J. Jack Halberstam’s new book, Gaga Feminism, is out, and it is a fascinating read; I highly recommend it. For those of you who are turned off my academic writing but like gender theory, give this a try. It’s funny, first of all, but it’s also the kind of book that leads you to think in new ways and to ask new questions. I had a revelatory moment thinking about the inter-generational quality of queer culture, and honestly, that’s only mentioned in passing. This one sends off really useful sparks.
I asked the author to comment the intersection of basic legislative issues that have been in the news – saying “vagina” in the state house, “legitimate rape”, issues of choice/abortion, etc., in the context of gaga feminism, and here is Halberstam’s response:
When did “vagina” suddenly become a fashionable term? First Lisa Brown, a state representative for Michigan, shocked her Republican colleagues when she used the word “vagina” to try to debate anti-choice legislation in her county. When Brown and another colleague were silenced for supposedly turning a polite conversation into one lacking in decorum, Eve Ensler pulled into town to save the town with another long speech on vaginas – The Vagina Monologues!! Meanwhile, Republicans got into their own hot water while debating vaginas – Republican Rep. Todd Akin called upon an apparently vast and deep reservoir of knowledge about the female body and its reproductive potential when, in defense of his indefensible position that rape victims should not have access to abortion, he suggested that in a “legitimate” rape, the female body would mysteriously reject the offensive sperm and protect itself from pregnancy. And then of course, feminist writer Naomi Wolf put out her own take on the suddenly hot topic and provided us with a “biography” of the vagina.
Wow! How to make sense of all these vaginas, some of them with brains (Wolf), some of them with primal prophylactic powers (Akin), some of them with so much to say (Ensler). In my new book, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal, I do not use the word vagina at all! Instead of pitting bodies with vaginas against bodies with penises, I argue that we are living in a new world where the categories of male and female are rapidly being updated all around us. In this world of sperm banks, IVF, queer families, butch daddies, transgender men and women, heteroflexible women, pretending to be offended by the use of the word “vagina” in a public speech or making insupportable claims about rape and pregnancy are not just quaint and old-fashioned, they signal a deep ignorance about the world we live in and the enormous changes that have taken place within it in the last two decades. So rather than making the vagina talk back to the idiocy of Christian or Republican hypocrisy by giving it a biography or a monologue, it is time to move on from simple, genital genders and start actually engaging the many forms of gendered embodiment that are moving us out of the age of normativity and into a new era of going gaga!
The next stop on the tour is at Queer Fat Femme, who is generally and specifically amazing, so do go check that out.