A roadmap to sex and gender for the twenty-first century, using Lady Gaga as a symbol for a new kind of feminism
Why are so many women single, so many men resisting marriage, and so many gays and lesbians having babies?
In Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, J. Jack Halberstam answers these questions while attempting to make sense of the tectonic cultural shifts that have transformed gender and sexual politics in the last few decades. This colorful landscape is populated by symbols and phenomena as varied as pregnant men, late-life lesbians, SpongeBob SquarePants, and queer families. So how do we understand the dissonance between these real lived experiences and the heteronormative narratives that dominate popular media? We can embrace the chaos! With equal parts edge and wit, Halberstam reveals how these symbolic ruptures open a critical space to embrace new ways of conceptualizing sex, love, and marriage.
Using Lady Gaga as a symbol for a new era, Halberstam deftly unpacks what the pop superstar symbolizes, to whom and why. The result is a provocative manifesto of creative mayhem, a roadmap to sex and gender for the twenty-first century, that holds Lady Gaga as an exemplar of a new kind of feminism that privileges gender and sexual fluidity.
Part handbook, part guidebook, and part sex manual, Gaga Feminism is the first book to take seriously the collapse of heterosexuality and find signposts in the wreckage to a new and different way of doing sex and gender.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Jack Halberstam--the king of feminism--has managed to make sense of pregnant men, Lady Gaga, gay marriage, and the advent of the bromance in this provocative and pleasurable romp through contemporary gender politics. Gaga Feminism is as fun as it is illuminating." -Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs and staff writer at the New Yorker
"Like the remixed and mashed cultures that produced her, Lady Gaga defies simple logics and explanations. Perhaps no scholar is better equipped to go there with Gaga than J. Jack Halberstam, whose work, like Gaga, resists categorization. If Gaga Feminism is a politics of free form and improvisation, Halberstam bravely lets loose the reins."--Mark Anthony Neal, co-editor That's the Joint: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader "In this important and spirited manifesto, Jack Halberstam's signature wit, depth, and wide-ranging cultural appetites are on full display. Amid Halberstam's stories about the many-gendered world we live in, this book gives us hope that we might move toward ever more liberated modes of living." -Sara Marcus, author of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
"Jack Halberstam's wild, playful intelligence wreaks dazzling havoc on pop culture and feminism and gender--from butch fish to deadbeat dudes, marriage, hetero(in)flexibilty, rom-coms, global capitalism, and, of course, Lady Gaga. Halberstam is the crier for and contributor to a gleeful anarchism that begins in the streets or the universities or maybe the television, and comes raging into our most intimate spheres." -Michelle Tea, author of Valencia
From the Introduction
One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child's name and how old he or she is.
Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky.
Excuse me, sir, but you're sitting on my body, which is also my face.
I have a couple of kids in my life, my partner's children, and they were quite young when I met them?three and five years old. Both were at an age when gender is not so fixed, and so, upon meeting them for the first time, I got what was for me a very predictable question from them both: "Are you a boy or a girl?" When I did not give a definitive answer, they came up with a category that worked for them?boy/girl. They said it just like that, "boygirl," as if it were one word, and, moreover, as if it were al- ready a well-known term and obvious at that. Since naming has been an issue my whole life (as a young person I was constantly mistaken for a boy; as an adult, my gender regularly confuses strangers), this simple resolution of my gender ambiguity within a term that stitches boy and girl together was liberating to say the least. Boygirl I am and boygirl I will remain.
Of course, as time has passed, both kids, a boy and a girl, have recognized that the world sees me a little differently than they do. When people ask if I am their "mum," they look baffled; when people call me "sir," they seem comfortable; when a teacher refers to me as "she," they roll with it but they persist in calling me "he" and their "stepdad." The little girl happily told one of her friends that she had a dad and a stepdad, at which point she gestured proudly toward me. The little friend seemed slightly confused, but then she also rolled with it: "cool," she said and turned to her mom: "That's her stepdad," she explained. The mom looked at me; I looked at her and shrugged. Life is complicated, genders are complicated, families are complicated, and yet we have so few words for these new and often quite welcome complications that accompany massive social shifts. And so we make do. We let kids who have not yet learned the appropriate languages for indeterminate identities name what escapes adult comprehension.
Children nowadays actually have a fantastically rich archive of wacky representations from which to draw as they make sense of their worlds. If SpongeBob SquarePants is anything to go by, and I believe he is, then children can find all kinds of examples of ambiguous embodiment in the materials that TV and cinema market to them. SpongeBob SquarePants and his crew of spongy life forms all experience a soft relation to reality, and while life in Bikini Bottom bears some resemblance to life above the water, it also operates according to its own set of rules, code violations, morality, and propriety. The villain of the piece is the money-grabbing Mr. Krabs, but SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick also often square off against a mean-spirited octopus named Squidward. The significance of SpongeBob SquarePants to contemporary gender norms, I believe, cannot be overstated; while earlier generations of boys and girls were raised on cartoon worlds populated by cats and mice, dogs and rabbit chasing each other across various domestic landscapes, this generation has come of age to an animated mythological universe populated by characters with eccentric and often simply weird relations to gender. And so we take SpongeBob SquarePants as our guide, following the hedonistic and cheerful sponge whose body, as he reminds one chap who sits...