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?

Fallen Women

It’s Saturday — not a day I’m usually leaping out of my bed to my computer — but today I was up relatively early putting the finishing touches to my powerpoint for Monday’s final session on my Year 2 undergraduate course Women’s Writing.  We finish up with a brief discussion of  some of the issues related to Third Wave Feminism and I’ve been dipping into Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, eds. Gillis, Howie and Mumford (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; 2nd ed.).  This is an excellent collection of essays, all of which have extensive bibliographies to other key recent texts on the ‘third wave’.  I’ve also delved into Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young’s collection on Chick Lit (Routledge, 2006).  Having developed an interest in adaptation — primarily because I’m interested in the adaptations of Sarah Waters’ trilogy of neo-Victorian novels – the Austenmania of the 1990s onwards is a kind of side angle of this for me.  I have a sense that I am going to be teaching Austen alongside her late twentieth century transformations in the future.

But back to The Victorian Vision … and this week’s session was on the ubiquitous figure of the fallen woman.

VVO Session F Screenshot

For those of you who haven’t seen the Victorian Vision Online here’s a current screenshot from this week.  If you compare this with the screenshot inserted in my very first post on this blog, back in late September, you’ll see that the ‘Menu’ on the left has grown as a folder has been added each time a VVO session takes place.  The folders contain all the necessary instructions for that week’s session, and a link to the discussion forum itself.  It should be just possible to make out that the Session F folder is open, showing the guidelines and the link to the ‘Fallen Women’s Penitentiary’ where the students post their responses to the week’s activity.

Every year I find more Victorian images of fallen women.  I show a number in class, and in particular we do an exercise in reading Victorian narrative paintings via Augustus Egg’s Past and Present trilogy (1858). I have added three images — a study for Found by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1858), Ford Madox Brown’s Take Your Son, Sir! (1857), and George Watts’ Found Drowned (1867) — to my ‘homepage’ of our Victorians space on the VLE.  I add different images each week in tandem with the week’s theme or topic.   This keeps the homepage ‘fresh’ and dynamic as the term goes on.

The main texts the class consider are Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Jenny’ and Augusta Webster’s ‘A Castaway’ which work fabulously alongside each other.  We start the discussion of each in the classroom, reading the openings of both together so the context of each of these monologues is established, but then much more detailed discussion is taken online.  Thus far, after two days, those who have posted have plenty to say.