Lady Gaga attends my class

Yesterday was the end of another teaching year. It was the final session on “Women’s Writing: Reading Gender”, a second-year module that introduces a variety of feminist literary theories and themes concerned with women’s writing. The final session attempts to address what has happened to ‘The F(eminism) Word in the Noughties and Teens’ via a discussion of some of the characteristics of Third-Wave Feminisms.
A few weeks ago I’d been lucky enough to catch queer and gender theorist Judith Jack Halberstam giving a talk in Birmingham on ‘Gaga Feminism: Pregnant Men, Heteroflexible Women, and the End of Normal’, in advance of the publication later this year of her latest book Gaga Feminism (Duke UP, 2012).  The talk was lively and provocative (well done to Birmingham LGBT Forum for getting her to Brum!).  Halberstam argued that Lady Gaga is a ludic figure in relation to the image(s) she presents of gender and sexuality, and that as understandings of gender/sexuality are now changing so fast and so continually, and have in effect ‘gone gaga’, we should ‘go with it’ and do likewise, embracing such unfixed fluidity rather than resisting it.Lady Gaga -- BRIT awards 2010

Well, I’m nothing if not bang-up-to-date, so I passed this on to my class and we watched the full 7 minutes 20 seconds of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way video (along with the other nearly 94 million people who have done so across the planet).  Are there people doing PhD analyses of this yet?  It’s certainly a phenomenal piece of pop video, particularly the opening few minutes.  Gaga as ‘Mother Monster’ is certainly an interesting phenomenon: she’s a massive pop icon who positively embraces an image of ‘otherness’.  No doubt there is lots to say as well about the way Lady G ‘performs gender’, although of course ‘Born This Way’ is about as essentialist a title as you can get (although within an American context the title’s essentialism is arguably part of its provocative queerness).

Is Lady Gaga a feminist icon? Opinions differ.  But one of the key tenets of third-wave feminism is that wherever feminism is now being explored it’s in popular culture. The last fictional text that universally seemed to get all feminist literary/cultural theorists going was Bridget Jones’s Diary (1997) — a popular bestseller.  Has there been anything since that has had the same currency in terms of fiction, or is the novel no longer where the most cutting edge, zeitgeist explorations of contemporary gender will take place?