I’ve never quite “got” Lady Gaga. I couldn’t get past the meat dress, the tea cup and all the other props she employed. Maybe I could have overlooked them if I’d been playing Born This Way on repeat, but I didn’t even like her music much – with the exception of the brilliant Telephone, it was all a bit “whevs” to me. So, I’m not going to do what it’s fashionable to do when a public figure says or does something amazing, aka, “oh, God, yes, I’ve always loved her; I was practically born humming Just Dance”. I’d rather just admit I didn’t see it; “it” being the integrity. Maybe it was hidden behind the meat dress. Maybe I was too busy looking at her surface to focus on her depths – but, if this is true, I surely wasn’t the only one, for Gaga encouraged the notion, no doubt as a deflection/protection technique to mask what we now know was the torment in her soul.
Now, aged 32, newly engaged and with A Star Is Born top of the UK box office, Gaga is slowly unmasking herself. It’s worth recounting her speech at Monday night’s Women In Hollywood event, hosted by ELLE, (almost) in full, because its message is so important. Taking to the stage in a hugely oversized brown suit, which looked like an offcast of David Byrne’s (or Gareth from The Office, if you’re a millennial), she said: “I tried on dress after dress today getting ready for this event, one tight corset after another, one heel after another… I felt sick to my stomach. And I asked myself: ‘What does it really mean to be a woman in Hollywood?’ We are not just objects to entertain the world. We are not simply images to bring smiles or grimaces to people’s faces. We are not members of a giant beauty pageant meant to be pitted against one another for the pleasure of the public. We women in Hollywood, we are voices. We have deep thoughts and ideas and beliefs and values about the world and we have the power to speak and be heard and fight back when we are silenced.”
“So, after trying 10 or so dresses, with a sad feeling in my heart, that all that would matter was what I wore to this red carpet, I saw an oversized Marc Jacobs suit buried quietly in the corner. I put it on to a resounding view of eyes glaring at me in confusion. This was an oversized men’s suit made for a woman. Not a gown. And then I began to cry. In this suit, I felt the truth of who I am well up in my gut. And then wondering what I wanted to say tonight become very clear to me. As a sexual-assault survivor by someone in the entertainment industry, as a woman who is still not brave enough to say his name, as a woman who lives with chronic pain, as a woman who was conditioned at a very young age to listen to what men told me to do, I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today, I wear the pants. I had a revelation that I had to be empowered to be myself today more than ever. To resist the standards of Hollywood, whatever that means. To resist the standards of dressing to impress. To use what really matters: my voice.”
I decided today I wanted to take the power back. Today, I wear the pants
Sure, so exaggeratedly huge is the suit that it could easily be dismissed by cynics as just another of Gaga’s beloved “costumes” – after all, she’s astute enough to know that platform boots and rhinestone catsuits simply don’t cut it in a post-#MeToo world, and that overt sexiness is out of fashion (as evidenced by the backlash against Hedi Slimane’s recent Celine show – I wonder whether Gaga would have been quite so eager to be the first to tote one of Slimane’s new bags had she seen a preview). But to dismiss the Marc Jacobs suit as mere posturing would be erroneous, not least because Gaga genuinely is using her voice – magnificently.
It was three years ago that she first spoke of being sexually assaulted, aged 19, by an unnamed someone in the music industry. In an interview in US Vogue’s September issue, she addressed it again: “it was almost like I tried to erase it from my brain. And when it finally came out, it was like a big, ugly monster. And you have to face the monster to heal.” Then, earlier this month, during her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she spoke passionately in defence of Christine Blasey Ford. “What I believe... is that when this woman saw that Judge Kavanaugh was going to be possibly put in the highest position of power in the judicial system, she was triggered. And that box opened. And when that box opened, she was brave enough to share it with the world to protect this country.” The interview went viral, with some social-media users hailing it as the most truthful description of sexual-assault related PTSD that they’d encountered.
Hollywood actor or homemaker, it’s hard for any woman to resist the standards of dressing to impress. That Gaga has finally done so shows that, while clothes can convey a powerful message, nothing is as powerful as finding your voice, using it and finally setting yourself free – to wear the pants, the rhinestones or whatever you want to. But only on your terms.