Et tu, Gaga?

gaga.jpgLady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper were in London over the weekend to promote their admirable work with MAC cosmetics. Each woman has had a lipstick color created for her, and all proceeds from the sales of those two colours will go to the MAC AIDS Fund. The Gaga-Lauper campaign specifically targets women, encouraging testing and condom use and attempting to break misconceptions that women and older people are less at risk of HIV infection:
The Daily Mail reports:

“The rate of infection worldwide is higher than ever for women in our particular demographic,” says Gaga. “Those most at risk are women in my age bracket, 17 to 24 [she is 24], and Cyndi’s, which is 38 to 60 [Cyndi is 56]. Part of the problem is that women in those groups are not getting tested. Here in the UK, for example, the statistics are that 73 per cent of women have not been tested for HIV. This is a disease that affects everyone, not just the gay community, and right now it’s mostly affecting women.”

Gaga went on to encourage her fans to have sex only when they feel ready – and to take advantage of the condoms handed out at her concerts, if and when they do. She also reminded them that “you don’t have to have sex to feel good about yourself,” a valuable message in a time when women so often feel like their self-worth is determined by how many people want to have sex with them.
Get serious about your sexual health, protect yourself, don’t have sex until you’re ready, you are not your sex life. These are all great messages, and both Gaga and Lauper are to be commended for putting their considerable influence as celebrities behind such a worthy cause (and for advocating for sexual health in a realistic and respectful way, unlike some other celebrities). But Gaga lost me when she said this:

‘I remember the cool girls when I was growing up. Everyone started to have sex. But it’s not really cool any more to have sex all the time. It’s cooler to be strong and independent.’

Having sex and being “strong and independent.” Since when are the two mutually exclusive? And why do I have a sneaking suspicion that no man is ever going to be told that he has to make this choice? For a man, having sex “all the time” doesn’t affect anyone’s perceptions of his strength or independence. But for a woman, the more sex she has, the weaker and less independent she apparently becomes. Lady Gaga does a lot of things that are inventive and original, and encouraging people (and women especially) to be strong and independent, is great. But this message – this dichotomy that pits strong and independent women against women who have a lot of sex – is a song we all need to stop singing.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • Heidizzle

    I don’t know, I parsed that differently – not that women who have a lot of sex can’t be strong and independent, but that the markers of “cool” have shifted. Ie, at one point a strong, independent, lots-of-sex-having woman would be identified as “cool” because she’s having lots of sex, in the worldview Gaga’s working from that same woman would now be identified “cool” because of the strong independence.

  • genericjanedoe

    Having sex and being “strong and independent.” Since when are the two mutually exclusive? And why do I have a sneaking suspicion that no man is ever going to be told that he has to make this choice?
    I totally agree with this question and the issue you take with Lady GaGa in this case.
    However, I don’t think Lady GaGa’s brand of feminism is always empowering or non contradictory. She’s usually a one step forward, two steps back kind of representation of feminism in the media, so it doesn’t surprise me this came out of her mouth. I get the sense she’s still figuring out how she feels about issues affecting women and other marginalized communities. She just has the challenge of doing that in front of the world.

  • Brittany

    Funny that they’re selling lipstick while encouraging women to have self-esteem and have self-worth outside of sex and their looks.
    Just saying.

  • Carrie Ann

    It’s quite obvious what Lady Gaga meant was having a lot of sex doesn’t make you cool. It doesn’t follow that she means the opposite. In the context of the article, it’s clear what she means is don’t have sex with the purpose that it will make you cool but rather be strong and independent in deciding whether to have or not have sex.

  • Ms. MAM

    Perhaps my love of Gaga is clouding my judgment here, but when I saw this piece I read it as a less-articulate reiterating of the point she made earlier about not allowing your sexual experience to determine your worth. “Sex all the time” may have just been an overly simplistic stand-in for “having sex only because your self-esteem is wrapped up in it.”
    It’s possible I’m wrong here. And no matter what, she should have been clearer about what she meant and not fallen back on that sort of either-or framing, which I agree is problematic. But in context it didn’t seem like she wanted to suggest that strength/independence and frequent sex were mutually exclusive.

  • Ellen Marie-Frances

    Oh, Lady Gaga why? Why must you throw me for yet another loop? Do your songs not cause my feminism to swell within me? Have I not looked up to you for guidance when I’ve been in need? Are you not an inspiration for so many?…
    You sure as shit aren’t when you say that my strength and independence are not harnessed when I engage in fun lovin’ good times with the men.

  • Kessei

    Can I just say how much I hate the term “ready” for sex? It appears to link having sex with maturity and being an adult, and I’m convinced it does more harm than good.
    Further, it’s more BS than not. It’s true that somebody shouldn’t have sex until they’re emotionally/psychologically/physically capable of it, but part of not being emotionally/psychologically capable is not recognizing that you’re not capable, so…um…not sure how that works.
    And finally, the rules for when teenagers should feel comfortable with sex aren’t that different from when an adult should feel comfortable with sex: Do you want to have sex? Do you know why you want to have sex? Would you feel capable of refusing or revoking consent if you changed your mind? Do you feel in an emotionally healthy place to be making a choice? Are you capable of asking your partner(s) about his/her/zir/their desires and ensuring that he/she/ze/they are affirmatively consenting? Are you comfortable with how you’ve mitigated the risks of sex and are you willing to accept the risk that remains? Do you trust your partner(s) not to hurt you (physically, emotionally, socially) and are you prepared for whatever risk there may be of harm? Do you feel comfortable with the form of relationship you have with your partner(s)? Is there a location where you feel comfortable/safe having sex? Do you have realistic expectations regarding the sex (and aftermath) you’re about to engage in? Are you capable of telling your partner(s) what you want/desire?
    Can we please start teaching teenagers to think of sex THIS way as opposed to saying, “Well, y’know, when you’re mature enough, and then TIME TO GET BUSY”?

  • Nazza

    Having sex makes you weak and dependent? Uh, no.

  • NurseyPunk

    I think those words are being interpreted the wrong way because they came out a little confused.
    Lady GaGa is an independent women and is very open about being strong and enjoying sex, so I don’t think she’s saying here’s a dichotomy there. That would be hypocritical.
    I think what she was saying was that you don’t have to depend on having sex, (and by extension, other people) to be “cool”. Ideally, sex should be something you enjoy when you’re ready, not something you feel pressured to have just to be popular or be accepted. Both girls and guys feel that pressure.
    Again, it came out a little confused.

  • cattrack2

    Agreed. The 1st thing that came to mind was, on one hand she poses on a magazine cover dressed in BDSM gear & a strap on dildo, but on the other hand she advocates celibacy. Talk about mixed messages.

  • christeenie

    I always see Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper use make-up for fun and fanciful purposes (ie. crazy costumes) rather than to just make themselves look more attractive.
    I think that because of their self-esteem, they feel confident enough to use bold make up, outlandish costumes, and crazy hair colors- sometimes even when they know it will make them appear less “traditionally” attractive.

  • genericjanedoe

    I agree…that term always rubs me the wrong way. As a former sexual health educator for young women, I got the question “How do you know you’re ready for sex?” ALL the time. I answered in the way you’ve laid out here. Girls knew they were supposed to wait until they were “ready.” So many adults told them that. But they didn’t explain to them what “ready” meant.
    I think it started as a more progressive alternative to saying “Wait until you’re married!” But without the details that explain what exactly “ready” means, it’s just as useless as the “Wait until you’re married” answer.

  • genericjanedoe

    Or she says this about her album covers:
    “My album covers are not sexual at all, which was an issue at my record label. I fought for months, and I cried at meetings. They didn’t think the photos were commercial enough…The last thing a young woman needs is another picture of a sexy pop star writhing in sand, covered in grease, touching herself.”
    But then, there’s, ya know, every other picture of her.

  • MzFitz

    I’d like to think she misspoke, and didn’t mean that sex and independence/strength are mutually exclusive. Regardless of what she meant, I seriously doubt that this is what she meant.
    As a recovering Catholic, I seriously hope that she doesn’t start to embrace the RCC. Otherwise I’m going to have to sell my ticket for September…

  • syndella

    Must we pick everything everyone says apart, raking thru it with a fine-toothed comb? She’s telling girls that just because everyone else is having sex, and just because it’s the cool thing to do, doesn’t mean you have to do it. THE HORROR.

  • winniemcgovens

    AMEN! I don’t understand why sex ed classes don’t discuss healthy relationships and what you should think about to decide whether or not you are really ready to have sex with someone.

  • norbizness

    It’s like some sorta 21st century Seneca Falls Convention.

  • imtheidealist

    I get that GAGA is trying to good. Safe sex (ya!) Sort of empowerment. But words ARE IMPORTANT. So when you pit independent/strong against having a lot of sex, aren’t you doing the same thing as peer pressure did to teenagers. Forcing us to adhere to pressures of society.
    Have sex, don’t have sex. Act this way. If you have sex you should be shamed. Its either the virgin or the vamp. We can’t be anything else in this culture.
    So while lady gaga, at what 23 and not a particular women’s rights activist by trade, probably didn’t mean for us to pick apart her statement with such depth. WORDS MATTER.

  • imtheidealist

    I get that GAGA is trying to good. Safe sex (ya!) Sort of empowerment. But words ARE IMPORTANT. So when you pit independent/strong against having a lot of sex, aren’t you doing the same thing as peer pressure did to teenagers. Forcing us to adhere to pressures of society.
    Have sex, don’t have sex. Act this way. If you have sex you should be shamed. Its either the virgin or the vamp. We can’t be anything else in this culture.
    So while lady gaga, at what 23 and not a particular women’s rights activist by trade, probably didn’t mean for us to pick apart her statement with such depth. WORDS MATTER.

  • Sex Toy James

    This really looks like nitpicking to find something offensive. That seems to be a classic feminist pitfall. I mean that in a friendly way, speaking as someone who has his own tendencies towards excess.
    I agree with the positive way that several of the other commenters interpreted it. Being exposed to that much media you’ve got to misspeak sometimes unless you have a lawyer prepare all of your speeches for you.
    Still it sparked an interesting conversation.

  • genericjanedoe

    Some do…just not the one that are typically allowed in public schools or given public funding.

  • imtheidealist

    YA! And what is wrong with conversation??? I just had two friends STORM out of the room over this blog post.
    Whether she meant it or not (and yes words matter), isn’t the discussion more important?

  • NikaiLuvsU

    I really like Lady Gaga and her message for the most part but I agree that that statement bothers me.
    Though I do have to say Lady Gaga is a nice change in the usual stereotypical pop star.

  • kandela

    “Having sex and being “strong and independent.” Since when are the two mutually exclusive?”
    I’m not someone who usually counts Lady GaGa as a feminist, but in this instance I think you have it wrong and are being unfair.
    She’s not saying that ‘having lots of sex is not cool’, but rather ‘having lots of sex doesn’t make you cool’, being strong and independent does that. What you’ve quoted doesn’t state that the two things are mutually exclusive. Her point is that there has been a shift in the primary indicator of cool.

  • kandela

    I fail to see how an alternative image of beauty that still chains women to make-up, product, heels and the need for a “ritual” to get ready is much better than the traditional image.

  • syndella

    I think things like this are why feminists get accused of looking for things to be offended by.

  • ssalcedo

    I agree that it is hard for Gaga to advocate for self esteem and valuing yourself as more than just an apperance, when her image is so dependent on her makeup, wigs, costumes, etc.
    A woman has the right to embrace all of these things, and I enjoy her self expression through her costumes and hairstyles. I just find it less revolutionary than everyone else seems to. While diverging away from more traditional styles of beauty she is creating a new standard that is even further away from what an actual woman looks like.

  • Sex Toy James

    Good conversation is valuable, and I enjoy it.
    I just wouldn’t want to twist someone’s words to mean something that they didn’t intend and then condemn them for that. With enough motivation you can twist just about anything to mean something else. I’m good at it too, but it’s something that should only be used recreationally and not to seriously ascribe opinions to people.
    Is that a good thing that your friends stormed out of the room? Were they actually offended? Were they offended about the way that Chloe interpreted Lady Gaga’s words, or were they offended by someone twisting her words and then condemning her for them based on a very shaky interpretation? Do they maybe always storm out of places because it’s more dramatic? I’m really unfamiliar with storming out of places and the implications.
    Words do matter, but grasping the intent behind them before reacting is important. Based on the comments here, they were interpreted in several different ways. Given that I’d be quicker to ask for clarification than to pass judgment.

  • ShyFoxie

    I really doubt she was saying that sex and being a strong, idependent woman are exclusive.
    I think what she was probably trying to get at is how it seems so easy to be popular by just trying to please others, or to have sex so that boys will like you. Sometimes it’s way easier to say yes than no if you’re worried about whether you’ll be able to keep a popular boyfriend, or you want to be seen as more adult somehow. Having sex to avoid upsetting a guy, or so you don’t look like a prude or little girl is very different than having sex because you really want to.
    There IS such a thing as prude/virgin shaming, and it can be hard on a girl to be ridiculed for not having sex, perhaps hard as it is when people are calling a sexually active girl a slut.

  • LaGuera

    I agree that the problem here is mostly syntax. She left out some modifiers that would have helped to clarify what she was saying. I also think that given the previous sentence where she says, “when I was growing up,” she is also talking about it in the context of high school and adolescent years.
    As other comments have pointed out, it’s likely that she’s not placing sex and independence into a dichotomy — her work and persona defy that logic.
    Rather, I think she was aiming her comments to a younger female audience still in high school who are under a lot of pressure to feel like sex is one of the few avenues available to being cool.
    Even as an adult woman, it’s a daily struggle sometimes to remind myself that my body and my sexual attractiveness aren’t that important after all — it’s always an ongoing task for me and many women I know, even though we are all feminists.
    Gaga was a revelation to me because she has so much confidence she doesn’t care if she makes her appearance strange or even grotesque for her art — her body is her own canvas, and she can be sexy or strange or ugly with equal flair. I can’t think of another mainstream female pop artist out there today doing anything like it. They’re “tough” chicks who just always happen to be sexy. She’s a tough chick who does whatever the hell she wants.
    In that light, you need to read her statement as a poorly articulated thought that was well meant.

  • orestes

    Not always. But sometimes, yeah. I do find that sexual activity sometimes disrupts my work ethic, at least when it comes creative work. Does it contradict some feminist goals to suggest in this case, that rejecting my desires essentially makes me stronger than having sex?

  • Sossego333

    I wish that they would also hand out dental dams, gloves, and/or finger cots – people rarely talk about safe sex between women, or anyone having sex that doesn’t (only) involve a penis or dildo. So many people aren’t aware that STIs can be spread other ways as well and therefore don’t protect themselves or their sexual partners.

  • VeriteBlesse

    I work as a sex educator, and
    I’d love to steal this series
    of questions to use as examples
    of things to consider. Is that

  • Jessica Lee

    Although maybe should could have clarified a little bit better, I truly admire her message that having sex shouldn’t be what determines how “cool” you are. Living in a college atmosphere, I sometimes feel inadequate due to my lack of experience, but hearing a message like that is inspiring to me. :)

  • Kessei

    Absolutely! I’d be honored! :)

  • raptorpants

    From amazing sex educator Heather Corinna, this is the best resource I’ve found on the “ready for sex” question:

  • Michikoko

    It’s nice to see that Lady Gaga isn’t getting an automatic pass anymore just because she says she’s a “feminist.” It seemed, for a while there, like sites were just giving her a pass on all things gendered just because she said the magic words. Feministe’s discussion of her “Telephone” video was the worst of it, imho. I’m glad she’s starting to get taken to task for all her mess.
    Also happy that MIA took her to task as well. I was a little sad that no one really said much about that. There was a small link about it on feministe, but that’s it. MIA is much more talented than Lady Gaga and much more of a “feminist.” Exhibit A – Grammys, 9 months pregnant.