, but also a feminist who plays into and reinforces racist imagery.

1 comment:

Saranga said...

You know what, I just don't understand how people can be feminists and not realise that to be feminist you must also be not racist, ableist, homophobic etc. I mean, if you are prejudiced/bigoted towards other oppressed groups, then you immediately remove a huge swathe of women who you should be helping and fighting for, under the feminist banner.
Even if people argue that it's not a black woman subject to the racism, as in the lady gaga image, the racism will impact upon women, because women's and men's lives are interlinked, hence why we have feminism.