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

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

and upset the moralists”? Because “You cannot win in a world where the game is fixed, so resign yourself to losing”? (emphasis added)

Is this revolution—or petulance? 

I get it: Halberstam has a partner (“mi amor,” in the “Acknowledgements”) who has kids and consequently Halberstam has had his mind blown by children’s culture and children’s way of thinking. How to harness and incorporate that sincere, inquisitive optimism of the child in our everyday ethics? Indeed, Halberstam’s text reads as a gaga-centric version of Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism. Desire the permanence of marriage? Well, Virginia Woolf (in Mrs. Dalloway among other writings) said it best: marriage is really just an obstacle to your everyday being! 

(Nota bene, Jack: the evil villain of Spongebob is not Spongebob’s beloved neighbor Squidward or his money-loving boss Mr. Crabs. Spongebob finds the “good” in everyone, including the show’s only constant opposition (aka “villain”) to The Krusty Krab’s financial success and Spongebob’s continued employment: Plankton. 

Not bene-squared: contrary to your assertion that there’s been a “huge rise in divorce” in “the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries,” the divorce rate in the United States has actually consistently fallen since (depending on the statistical source) 1979 or 1981.) 

Is feminism resignation? Submission? In a world where women earn less than men, in a world where women are verbally and physically harassed on a daily basis, in a world where women’s anatomy is bio-politically controlled by the state? Is this our call? 

This is where my frustration lies with this book, even though I am and remain huge fan of Halberstam’s and have been since I drooled over the cover of his book Female Masculinity so many years ago:  feminism is very much about blended sex-gender matrix we identify as the female body, regardless of her gender (that is, whether s/he genders herself/himself female, male, or something in-between). Well-versed in the known distinction between sex and gender, Halberstam elaborates upon this distinction himself in Chapter 2, “Gaga Genders,” in order to show that culturally created genders can be radically re-appropriated and queered in order to dismantle and literally fuck with culturally created gender stereotypes, replete with Thomas Beattie’s “this-is-how-a-man-gets-pregnant-story”—because a person’s gender does not determine his capabilities in any sense.

Even though not said outright, a person’s material being and ethics (their gender or genders) is inextricably connected to that person’s sex. The material that we play with is in large part determined by our biological sex, but our biological sex does not wholly determine our gender, neither does it delimit our capabilities as functional human beings in the world. Halberstam largely concurs with this sentiment, saying in her chapter on “Gaga Sexualities,” “I am trying to show that once you stray from representational modes dependent upon human forms and all the cliché-ridden formulae that they entail, surprisingly new narratives of life, love, and intimacy are bound to appear.” Indeed, gender is the material “form” of our life—what cannot be dismissed, however, is the ontological/biological informed “content” that we then give form to, continually and repeatedly, throughout our life.

Gaga Feminism offers a much-needed, thought-provoking alternative to other tomes that have hit bookstores recently, particularly Naomi Wolf’s Vagina and Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men? that seem to have been adopted by the mainstream media as the collective voice of feminism. And, in this regard, while not a devout Gaga Feminist, I am, let’s say, thankful for the show.