It is a confession that does not always go down well in polite circles. But I am Amy. And I am a Little Monster. That is, I am a huge fan of Lady Gaga. There is no other show I would spend £85 to go and see.
It was worth every penny, if you’re wondering. High energy, great set, everyone was dancing and cheering and putting their ‘paws’ up. It was the best show I have ever seen – although I haven’t seen enough to give any kind of reliable data and I suspect Glee Live may give her a run for her money, at least in my eyes.
But what I really like about Lady Gaga is her whole ethos. Or at least, the ethos that she claims as her own. I don’t know how much of it is a marketing ploy, a simple creation to appeal to a mass market. I don’t like to be that cynical.
The tour is called the ‘Monster Ball’. I was under the impression that one went to the Monster Ball when one attended a concert, but that is not the case. The Monster Ball is a state of mind where one feels free, unfettered by social expectations and pressure – where you don’t care if you are pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough etc. As the Lady herself said, ‘For God’s sake don’t go out of here loving me more, go out of here loving YOURSELF more’. And whilst that may be a ploy to create a feel-good mood in the audience to boost merchandise sales and keep people coming back for more, is it not better than any other ploy?
From what I can see Lady Gaga appeals to the ‘freaks’. She is an advocate of gay rights. She’s a free bitch, baby, and she wants you to be too. She used to get bullied, she knows what it feels like to be an outsider. She wear strange costumes, costumes that Girls Aloud would probably never be caught dead in. Yes, she is slim and blonde. But she is platinum blonde, almost a parody of the blonde pop star. She is talented, she can sing and play her own instruments. She has denied feminism in the past, but has since turned around and changed her tune on that front. She admitted to being a book geek on stage. She’s not a bad role model.
And of course, as with all things, there is a flip side. She promotes capitalism and fame culture in her music. But I would far rather my sister idolise Lady Gaga than Cheryl Cole. As it happens she idolises Steve Irwin, but that’s neither here nor there. The message that you are perfect just the way you are, that you need to find a way to feel free and to feel happy in your skin, is a positive one, even if it does not come from a wholly positive source.
And little monsters, myself included – because I am a sucker for any motivational speech with a positive message, ask anyone – lap it up. They want to hear this message. They cheered loudly at those parts of the show, and whether it is purely projection on my part or not, there did seem to be that atmosphere. People were dressed up in top hats, in feathers and corsets and massive bows in their hair, and sunglasses and crazy shoes and tuxedos. This wasn’t a place for judgement.
So, even if it is all a clever ruse to get people to buy singles, I am all for it. There are worse ruses.
It’s awesome being a feminist. You learn how to kick ass to a higher standard than before. You begin to realise that the reason you feel so inadequate half the time has nothing to do with you and everything to do with patriarchy (or something like that). It justifies your anger about inequality and you realise that you are not the only one feeling annoyed about the pay gap, or sexual double standards (etc.).
But it’s also hard. Being aware of that pressure does not mean that you are immune to it. You are under just as much pressure to look and behave a certain way. And once you are aware of all of the connotations of conforming to those pressures it causes so much inner confliction. Or at least, it does for this feminist. But that may be my large guilt complex. I blame the patriarchy.
Sometimes it feels like the easier option is to conform. Many more educated and erudite persons than myself have written on conformity and its problems, and so I will not pretend to be an expert. To all extents and purposes I don’t look like a non-conformer, and perhaps I am not truly one. Questioning the social structures that surround us is non-conformist to a point but I don’t always practice what I preach. Like I said, it is easier to just do what everybody else does. It sometimes gets tiring being that ranty girl at parties whose disapproval of rape jokes rains on everyone’s parades (although rightfully so!). And yes, I think it is important to talk to people about feminist issues and make them question their own opinions and perceptions, but to be the person that always takes the feminist line marks you out very clearly as ‘that girl’. And sometimes I just want to be ‘a girl’ (patronising connotations of the word ‘girl’ notwithstanding, it is my moniker of choice – I do not feel qualified to be a woman and I certainly am not a lady).
Even though I am aware of Ariel Levy’s ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’, I still want to try pole dancing. Even though I am fully aware of ‘The Beauty Myth’ and the potentially harmful effects of make-up I still cannot leave the house without at least foundation and mascara on. Even though I know about pornification and social expectations of women to look like porn stars, I still want to dress as Goldilocks for a NYE party – in a tiny dress and knee high socks. It looks cute on me, okay? And even though I am fully aware of slut-shaming and how it needs to be tackled, I don’t always speak up or voice my experiences or challenge others. Don’t judge me. I fully admit to being a bad feminist sometimes.
To bring this back to the point I was trying to make, just because I am a feminist does not mean I am super-human. I am just super-aware of all of the bad sexist shit that goes down. Which just increases my guilt and inner conflict when I want to do something that makes me fit in. Is it a feminist decision if I am aware of all the issues and choose to do it anyway? If I know my options and make the choice to behave how I am expected? I’m not sure.
Because when a culture values women as objects, it is impossible for me to not sometimes want to be objectified. I still want to be angry about it, I just want it to happen. What woman, what person, wants to be unwanted? To be the odd one out, the one that no one wants to dance with or talk to? And obviously it is a choice that we as feminists must make, what is more important – fighting gender stereotyping and the overbearing expectations of the patriarchy, or being accepted? And most of the time I choose the former, but sometimes I want to fit in. I’m not immune.
In Laurie Penny’s review of Erotica 2010 she describes the event as a ‘prison for human pleasure’ and a ‘gulag of desire’. I was there, and I can’t help but feel that she has exaggerated the experience to make a point. Now, I had my issues with the day (I *hate* pushy sales people, and botox demonstrations are hardly sex-positive, are they?) but I really feel that she misses the point somewhat.
Yes, there was a strange mixture between the people walking around in full-body latex being lead around on a chain, the man dressed as a dalmation puppy and the one dressed as a four-year-old girl, and the grey-haired men in anoraks and their wives with sensible shoes. But isn’t that just the point? Erotica is for everyone. You could get dressed up in stilettos, corsets, stockings and all of that regalia (regardless of your gender) or you could just wander in off the street. As long as you were over 18 and consenting no one had a problem with you. As it should be with sex.
Now there are various issues surrounding trying to sell sex, or at least trying to sell the promise of better sex. But I’m not sure what is to be expected from an exhibition? That’s where you sell stuff isn’t it? And no, you couldn’t actually buy an orgasm. But if you were in the market for sex toys or sex furniture or paraphernalia of any kind then what better place to go? There was the inevitable dodgy materials that cheap sex toys come in, but there were brilliant brands like Lelo, Tantus and Liberator on display as well. For the discerning buyer, what better place to go? Some people do find this stuff sexy, and sensual.
The show involved feats of contortion never before seen by this amazed viewer. The guy who managed to strip whilst sitting in a metal ring suspended above the stage? That’s impressive no matter what your sexual or entertainment preference. Dita von Teese was something of a let down (a slow motion strip tease with a hint of Orientalism is hardly as impressive as the pole dancer who could hold herself upside down by her thighs).
And, as with most things in the sex industry, it is the punters with the power and the money, and those at the stalls smiling through the fake tan may not be pleased to be there. But I think that you tread a fine line when you knock how people want to express their sexuality. It was not the sexiest place on earth, but we were not attending a sex party or sex show, but an exhibition of businesses connected with sex. No one was getting off there, but I have no doubt that some people were getting off afterwards. The same people Laurie Penny accuses of ‘resigning themselves to a middle-age in which desire and satisfaction are gradually replaced by the purchase of more plastic tat’ may actually be freeing themselves from a boring sex life by exploring the toys and experiences advertised at Erotica. And can you really blame them for that?
I finally got a chance to see ‘Easy A’. And I almost want to tell people that it’s the best film I’ve ever seen. That would be a lie, of course, since ‘Grease’ is the best film I have seen ever. But ‘Easy A’ follows close behind, almost trumping ‘The History Boys’ for the coveted second-place trophy.
Now obviously no film is perfect, certainly not one made to appeal to a mass market and fit into the genre of rom-com. But this definitely comes near. I’m hoping to get a showing of it at my Uni in the next term, because the issues it talks about are *so* relevant. To every girl. Ever.
The basic plotline goes: Girl lies and tells Best Friend she’s had sex with a made-up college guy. God-Botherer overhears and spreads rumours about her. Girl pretends to have sex with Gay Best Friend to make him more popular. Girl is ostracised. Girl pretends she really is a superslut and helps lots of other Geeky Guys pretend they’ve had sex with her for money. Hilarious japes and meaningful commentary on what it means to be a teenage girl in the world of the Double Standard.
Of course, you all know about the Dreaded Double Standard. There is a moment in the film after she pretends to have sex with the Gay Best Friend. He walks out to applause and praise. She walks out to evil glares and judgement. And whilst this is an issue that needs to be tackled, it is hardly revolutionary to point it out. Christina Aguilera was doing that in 2003. And I’m sure that wasn’t the first time.
What I really enjoyed about this film was the kick-ass female protagonist. She is smart. She gets on with her English teacher. She’s never been in trouble before this happens. She is the kind of person I actually want to be friends with. We could talk about literature. Booyah.
And even more than that, her reaction to the attention was *so* realistic. Because whilst it is easy to moan and bitch about objectification, who doesn’t want to secretly be the hottest girl at school? Maybe just me. But even feminists are not immune to cultural pressure to be sexy, and no matter how wrong you know it is to be wanted for your body than for your brains, I can’t believe that no one wouldn’t enjoy the attention a tiny bit.
I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but a guy tries to *actually* have sex with her, rather than just saying that he has. And she is obviously not cool with that. But he is under the impression that because she has this reputation that she really is *easy*. And whilst there is nothing wrong with being easy, I thought that the messages about consent, about being slutty in some circumstances does not make you up for anything (especially non-consensual sexual activity), and her reaction to the situation were all incredibly interesting.
Her parents also rocked my world. If I ever have kids that is how I will behave. Non-judgemental. But still embarrassing.
Basically, what I am saying is that this movie rocks. Put this on in front of my baby sister and teach her something that no other rom-com ever will. That slut-shaming is not cool. That it happens to every girl, and not even the ones who actually are slutty (and I say slutty in the most sex-positive way possible thank-you-very-much). That your sex life is no one’s business but your own. And to use a condom. Obvs.
There is so much to talk about in this movie. But I can’t explain it nearly as well as the actual thing. So go forth. Watch an amusing, feel-good critique of slut-shaming, sexualisation, Christianity and the Dreaded Double Standard.
As a taster, watch this. There’s some trailer bits, some Lady Gaga music, and an interview with Emma Stone, who is awesome.