Book Review: 'Gaga Feminism,' by J. Jack Halberstam

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Book Review: 'Gaga Feminism,' by J. Jack Halberstam

Using Lady Gaga as inspiration, J. Jack Halberstam offers a motley assortment of queer thoughts presented as the manifesto “Gaga Feminism” in his new book, Gaga Feminism: Sex Gender, and the End of Normal:

“Our goals are simple and modest—gaga feminism proposes to be a new kind of gender politics for a new generation, a generation less bound to the romance of permanence (in the form of marriage, for example), more committed to the potential flexibility (in the form of desire, for example), more tuned in to the fixity of power relations (in the form of capitalism), and less likely to buy the broken ideologies of uniqueness, American dreams, inclusivity, and respectability.”

Lady Gaga figures as the spirit of a new type of feminism, one detached from the naïve, traditional, and romantic ideals that still dominate contemporary feminism. It’s not Gaga the person but Gaga as surface—as “nonsense, madness,” “The Crazy,” and as critique—that theoretically drives this, in his own words, “quasi-academic handbook.”

The logic of the book unfolds accordingly: to deconstruct “normal” and to propose a new feminism Halberstam begins with a critique of feminism, a feminism that he aligns, oddly, with the likes of Susan Faludi and resident academic tumor and lesbian-disliker Camille Paglia in order posit a feminism that “recognizes multiple genders, that contributes to the collapse of our current sex-gender systems, a feminism less concerned with the equality of men and women and more interested in the abolition of these terms as such….” It is a “gaga” feminism of surface over substance, of pronouns over bodies, of rhetoric over ontology. I wonder how Halberstam’s understanding and subsequent deconstruction of feminism would have been different had he used, say, Elizabeth Grosz’s Darwinian notion of feminism that engages in the potentiality of sexual difference instead of dismissing it as the corollary of patriarchically sanctified “gender”—because I think his definition of “gaga feminism” would hold more weight if it were grounded in something akin to Grosz’s feminist theory of ontology.  (See Grosz’s Time Travels.) Or perhaps this is a kind of “permanence” that he wants to work against?

Or: what kind of feminism operates as—playful? disillusioned?—submission? Yes, we do live in a world that “rewards the corrupt, the cheaters, and the liars, and that dishonesty pays.” But does this necessarily means that the only recourse, as Halberstam suggests, is to “steal from the rich, undermine the religious,