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Are You SURE I Can ‘Do What I Want’…?: The Lapsed Feminist Anthem of Lady Gaga

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pwned

a_Gaga_pg4lso easier is the plunge. If the damsel gets hopelessly bored, she might just dive headfirst into the moat regardless, leaving her self-respect and her sentimentality (again, illusorily) up in the tower and screaming “hashtag YOLO” on her way down before allowing herself to be carried off into the sunset on the shoulders of one of her guileful, obnoxious, and turgid suitors who’d been catcalling her from the gate. (Maybe more than one suitor depending on how much of a freak she is.) Pessimism may very well be the end of the road for faithless malaise and impatience in the face of relationships or love or what have you, especially for women who retain their sense of self-worth. But for those who haven’t much self-worth to begin with, pessimism may just be another stepping stone to something else—something lower. Something like idiocy.

If there’s anything left to say about “Do What U Want”, it’s the sheer stupidity of it. If you ponder its lyrics as long as I have, you may happen upon this question: When a supposedly free-spirited, sexually open, and lustful woman who, in her mind, perceives herself as a sort of sexual conquistadora (a sex-positivist, put simply), ends up having sex with a man who happens to think far less of her than she could ever care to think of him? Imagine a woman who simply likes sex; now imagine that she’s just slept NOT with her male counterpart, a like-minded man who simply likes sex and enjoys the regular tryst (again, something with which I see no problem as long as both of them are honest with each other), but rather with someone a little more insidious and malicious—an asshole, to put it bluntly, kids like Roosh V or Emmanuel Goldstein of Return of Kings, who believe wholeheartedly that “men should be masculine and women should be feminine”; “women are sluts who sleep around, but men are not”; “men will opt out of monogamy and reproduction if there are no incentives to engage in them”; and “a woman’s value is mainly determined by her fertility and beauty,” whereas “a man’s value is mainly determined by his resources, intellect, and character.” (Just so you know, this site is alive and well and it gets plenty of likes, shares, and comments. It’s legit, and for me, quite vindicatory. Not that I get any satisfaction from it, of course—I’d rather they not exist. But as they say, #jussayin’.) 

In this case, how is the joke not on her?

A woman like this may find a song like “Do What U Want” to be quite the motivator; she’ll admire its singer’s brand of feminism and buy into her goal of “sexually empowering women”. That’s fair enough, but how empowered could she be if she ends up on all fours for some vagrant, cunning miscreant who views women as maids, cooks, and nurses by day and pack mules, receptacles, and incubators by night? How does the penetrator not get the last laughs? How exactly does the womanized “own” her sexuality? How exactly can this putative albeit poorly perceived and ultimately pathetic expression of sex-positive feminism seriously be considered feminist when it’s stained in the sweat, saliva, and semen of a raging masculinist (in an overwhelmingly and conspicuously male-dominated culture, no less)? Emily Esfahani Smith caught this back in 2010 in the Wall Street Journal, pointing out the interpolation of Gaga’s transcendent acoustic rendition of her hit “Poker Face”—a sexually playful and relatively thoughtful pop song, if I may say so—into Kid Cudi’s own hit “Make Her Say” (another banal rap offering, if you ask me—a marginally creative method of saying the same old crap recycled in every post-Graduation, mainstream hip-hop record). By cleverly positioning a specific sample of Gaga’s performance, Kanye West, the project’s producer, was able to fashion a record that more or less revolves around getting head. (He made “p-p-p-poker face p-p-poker face” subliminally sound like “p-p-p-poke her face, p-p-poke her face”. It’s hard to believe that Common, one of the three rappers pedestrianizing themselves on this track, is the same man responsible for “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Quite the decent, really.)

An artful rendition that was once uniquely hers ended up getting “owned”.

I’d mentioned True Detective. As flawless as that show may have been in its debut season, it did suffer its share of travesties, however few and far between they were; they were few and far between, but certainly not minor. One such blunder occurs early on in a scene that attempts to evoke this misguided, cringe-worthy, horrendously framed “feminist” message, pitting one of its protagonists against a lowly woman who runs a “bunny ranch”—a brothel—full of underage women; he, Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), a troubled and transgressive detective (he regularly cheats on his wife), expresses his utter disdain for the employment of young girls, to which this hillbilly madam responds with a royally pathetic expression of misplaced pride and defiant satisfaction—hubris, rather, might be the word I’m looking for—in apparently “owning” the business of prostitution, in being a woman and a pimp. Too bad she completely contradicts herself in the same conversation by intimating that her “business” is allowed to exist and operate at the authority of a male sheriff—that, in essence, she too is being pimped. And even if she did “own” something, what would that be again? A goddamn brothel?

Think this is what Sheryl Sandberg had in mind when she wrote about “leaning in”? Of course not. And why? Because a woman who graduates from Harvard summa cum laude clearly values herself. Because her mother and father aren’t scumbags. That’s why. Say what you will about the billionaire COO of Facebook (who found herself in hot water when her Lean In Foundation sought the help of unpaid interns); while she certainly is, as one Washington Post writer puts it, a “highly educated, very rich, white woman who will never know what it’s like to face the choice between taking a day off to stay home with a sick child, or risk losing the minimum wage job you need to buy that sick child’s medicine,” that doesn’t change the fact that much of her success must be attributed to her parents who, in her words, raised her “to believe that girls could do anything that boys could do,” that “all career paths were open” to her (emphasis hers), and “to believe that anything was possible.” I’d almost advise anyone who dares attribute Sandberg’s success solely to financial privilege to keep that opinion to himself lest he risks sounding like a fool if not some sub-rock dweller who’s clearly neither heard of Paris Hilton nor better yet met anyone among the multitude of wildly successful and significant people who’d started out with next to nothing. (The fool, however, has always been a sizable demographic and he’d never get lonely.) Privileged though Sandberg may have been with her ophthalmologist father and teacher mother, privilege isn’t a prerequisite for inculcating a decent level of self-respect. Nor is being a physician, or holding a PhD. “Privilege” is hardly what accounts for the difference between strong women of principle and weak women who’ve no concept of their own value, who’re grossly unaware that they impress no one—no one, except for the man who advances himself on their backs (pun intended) and entertains himself at their expense. Privilege is hardly the difference between being someone who matters and being something that matters very little.

(Early on in Lean In, Sandberg, discussing women and the leadership gap, actually corroborates what I’d expressed earlier regarding the understated importance of nurture in the overstated and oft-misunderstood face of nature; that “in today’s world, where we no longer have to hunt in the wild for our food, our desire for leadership is largely a culturally created and reinforced trait”—“how individuals view what they can and should accomplish is in large part formed by our societal expectations.” Thus the “girl who travels”, the vacuous party doll, the lowly porn starlet looking to make a quick grand, the hooker in both literal and figurative sense, and, of course, the prideful hillbilly madam doesn’tcan’t—just spring out of the ground. And technically, the one prideful hillbilly madam to whom I’m referring sprung out of the mind of a man—that of Nic Pizzolatto to be exact.)

Difficult isn’t impossible but, by and large, men like to make it that way.

This is a reality that women especially might want to take seriously because, as I’ve said earlier,—and by no means am I proud of this,—it’s a man’s man’s man’s world, and, as with the song, the women in it are mostly an afterthought. (What’s ironic is that the song could very well have been literally “nothing, nothing, not one little thing without a woman,” since Betty Jean Newsome co-penned it.) It’s enshrouded in male mentality. Among the pertinent points of Warner’s CAP report I didn’t include earlier touches upon the representation of women in visual media, revealing that even though women control eighty percent of consumer spending in the US, they account for only three percent of creative directors in advertising, and just sixteen percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors who worked on the top-grossing 250 domestic films of 2013. A woman’s onscreen image is still dictated “overwhelmingly” by men—which, for an excessively materialistic consumerist country that loves its television such as the US, is anything but dismissible. Our images—our commercials, our film and television, our viral marketing, our giant billboards—are our most prized vehicle for communicating what we apparently care about; since men are behind most of what we’re seeing, it’s men who, by and large, determine and reinforce our identity, which includes the definitions of both “masculinity” and “femininity” and by extension the expectations of our society’s men and women. They “own” the conversations most of us are having.

It’s cultural capitalism—Fight Club 101; in a less-than-egalitarian society, there’s the proletariat sitting at home, buying shit on Amazon, and falling asleep in front of the TV, and then there’s the bourgeois, telling the peasantry how to furnish their homes, selling the shit the peasantry buys online, and broadcasting the peasantry’s favorite brainless programs—i.e., all but telling them what to do, what to burn, what to think, and what to believe. In turn, at least figuratively speaking, the peasant owns nothing. Women are no different; they have plenty for which to be thankful, but they’ll have plenty more to lament so long as their other halves continue to see them as peasants to one extent or another. In such an environment, if women continue to live out their thoughtless sex-positive fantasies and pushing their falsely-branded feminist crapola whilst pretending indifference (if not remaining willfully and blissfully ignorant) in the face of the broader consequences—the utter futility—of their activities, then peasants they shall be. Women won’t get beyond marginal improvements in their social and cultural status by being stupid in a world of stupid and quite frequently vicious men.

Stupidity serves nothing.

a_Gaga_pg4s Hank Moody says to a rich married bastard who’s been abusing his station by coercing his hot Latina maid into an affair, “The power relations are skewed here, you understand? You gotta read your Karl Marx. So I want you to respect her shit.” I don’t disagree with him; men obviously need to learn how to respect women’s shit and they still have a ridiculously long way to go. But it doesn’t make much sense for women the world over to live their lives oblivious to the extent to which they are disrespected, and consequently disinterested in fixing that. Hell, maybe women shouldn’t worry about fixing the current culture of men at all; maybe more men need to grow a pair and learn to take up the responsibility of confronting their own idiocies. In the meantime, however, perhaps the least women could do is some of their own damn reading so they can learn to respect their own shit and cure their own collective stupidity.

That said, I don’t think “Do What U Want” helps that (especially now that its lapsed feminist singer would go so far as to let “artists” literally vomit on her as part of her act). Taken seriously, which is very easy to do given how transfixing, catchy, anthemic, and plain awesome it is or at least sounds, this song can become somewhat of a metastasis. I say listen to something else for a change, something a little more useful and meaningful—like, say, the song these lyrics come from:

We make her paint her face and dance
If she won’t be a slave, we say that she don’t love us
If she’s real, we say she’s trying to be a man
While putting her down, we pretend that she’s above us.

Honestly, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was talking about Gaga.

♦♦

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