Fuck “Burqa Swag”: Why Lady Gaga and I Are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together

When I came into work Tuesday and saw headline after headline exploring the leaked track “Burqa/Aura” by Lady Gaga, only one thought crossed my mind: thank god I gave up on this shit two years ago.

“Burqa/Aura” is a shot out of left field by an already washed-up pop star looking for attention. In the track, rumored to be from her next album ArtPop, Gaga plays the character of a Muslim woman wearing a burqa, and describes the experience as sexual and mysterious. While describing the burqa as an “aura,” she propositions men to look “behind the curtain.” In other words, this shit is fucked up.

Do you wanna see me naked, lover?
Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?
Do you wanna touch me, cosmic lover
Do you wanna be the peek underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura

The burqa is worn typically out of religious motivation and in an effort to uphold the ideal of “modesty” in the Muslim tradition, although some also wear it as a point of resistance to dominant hegemony. It’s been debated, and debated, and debated, but the final points remain the same: some women are not free to choose whether they wish to wear their burqa, but some do, and will, when they are, and for a variety of reasons. Choosing to publicly express your faith is not unknown to a lot of us; as a lapsed Catholic I know better than to judge Muslim families for putting their daughters in burqas. After all, mine gave me a cross necklace and a youth bible when I was barely 14. Religion is religion. Garb is garb. It’s not always a choice, but it’s also not always our business.

Ostensibly, Gaga’s track is an extension of her past burqa-themed exploits, including the random video of herself wearing one a fan posted to YouTube months ago and her claims to “Burqa Swag.” Both of which are out of line. Lady Gaga has no claim to wear the burqa as a fashion statement, or to make it a symbol of her own sexual identity.

I call them exploits because they pass as, for many, harmless attempts to “empower” a certain group of women – but Gaga’s empowerment is actually (surprise!) her own (readily available for purchase) validation. Instead of exploring the stories of Muslim women or women who wear burqas because they are, as she calls herself in the track, “women of choice,” she instead chooses to celebrate (read: appropriate) the burqa by completely missing the actual point in exchange for making the religious garb sexy, edgy, acceptable to a broad audience of racist Islamophobic people who loved Sex & The City 2 and didn’t cry, not even a little, at the karaoke club scene. Instead of giving insight into a heritage that already exists, she superimposes her own desires – to be seen as sexual in a specific way – onto women who never asked for it. She reduces a religious and cultural tradition to a sexual ploy; the burqa becomes a way for Gaga to seem coy and mysterious. To Lady Gaga, the burqa is a sexual accessory, instead of a garment with layers of significance that she doesn’t have the experience to understand or the right to play with.

this is just wrong.

this is just wrong.

I once paid $35 to see Lady Gaga live, although she eventually went on to cancel that show and rebook for a larger venue. And I’m not saying that to be a pretentious piece of shit who knew about Gaga and was over her before you even knew the name of one of her hit singles (although I am) – it’s just to say that when I talk about her, I’m speaking as someone who followed her career relentlessly during her golden days. The Fame was all of my theme songs in a row. I was eighteen and Katrina and I wanted to remake the video for “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” using receipts from our meal plan as dollar bills. The Fame Monster was a little bit weirder, but I was still on Gaga’s planet – she was becoming more outspoken and avant-garde, and I wasn’t even lucid enough to be freaked out that time she pretended to kill herself on stage. (The meat dress worried me, but only because I’m a vegetarian.)

It was Born This Way which ultimately forced me to step away from Gaga as an artist and an entity. I’d come out on the cusp of that album, and a part of me felt this pressure to adopt it as my “coming out album,” although I scrapped that thought entirely and listened to Pink Friday on repeat once the day actually dawned. The first time I heard the title track I waited for it to end and then asked a room probably filled with four to eight of my best friends and a cloud of smoke: “Are we serious? Gaga ‘gives the gays an album’ and it’s nothing but her shitting on a Madonna record and putting it back in the box?'” I felt duped. I was duped.

The truth about Born This Way is that nothing about it was worth celebrating, mainly because none of it was genuine and most of it was offensive in the way it capitalized on queer narratives. The album, promoted overall as some sort of ongoing LGBT song marathon in which rainbows emerged in the sky every time it was played the whole way through, was nothing more than a marketing ploy that undermined some of the most serious ideological battles LGBT folks were facing. As we challenged churches and demanded acceptance from the state, Gaga hailed us as “freaks” and positioned our deviant sexualities as diametrically opposed to religiosity and faithfulness. There’s certainly a place for espousing radical politics and rejecting assimilation, but that place isn’t in an arena with a $50 ticket price. As we cultivated a community-wide sense of pride, Gaga droned on begging us, “don’t be a drag / just be a queen.” While Gaga adhered fake bones to her face – in declaration of solidarity with us genetically modified freak shows – she was also closing up shop on a campaign to enlist us in her army during wartime. And after launching said shit-covered Madonna album, she took it upon herself to save all little queers in the land ever – so long as they were willing to worship her, join her fan club, and be her “little monsters.” Ticket sales, people! How else did you expect to find love in this fucking place? Gaga capitalized on our oppression, monetized our need for liberation, and never actually accomplished anything or helped us do so either.

On top of the failures of her half-cooked, half-baked, half-hearted effort to “save” us “weirdo queers” from the terrors of the world and middle school, Gaga put a cherry on top and also incorporated offensive, racially charged language into her LGBT anthem, sustaining the worst part of our struggle: the challenge to eliminate racism from the movement for gender equity, sexual parity, and queer liberation.

Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient

She never apologized.

When Born This Way came out, Gaga had gone, in my book, from hero to zero: what had once seemed sweet and natural (a drive to speak on behalf of LGBT struggles) now seemed nothing but orchestrated, purposeful, and corporatized. When she was called out for speaking “for us,” the LGBT community, incorrectly, she maintained that she was bisexual and therefore had the right to capitalize on our stories. Lady Gaga’s identity is valid, and having an out bisexual woman visible in the public eye is important, but that doesn’t let her off the hook in terms of being accountable to the community she claims to represent. Her inability to grasp what kind of visibility would have been helpful in our search for a more equitable world was ultimately too much for me to even cope with. Like, seriously? Gaga was using us as pathetic main characters in a tragedy without ever addressing the real ills that made us so upset. I didn’t want to be in the army. I didn’t want to fly my freak flag. I didn’t want to make everyone else on Earth weird. I just wanted to talk to my mom about my girlfriend.

Lady Gaga failed to tell my story with Born This Way and also failed to listen, and nothing about “Burqa/Aura” proves that she plans to change her artistic process to be more inclusive, sensitive, or downright accurate in her work. For an artist supposedly interested in feminism and social justice, Gaga’s proved herself nothing more than a hostile force in race relations by refusing to respect the perspectives and lived experiences of communities of color. When Gaga claimed she could “recaim chola for us” something was wrong, as is any attempt from a non-muslim white woman to try and make “burqa swag” happen. To use her often blinding starpower as an excuse for appropriation and stereotyping is altogether more destructive than it is helpful, and any conversations that come out of this new burqa era in Gaga’s life will likely be as productive as those that came out of an oversimplified gay anthem from the same mouth – stunted from the start and without any real gain. To create real dialogue around Muslim women, or Islam, or even just the burqa itself (although that is also tired), Gaga needed to go straight to the source; instead, she went straight to a trope.

The queer community is not without its hardships when looking for solid role models. Most queer content – Gaga included – targets affluent, gay white men, and sometimes a girl gets hungry for feeling like she exists. But in 2011, I took the Lady Gaga poster off of the living room wall (and only 50 percent because it was ripped) and went looking for another hero.

I never looked back.

Profile photo of Carmen

Carmen is the Feminism and Straddleverse Editor at Autostraddle, meaning she helps expand your mind and your queer girl clique. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 598 articles for us.

249 Comments

  1. Thumb up 32

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    As a recovering Ex-Little Monster, this piece was highly appreciated. I think whenever an old friend is shocked that I not only not like GaGa, but actively despise her and her faux feminism/activism, I will refer them to this article instead of aggressively “UGH”-ing in their faces.

  2. Thumb up 7

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    I’m more than a little disappointed to see this article was put back up after being deleted for what I thought was poor research and inflammatory language. If you “gave up on this shit two years ago,” why are you writing about it?

    First of all, Gaga has done quite the opposite of “never actually accomplished anything or helped us do so either.” Gaga, along with her mother Cynthia, started the Born This Way Foundation. From their website, their mission statement is as follows:

    “Led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2011 to foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated. The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world.

    We believe that everyone has the right to feel safe, to be empowered and to make a difference in the world. Together, we will move towards acceptance, bravery and love.”

    The Born This Way Foundation runs online bravery missions as a way of spreading the message via social media and has put together Gaga’s ultimate vision of her charity: the Born Brave Bus, which travels around the country to provide youth with information and services to combat bullying, depression and suicide. Log in to any Gaga fansite or her website, which is free to join and no obligation in becoming a “little monster” as you seem to be under the impression that it is, and you will find thousands of stories from youth that have been empowered by her music and her message as a queer woman who faced countless hardships due to her gender and Italian family.

    I encourage you to watch or read some of Gaga’s longer interviews (the one conducted by Oprah for Oprah’s Next Chapter or SHOWStudio’s two-hour-long question and answer, both available to watch on YouTube). I’m wondering why you chose to write this article if you have been so out of the loop and put off by her career. Gaga is “avant garde” because she considers herself to be a pop performance artist, not a musician.

    It seems foolhardy to trivialize every person who has ever been helped by her music or message and declare her a money-grubbing opportunist, which saddens me.

  3. Thumb up 28

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    Carmen, this is a brilliant piece. You perfectly stated everything I’ve been feeling and thinking about Gaga. I used to love her and her music and Born this Way was the beginning of the end for me too. This new song, if you can even call it that, makes me so incredibly angry. Thank you for this.

  4. Thumb up 7

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    Good intentions wrapped up in corporatism end up feeling false to me. What LG is doing isn’t different from what other corporations have done – all in all, they’re trying to sell a product, and many in the LGBTQIA community are buying.

    On another note, am I the only one who thinks this song is AWFUL? I know that LG remixes other artists’ songs into hers, but whoever made the song had more Existence & Downlink than LG.

  5. Thumb up 44

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    Just to jump on this bandwagon for a second and point out she also said some really stupid things about feminism.

    “I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars.”

    I can’t even tell you how much I rolled my eyes when I read this.

    Jumping off the bandwagon, my favourite rumour about Lady Gaga is that she is played by four art students who take it in turns to be her.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Hey there, I’ll agree that Gaga’s feminism is problematic in a lot of ways but I just want to point out that that quote is from 2009 and she’s done a lot of growing since then! She’s called herself a feminist now on several occasions and seems to take it seriously (that quote also came in response to an interviewer who was kind of aggressively asking her if she hated men after she spoke out about sexist double standards in the music industry).

      In the same year, she did an interview with the LA Times that included this quote:

      “During nearly two hours of conversation, she not only reiterates her assertion of total originality but also finesses it until it’s both a philosophical stance about how constructing a persona from pop-cultural sources can be an expression of a person’s truth — à la those drag queens Gaga sincerely admires — and a bit of a feminist act.

      “I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good,” she said. “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.'” (http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/13/entertainment/la-ca-lady-gaga13-2009dec13)

      More recently and maybe most importantly, Born This Way featured a fan-favorite song called Sheisse where she declared herself a “blonde high-heeled feminist/enlisting femmes for this/express your womankind/fight for your rights.” This doesn’t excuse her for the shitty things she’s said on this subject but she seems to have reconciled the whole “I hail men!” thing with herself and is making some kind of strides to spread the word. Sorry to go on a bit, but there is a lot more to Gaga’s feminism than this short quote!

      • Thumb up 2

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        Wups, forgot this great clip of her also proclaiming herself a feminist in 2011!

        “I am a feminist. I reject wholeheartedly the way we are taught to perceive women. The beauty of women, how a woman should act or behave. Women are strong and fragile. Women are beautiful and ugly. We are soft spoken and loud, all at once.

        There is something mind-controlling about the way we’re taught to view women. My work, both visually and musically, is a rejection of all those things. And most importantly a quest.

        It’s exciting because all avant-garde clothing and music and lyrics that at one time were considered shocking or unacceptable are now trendy. Perhaps we can make women’s rights trendy. Strength, feminism, security, the wisdom of the woman. Let’s make that trendy.”

  6. Thumb up 8

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    This is fucking spot-on. Thanks so much for writing this, and writing this in such a perfect way. I’ve wanted to shake my fists angrily at the sky on several occasions re: Gaga lately and the release of this song is definitely one of them.

  7. Thumb up 30

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    I completely agree. And while we’re calling out problematic celebrities. I would like to use this opportunity to talk a bit about Tegan and Sara’s “activism.” I love them so much, but they need to stop supporting the HRC (TnS did a benefit concert for them)because it doesn’t give a shit about trans* people (amongst other things.) They need to stop praising people like Macklemore, Lena Dunham, and DAN SAVAGE (for obvious reasons such as racism, biphobia, and transphobia.)And they need to stop acting like marriage equality is the only/most pressing issue facing the LGBT community (seriously that’s all they ever fucking talk about.) Basically, they can stand to be a little more intersectional with their feminism/activism.

  8. Thumb up 19

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    Wow. Slow Clap Indeed.
    I have long found Gaga to be exploitative and shallow in here portrayals and media. Did she start foundations and help people? Yes. So do a great deal of companies and groups that I have issue with.
    She contradicts herself in her actions, and defends herself by wrapping her experience in the cast off skin of those she wants to pull money from. The message of her music, with all its its problems will reach and influence far more people than a foundation pushing a biologically existentialist view.
    “Born this Way.” is a staggeringly flawed and inevitably damaging anthem. Why must I be born this way to be lesbian, gay, trans? The idea that all of us, are simply variant because we are surrendering to some birth level drive that we cannot ‘overcome’.

    That is the excuse this idea throws out. That you can’t blame or attacked us, you see, because we had no choice, we were born this way. Screw that, I was born. Everything after that MAY be a choice, if it is, how is that choice any less valid than some medicalized concept of predetermination?

    Ack! I wrote a novel, Sorry. I have a serious dislike for the whole “Born this way” dogma.

    • Thumb up 4

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      I understand what you’re saying, but I respectfully disagree and think you’re missing the intent. I REALLY don’t think the idea behind it was, “hey, it’s only okay because you can’t help it.” That’s never how I interpreted it, and I’m always surprised when other people do. It’s not even just about sexuality or gender identity. I mean, clearly Gaga was not born with liquid eyeliner and shoes that don’t make sense. That’s something she chooses as self expression, and I think that’s all that “born this way” comes down to. You are who you are and it’s all okay, whether it was innate or by choice. Though I guess the song didn’t get it across correctly (the song is flawed in a lot of ways, obviously).

        • Thumb up 1

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          I probably should have added a “maybe” in my comment because I honestly thought the sentiment was 100% clear until other people started criticizing it. I still think it’s obvious, but maybe not to someone who doesn’t follow her? Or maybe I just never took it literally and other people do? idk.

      • Thumb up 2

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        I honestly think Lady Gaga “created” BTW with “cashing in on the gay fans” first, then wanting to help or to make us all feel better second. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I don’t think much of her beyond wanting to make profit out of issues she has noticed, through studying her public, that her fans have.

  9. Thumb up 26

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    i’ve been reading autostraddle for 3 years but didn’t have an account until i finished reading this article and i couldn’t not comment. you’re so on point here re: gaga’s appropriation of & capitalization on marginalized identities.

    ‘born this way’ was released the year i came out too, and i remember feeling this pressure that i was supposed to identify with it, adopt it as representative of my experience because it seemed like the only statement on ‘the lgbt community’ (bullshit term, in retrospect) made in mainstream culture. but honestly i just wanted to, as you say, ‘talk to my mom about my girlfriend.’

    anyway, real cultural affirmation came with finding communities like autostraddle that are devoted to self-criticism and self-care as authentic alternatives to gaga’s shameless, shallow commercialization of queers to heteros as either freaks or perfectly fabulous.

    (self congratulatory, whatever, this site produces some seriously challenging cultural commentary on the daily + sexy queers on sundays <3 <3 <3)

  10. Thumb up 4

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    I wanted to like Lady Gaga a lot more than I do.

    I wanted to like “Born This Way” a lot more than I do. I like the message of the song a lot more than the song itself.

    I remember when she first got popular being intrigued. But then I concluded that there wasn’t anything that really hooked me.

    And now I have no desire to listen to her music ever again.

  11. Thumb up 6

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    I was greatly excited and interested when she announced she was bisexual, but then I was also like…ok she’s bisexual. How is she going to use that to benefit people other than herself?

    And then after it became clear that -other than starting her foundation – she wasn’t going to do much I was like ok give me Ani Difranco any day.

  12. Thumb up 25

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    YES. SO MUCH YES.

    I think the point at which Lady Gaga jumped the shark (and landed right in the ball-pit of entitlement and appropriation) was when she decided to attach an agenda to her act. There was a brief moment in time when I found her really inspiring – my first (and probably last) foray into the weird world of Lollapalooza was the year she headlined on Friday night. There was something magical about seeing all of the teenaged boys and girls wearing makeup/glitter/caution tape/whatever, and walking amongst the bros as if they had no question they belonged there as much as anyone else. At that point in time, her message seemed simple – just be yourself and enjoy it. Sure, there was an element of celebrating the “freaks” and the “weirdos” of the world, but it felt more inclusive (“we’re all a little freaky, so be comfortable with your own brand of it”) than othering (“you’re already a freak because you’re different, so you might as well celebrate it the way I do”). She came off as a little bit self-important that night, but she also lit a can of hairspray on fire and crowd surfed at someone else’s show – her enthusiasm for joyous self-expression seemed more or less genuine.

    The first time I heard “Born This Way,” ostensibly a song for people “like me,” I was done. I think my exact words were, “This sounds like a gay pool party.” Not that I don’t love a good post-pride pool party as much as the next girl (so glad those photos pre-dated Facebook), but I’d never heard something that was so obviously pandering to be played at every Pride-themed event for the next decade. It felt like the gay community (among others) had been “adopted,” which is great for children and kittens, but not as great for a mature community that had been fighting its own battles for long enough, thanks. It was pedantic, obnoxious, and offensive (in addition to being musically derivative). Since that point, “flying her freak flag” has been less about celebrating individuality as it has been about celebrating a particular brand of identity – hers. Someone up-thread referred to her as having become a “shock jock,” which I think is spot-on. Now that she’s claimed this niche of “speaking for the other,” she’s doing everything she can to stay in the public consciousness, even if it means colonizing new brands of “otherness” to attach herself to. Now that she’s done mining gay culture (and frankly, she’s probably savvy enough to realize that she’s worn out her welcome with most of the community), she’s moving on to ‘Burqa Swag,’ and whatever else she has deemed “fringe” enough to suit her purposes.

    (Also, as much as I loved this article, you’ve shattered my blissful ignorance of Lady Gaga using the phrase “Burqa Swag.” I’ll be throwing up in my mouth for the next few hours.)

  13. Thumb up 21

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    Every single time I see gross accounts of appropriation I say “YOU WANT THIS TOO!?! YOU HAVE EVERYTHING!!!” By everything I mean privileges that would even let you get away with that shit. I mean could you imagine me twerking to Chopin or Mozart and calling it the waltz!?! (I’m looking at you harlem shake)

    Wait…*takes note*

    Anyway, I’m all for cultural exchange only when the exchange is equal and everyone has a respectful and healthy understanding of what they are exchanging! However given how colonization screws up cultural exchange we have to be careful not to participate in such ravaging of other people’s culture especially marginalized ones for our “fun” and “enlightenment” when we are bored with our cultural western whiteness looking for some exotic edge. Just stop or pay somebody you are ripping off.

    Burqa Swag? Nope.

      • Thumb up 3

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        Fun story: I have a friend into performance art pieces and a while back she did a piece with her rapper name as “Busta Keaton” wherein she rapped overtop of piano music. I was her music video vixen and danced salaciously (or as salaciously as I could) in the background.

  14. Thumb up 14

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    I’m really glad the focus was on more on Gaga’s career trajectory, instead of simply rehashing everything we already know is wrong with the song itself.

    Also, I’m so glad I’m not the only person who noticed the express yourself/born this way connection.

  15. Thumb up 7

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    when I listened to the song I cried … I’m 17 years old and I was always mocked by my family for not wearing a hijab so I fucking wanted a pop song to represent me and my struggles for once
    but white women need to make this about them and how they are sooooo appalled by what gaga is doing

    ps. the song is called AURA

    • Thumb up 5

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      Love that this is the only comment from a person actually within the culture this represents. I don’t see a single burqa-wearing Muslim woman speaking out against this song, it’s all a huge bandwagon of people just like her posting to their facebooks and tumblrs about how they’re better than her because they “respect the culture” or some shit. I’m saddened to see how hive-minded AS has become over this.

      • Thumb up 38

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        I’m afraid you probably “don’t see a single burqa-wearing Muslim woman speaking out against this song” because (a) you are likely not surrounded by burqa-wearing Muslim women on the daily, and (b) the “naked burqa lady” is such a worn-out trope by now it’s a right pain for Muslims to have to come out and educate people, no matter which side they stand on it, each time it comes out.

        Some (hijabi) women will find this liberating. Some will not. Some will want to smash things.

        That isn’t the point. This IS about “respecting the culture,” to put it as you did. Which doesn’t mean agreeing with everything it’s about — or even any of it — but respecting that you do not know enough about it or have the lived experience to appropriate it for your own gains, even if you’re trying to be “subversive,” and that you especially do not have the right to do whatever you want with it just because you have a million-dollar record deal and a massive platform.

        So yes, give ailee the due consideration she deserves, but don’t pretend that your perceived lack of Muslim voices in opposition to this is the problem here. Gaga’s appropriation is.

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          First of all, I was talking about this website alone and how everyone on the anti-Gaga train HERE does not have the life experience they claim that Gaga needs before she can speak. Everyone here is claiming it goes against a culture they have no experience in either. I was celebrating the fact that someone within the culture was actually weighing in, and was pleased that it also provided a dissenting voice in a comment section full of “OMG THIS!”

          Gaga doesn’t have the right to do whatever she wants because she’s a pop star, she has the right because EVERYONE has the right to do whatever the fuck they want. She wore a burqa, had an experience, wrote a song. It is about Lady Gaga’s experience in an article of clothing, how does she not have the right to express herself about it? I’m a white American who wears a scarf on my head sometimes, am I racist too? Or only if I make some kind of gain off of it?

        • Thumb up 13

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          Genevieve: you claim that “everybody” speaking here who isn’t totally pro-Gaga doesn’t have the lived experience of being Muslim, which is false – there’s at least three of us here.

          But when we speak you tell us we’re reading Gaga wrong and dismiss us? Are the only valid Muslim voices here the ones that agree with you? Do we need to give you a photo of us in hijab and applaud Gaga uncritically to be valid?

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          I’m sorry. I wasn’t trivializing burqas with that example, simply saying that a person is not racist because they incorporate a potentially oppressive piece of clothing into their wardrobe. And I happened to wear a head scarf all day like 3 days ago, hence why that was the example I used. Not trying to say they are the same thing at all.

      • Thumb up 13

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        Yes, because Autostraddle is a hivemind in promoting critical intersectionality. Carmen shouldn’t have to be Muslim in order to point out that Lady Gaga’s white privilege is resulting in a lot of cultural insensitivity and racism. It shouldn’t be UP TO MUSLIM WOMEN ONLY to point out the fact that racist shit happens to them. It’s not the burden of Muslim women to call out racist shit like fetishizing burqas or hijabs or any other aspect of their culture; it’s EVERYONE’S job to be accountable and to support everybody else.

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    the fact that you posted fan made videos and fan made pictures as receipts just shows me how biased you are
    she wore it once and never said anything about it so you really have nothing to go on about
    so you decided to post videos and pictures that don’t come from gaga but her fans

    Enigma popstar is fun, she wear burqa for fashion
    It’s not a statement as much as just a move of passion *danceswithoutahijab*

  17. Thumb up 4

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    Over the years, certain aspects of Gaga’s massive influence have seemed inoffensive or interesting to witness or even moving to me. And some of her singles are catchy. More often than not, though, I find her influence discomforting, and not in good way. (DJ Sprinkles, take the wheel: http://youtu.be/7YDR5zTxI-g)

    I mean, “burqa swag.” Dios mío.

    Thanks for sharing this. Perfect title.

  18. Thumb up 16

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    I never had any time for Lady Gaga and frankly, its for the same reason I don’t really have time for any ‘allies’ who jostle for position and authority within the queer community. You don’t know what we go through, our lives are not political causes or shock value. We spend our lives not saying a word about ourselves, censoring everything and only giving half accounts of who we love.

    Now, even in the one arena that should be ours to speak in, we have people like Lady Gaga and whoever else, speaking over us, speaking to a queer community I frankly do not recognize in any of their images, and we’re expected to be so fucking grateful. Shower them with fucking praise for treating us like charity cases that are too strange or too ‘broken down’ by society to speak for ourselves.

    Frankly if you’re an ally, and I think we all know thats quite what Lady Gaga is because she acts exactly like every faghag straight girl who has taken over every gay bar in existence to ‘support their gay friends’, you need to try not to be a cunt and otherwise keep your mouth shut.

  19. Thumb up 3

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    Thank God we have non-Muslim women like yourself to stand up and speak out against the injustices you will never face as a non-Muslim woman. Thank you, non-Muslim savior, you are a hero!

    P.S. How many millions of dollars have you donated to pro-LGBT organizations? How many times did you donate to homeless LGBT shelters while traveling the world? How many anti-bullying/pro-LGBT organizations have you opened? How many times have you spoken to Obama about LGBT issues?

    Thought so.

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      so two things:

      1. i authored this post, and a lot of it is interwoven with my own personal story re: BTW. but i didn’t write it solo, edit it myself, and post it. a lot of input was given to me by senior and contributing editors, and i worked with muslim team members – especially on the burqa-specific sections – for the explicit reason that i didn’t want to misrepresent the controversy surrounding this track.

      that being said, the article uses ‘burqa/aura’ to expand into gaga’s larger overall issue of racial intolerance – one which i reference when i discuss, as a latina woman, her use of ‘chola’ without apology. this movement is intersectional, and oppression is connected. i am not trying to talk for someone else – i am trying to take the onus off of this one track and place it squarely on the person who has had two years to learn and failed to do so. this track is not an isolated incident – it is one more example of gaga’s ongoing history of appropriation and disregard for cultural sensitivity and community input.

      the non-muslim woman speaking for muslim women in question here is gaga. also, i never said i was a hero. i said i wanted one.

      2. let’s talk what i’ve done lately.

      i don’t talk to obama because like most LGBT people, he doesn’t give a shit that i exist and he’s “evolving” on whether or not i matter. and i don’t own a foundation, but i work at a global feminist organization. every day. and i work late, and sometimes i come in early, and i skip lunch, and then i come home to write a thing or write two things or edit five things, all for this revolution – the one you’re interrupting right now.

      i do work. i do hard work. i have for over five years. and i refuse to let you make my contributions sound meaningless just because i’m not a motherfucking pop star.

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        Thanks for writing this article and for all of the contributions you and the rest of Autostraddle make for the queer community! I really appreciate seeing your analysis of pop culture through an intersectional lens. Our culture will never move past our fucked up kyriarchal system if we don’t call out artists who uphold it.

        I just wanted to say that as a queer white artist myself and a fan of Gaga, I think it’s my responsibility to keep engaging with the cultural conversation about her work. She’s not going away, and will continue to make a big impact on USA and even global mainstream queer rights, and just our music and art scene in general. She’s gonna continue to do a lot of damage too, which is also our responsibility. She’s shown herself to be very invested in her fanbase’s input (while ignoring most other criticism) which says to me that Gaga fans NEED TO KEEP PUSHING HER and pushing to educate the fanbase and introduce more people to intersectional feminism!

        The crucial idea here is that Gaga positively impacts a lot of people who are devoted to her, and queer white fans like me gotta help show each other that you can adore her and still criticize her shitty actions and appropriations. I think the temptation for us is to go, “NEVER AGAIN! DEAD TO ME!” which is a very valid response for those hurt by her words and works. But queer white fans gotta reconcile this shit and speak out or it’ll just keep doing damage – we gotta use our privilege for good and make up for what she’s doing.

        I’m deeply disappointed in this burqa swag bullshit and trying to keep optimistic about ARTPOP as an album and as a piece of self proclaimed “pop performance art” … at the moment, “Aura” is only a leaked demo track that Gaga has said only that people should delete without listening to. I’m hoping she’ll address her racist appropriation but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed … the best likely outcome is that she will ignore it completely and continue on with her “APPLAUSE” promo (her first official single from the album). Ragh!

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          I should say clarify this: “I think the temptation for us is to go, “NEVER AGAIN! DEAD TO ME!” which is a very valid response for those hurt by her words and works.”

          1) I do not mean to say people who want to be DONE with Gaga shouldn’t move on and speak out against her!
          2) I think queer white fans should ABSOLUTELY check their first reactions to “burqa swag” and analyze how their internal sexism/racism/etc plays into the situation.
          3) I just think that we queer white gaga fans should push ourselves beyond either saying “SHE’S DEAD TO ME!!” ….. OR “WHATEVER SHE’S THE QUEEN SHE’S JUST EXPRESSING HERSELF.”

          Untangling this stuff in ourselves is IMPORTANT and very hard work to do, but WE HAVE THE TOOLS. And we have to share them with other queer/white/cis/ablebodied fans or else the fandom will keep perpetuating her damage! It’s kind of up to us to keep the POSITIVE IMPACTS she’s made for the queer community and for women’s artistic expression going despite her shitty actions and works.

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          I’m not a fan – I’ve actually always really hated Lady Gaga – but I love what you said here, and I think it is very important to remind ourselves, with anyone/anything problematic (or worse!) that we might be fans of. Thank you.

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      Have to add again that I love how absolutely contradictory Anthony’s comment is anyways:

      “Thank God we have non-Muslim women like yourself to stand up and speak out against the injustices you will never face as a non-Muslim woman. Thank you, non-Muslim savior, you are a hero!”

      THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT LADY GAGA IS DOING! HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THE ABSOLUTE HYPOCRISY IN YOUR SARCASM???????

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        Except, she isn’t speaking FOR anyone. Also, where were all of you when she was using religious imagery since the start of her career?

        This isn’t arguing for what’s right, people just see someone like Lady Gaga, talented and powerful, so they’re eager to see her fail. She’s not going anywhere if her relentless reign in the pop industry hasn’t made that clear.

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          You’re right, all of the objections to her cashing in on LGBT fans and racist language and costuming are just people “hating,” not discussing right and wrong.

          Wait. No. It’s actually a critical analysis of a popular icon and Carmen did an excellent job.

          Also, sorry, kiddo, but an 8 year career isn’t a relentless presence.

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      BAHAHAHAHHA…. honestly, found that post funny, because it’s so ridiculous.

      I’m not a child, but I work in child protection.
      I’m not trans, but I’ll be damned if I don’t stand up for anyone being hated on who is.
      I”m not a criminal, but I represent criminals.
      I”m not black, but I won’t stand for racism.
      I could go on, but i think you get the picture.

      HERE’S ANY IDEA… LETS ALL JUST LET INDIVIDUALS FIGHT THEIR OWN FIGHT ALONE… LETS NOT STAND UP FOR EACH OTHER AND SHAME DISCRIMINATION AND FIGHT PREJUDICE…oh no wait, thats a silly idea.

  20. Thumb up 1

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    “Choosing to publicly express your faith is not unknown to a lot of us; as a lapsed Catholic I know better than to judge Muslim families for putting their daughters in burqas. After all, mine gave me a cross necklace and a youth bible when I was barely 14. Religion is religion. Garb is garb. It’s not always a choice, but it’s also not always our business.”

    CHOOSING to publicly express YOUR faith is one thing. FORCING your child to express YOUR faith is not right, and damn right it is our business. Religious people sometimes use “religion” as this magic excuse for absolutely intolerable, disgusting behaviour, and somehow we’re supposed to be tolerant of that because… religion. That’s such B.S. I will never understand how in our day and age there is a single human remaining who is gullible enough to actually sincerely BELIEVE all the religious fairy tales, but if they do, hey, that’s their prerogative. However, forcing other people to behave a certain way because they believe in silly fairy tales crosses the line. They shouldn’t get a free pass to be a jerk, an asshole, a misogynist, a sexist, an abuser, a tyrant, a murderer and so on because “oh, religion”. That’s when religion stops just being stupid and becomes evil.

    By the way, while I am not all that thrilled about Catholicism or any other religion for that matter, I hope you can see a difference between “being given a cross and a bible” and being stuffed into one of the the world’s most awkward, inconvenient, uncomfortable and restrictive piece of clothing and risk possible abuse or even death for refusing to comply.

    What’s all this have to do with Gaga? Nothing, I guess. Somehow I don’t really care what she does with burqas. She can do whatever she wants with them; i.e., wear them, not wear them, burn them, mock them, use them as an artisitic metaphor… As any woman should be able to do. But alas not any woman can.

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      Disgusting behaviour is as disgusting behaviour does. The aggro axe-grinding in your comment would be funny if it weren’t for the common atheist hegemonic narratives playing directly into exactly the kind of totalizing erasure and silencing of non-Western cultural symbols as Gaga’s misappropriation does.

      The hijab is a set of practices which have various meanings in different contexts, cultures, and situations. It gestures to a language of the body mainly specific to the massive and diverse civilization called Islam. As such it is a lexeme chockablock with contested ambiguities, compulsions, and agencies. To just sneeringly wave that all away (Bah! Superstitious mummery!) is not only intellectually coarse, but conveniently denies the lived reality of the voices who speak with that language.

      I would prefer to hear such voices out, understand their worldviews, and take seriously the ontological richness of their lived practices. Hopefully some hijab-wearing Muslims will chime in on this thread to school us all for reals. Their absence thusfar is glaring, and telling. We trans* women have a saying, “Nothing about us without us.”

    • Thumb up 11

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      “I will never understand how in our day and age there is a single human remaining who is gullible enough to actually sincerely BELIEVE all the religious fairy tales, but if they do, hey, that’s their prerogative.”

      This right there is so offensive that I had to log in at work and answer to it.
      I come from a fairly religious family and I have to say that the discussions about “religious people are plain stupid” are tiring and, as I said, really offensive. My most religious family members are also intelligent, funny, accepting and loving human beings, their religion is not the only thing that defines them and it certainly doesn’t make them stupid.
      I don’t have to GET their religion and you don’t have to either but please people, show some basic respect and don’t call anyone stupid just for what they believe in.

  21. Thumb up 3

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    “The truth about Born This Way is that nothing about it was worth celebrating, mainly because none of it was genuine and most of it was offensive in the way it capitalized on queer narratives. The album, promoted overall as some sort of ongoing LGBT song marathon in which rainbows emerged in the sky every time it was played the whole way through, was nothing more than a marketing ploy that undermined some of the most serious ideological battles LGBT folks were facing. As we challenged churches and demanded acceptance from the state, Gaga hailed us as “freaks” and positioned our deviant sexualities as diametrically opposed to religiosity and faithfulness. There’s certainly a place for espousing radical politics and rejecting assimilation, but that place isn’t in an arena with a $50 ticket price. As we cultivated a community-wide sense of pride, Gaga droned on begging us, “don’t be a drag / just be a queen.” ”

    THIS. (And basically the entire article, but especially this.)

  22. Thumb up 17

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    Never really had an opinion about Gaga. I lived through the previous incarnation: Madonna. But I do know that Carmen is one mother-fucking brilliant woman who has schooled me on more than one occasion in regard to any number of issues. I would never marginalize this woman. In any event, I’m just gonna sit back with my handle of vodka and bucket of beer nuts and watch this unfold. Commence the Little Monsters Bawling!

  23. Thumb up 2

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    Thank you so much. I, as many other Autostradlers have also expressed initially felt required to identify with Born This Way because it was “a gay anthem” and “promoted queer equality and visibility”. I wanted to be supportive of those things but calling myself a freak seemed a little counter-intuitive when that type of labeling was exactly the thing i was against. I’m glad to know that there are other queers who aren’t blindly going googoo for Gaga.

  24. Thumb up 4

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    Thank you so much for this article Carmen. I too got off the Gaga train long ago, namely when she wrote Born This Way to capitalize on LGBT, ripping off a Madonna song in the process and defending herself against the copy claims by saying the melody and lyrics were sent to her directly from God.

    Not just that, she capitalizes on every issue that she feels could be relatable to her fanbase and therefore would make her the savior of something. She has used mental illness/general trouble and a period in which she gained weight as opportunities to become a victim or to try to sell a product or to upgrade her image.

    It’s just so shallow and also so in your face, it makes me mad.

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      She sold people products to make them feel good about their weight? Really? And you said it upgraded her image despite the shameless insults that were headed her way? And it was in-your-face? I think I might have been under a rock.

      I know she led an online movement to allow people to appreciate their bodies, but I guess that’s considered capitalism now? hm… I never got that memo.

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        I never said she sold products for anything, I meant it in the sense that she herself is a product and she uses everything in her power to sell. I said she used a circumstance in her life (her weight gain) to become the LIVING EMBODIMENT of weight issues, when only a year prior to that she was super fit and slim and tweeting things like “popstars don’t eat”. So no, I don’t think she “lead an online movement to allow people to appreciate their bodies”, I think she took advantage of yet another issue her fans could relate to in order to sell herself as savior of something, in her true hypocritical way, and I didn’t fall for it.

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        Don’t you understand the difference between being an activist/ally and actively exploiting serious issues for your own economic benefit though? Because to me and most people who follow Gaga’s career without belonging to her fan base, that’s what she does. Whether she suffered mental illness or not is irrelevant in this case, I never said she wasn’t qualified enough to talk about it, my point is, she does not talk about it because she cares, she talks about it because it benefits her public persona. That is what is gross to me.

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          How on Earth could you possibly know her motivations behind what she writes about? Your projection of her as a money hungry evil soul sucker are unfounded. You are in no place to say why she does anything. If you don’t like her having money for what she says, please continue to happily not give it to her. She DOES speak for some people however, and that’s why people WILLINGLY give her money. If taking it from them is exploitive, then I guess she is.

  25. Thumb up 6

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    this whole piece is amazing, and I can’t stop thinking about this: “I didn’t want to fly my freak flag. I didn’t want to make everyone else on Earth weird. I just wanted to talk to my mom about my girlfriend.”

    word.

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      Catholicism in Western culture has never been an institution of the oppressed; it has been one of the most dominant institutions of the oppressors. Lady Gaga masquerading as Mary Magdalene does not impact how people view the Pope or the Catholic Church; wearing an “exotic” clothing garment from a vastly different culture that is extensively targeted in the Western countries under the racist veil of “terrorism” and “backwards religions fundamentalist bigots” (because those words never apply to Christians).

      Also, Gaga is Catholic. She therefore has the right to comment politically and socially on her own culture.

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        I’m not jumping into the main debate on appropriation of the burqa in this comment, just responding to your claim that “Catholicism in Western culture has *never* been an institution of the oppressed” [emphasis added].

        Because British and Irish Catholics have *never* been persecuted by the state for their religion, or experienced systematic infringement of their civil rights on the same grounds, or their community been prejudicially regarded and portrayed as “terrorists”…?

        I am not for a moment pretending that the Catholic Church hasn’t performed an appalling amount of oppression throughout the ages, but your quote above is flat-out incorrect.

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          You’re right, that’s a very valid point. I was thinking more along the historical lines of Christianity in general (after it becoming the dominant religion in Europe/Western cultures), but there’s been a lot of oppression of sects under the banner of Christ, too.

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      I love how you assume everyone who has an issue with Gaga over this song must be just privileged white people shaming other privileged white people. A number of people who have commented aren’t white. Hell, the person who wrote this article isn’t even white.

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        White was not meant to be the operative word, I use “white America” as a generalization of the specific American culture that is predominantly white and has had the loudest voice in this discussion. It wasn’t meant to be exclusive and I didn’t realize it would be taken that way, so I’ve removed it.

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          Might be worth noting that criticism and comments on this article have not strictly come from “privileged Americans”. In fact I think a relatively big percentage of AS readers and commenters are from countries other than America.

          I for one live in a third world country that is culturally quite different to the US. Especially with regards to the way queers are viewed. And Gaga has done me no favours. So please bear in mind that criticism of Gaga isn’t restricted to “big, worldly, cultural, educated Americans”.

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          AS is an American website, OP is American, as are all the people posting this stuff all over my facebook. I never implied it was restrictive, only the people that affected me enough to write that were Americans because that is who I am exposed to.

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            Do you have many Facebook friends who are outside the US? That may explain the US-centrism on your FB feed.

            And yes, AS is predominantly American, but the comments here are from all over the place. (Writing this from Malaysia!)

  26. Thumb up 22

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    If you want to read about a Muslim artist that dealt with a lot of trouble for tackling the burqa in a way that was more complicated than “burqas are awesome!” or “burqas are oppressive!”, check out the story of Deeyah’s “What Will It Be”:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2008/04/deeyah-the-muslim-madonna-2/

    She and many other Muslim artists and activists have had to deal with a lot of shit from Muslims AND non-Muslims for daring to openly grapple with their politics, faith, gender in ways that don’t neatly fit anyone’s narrative. Yet they get overshadowed by Lady Gaga and company, who “wore a burqa and had an experience” – wearing one as a temporary fashion statement gives you NOWHERE NEAR the same experience as wearing it (willingly or otherwise) as part of your life. That makes about as much sense as “oh I went to a gay club therefore I know what it’s like to be gay”.

    I grew up Muslim, but was in the middle of two cultures – parents’ and hometown’s – where they practiced Islam subtly differently and clashed as a result. I don’t consider myself Muslim anymore (as I write this on Eid at my parents’ house…) and there’s a lot about Islamic polities and policies that I have deep apprehension over – particularly when they get appropriated and misused by people that want power. But I also recognise that there’s a lot of good, complex, interesting aspects of Islam that get overlooked by EVERYBODY.

    Burqa/Aura isn’t helping to complexify the narratives of Islam and Muslim women; it’s just reinforcing stereotypes. It’s sad that in many places, *this* is perhaps the only narrative that seems at least a little bit positive, even with all the appropriation – because there’s hardly anything else. So responses like ailee’s make a hell of a lot of sense. If you are trying to find yourself reflected in something, and have a hard time doing so, you’ll reach for ANYTHING that feels vaguely related. Story of my life. But there’s all this other material from MUSLIM WOMEN THEMSELVES who don’t get attention – stuff that is more diverse and representative.

    On an aside, people who claim that the only people speaking up against this song are non-Muslim women: how do you know the religious background of the commentors here? Are you looking for an Arabic name or a picture of a girl in a hijab? I get the frustration over people trying to speak ‘for you’, but isn’t that what this article is addressing?

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      The part I’m missing is where she claims to have anything close to the experience of an actual Muslim. The lyrics of the song itself say that she DOESN’T know what it’s like, funny how everyone seems to be ignoring the most important lines of the whole song:

      >Enigma popstar is fun, she wear burqa for fashion
      >It’s not a statement as much as just a move of passion
      >I may not walk on your street or shoot a gun on your soil
      >I hear you screaming, is it because of pleasure or toil?

      Pretty self explanatory, and in fact it IS a nod to the struggles that Muslim women face and how Gaga doesn’t know anything about it. Funny how everyone seems to miss that stanza.

      This is a pop song by a popular artist, you can’t be upset because other Muslim artists don’t have a voice in comparison, that is an issue with their art and media and public consumption. The proper representation through art may be there if you look for it, but that’s not Gaga and that’s not what people are looking for in this song. It’s not intended for some global awareness campaign, it’s another song churned out so people will have something to dance to in the club. Good luck getting “diverse and representative” to have the same level of success in that market as she does.

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        Deeyah is a popular artist too. The fact that it’s Gaga getting more attention (especially attention that doesn’t tokenize her as much as non-White artists get) is THE PROBLEM.

        How would you feel if the artists getting most attention for singing about queer women are straight and only ever sing about queer women as the stereotype of man-haters?

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          Oh god, now I’m all self-conscious about my music taste! I promise I listen to good music too! And for the record, I actually never listen to Lady Gaga at all and don’t like almost any music of hers I hear. I just respect her as an artist and human.

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            You mentioned that Lady Gaga was a pop artist, supposedly in contrast to Deeyah (and other Muslim artists) who aren’t pop. I was pointing out that Deeyah was a pop artist too, mostly based in Europe (she’s Norwegian of Pakistani background).

            It’s not a criticism of your listening choices (which I don’t know about) as it is more pointing out the fallacy of assuming that Muslim artists couldn’t possibly also be pop artists too.

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          Okay, the fact that you don’t understand why Lady Gaga is actually not singing about “I’m a white girl who is fully aware of her racial privilege but I am concerned with the plight of Muslim women internationally and want to help contribute to their causes” kinda defeats any purpose for a rebuttal, ergo, snark. And yeah, the fact that you think it’s TOTALLY FINE that Katy Perry has a disgusting song mocking female non-heterosexuality by playing it up as something that’s frivolous and for-the-male-gaze actually supports your delusions about what Gaga’s intentions are in the lyrics.

          PLUS can we please mention the fact that Gaga is purposely using improper grammar for that line!? “Enigma popstar is fun, she wear burqa for fashion” That smacks so much of mocking non-native-Anglophones that I can’t believe nobody else has mentioned it!

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            Ha, I didn’t even notice the grammar. I suppose for me I’d have to hear how it was sung – those things tend to come out more in people’s inflections, I notice.

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          Okay, the fact that you don’t understand why Lady Gaga is actually not singing about “I’m a white girl who is fully aware of her racial privilege but I am concerned with the plight of Muslim women internationally and want to help contribute to their causes”

          The issue is that quote is what you’re expecting from the song, it’s what you think she should be saying in order to make it acceptable for her to talk about it. Wearing a burqa does not require her to take on the international issues that they are associated with. Why does that have to be her message for it to be okay?

          All she is saying is “I’m a white girl who is fully aware of her racial privilege but sometimes I feel sexiest when I cover my body.” It’s not about Muslims, it’s about her. The burqa is another representation of her character, the cover she puts over her real self while in the spotlight. It’s a theme in most of her music.

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          You know what? No, that’s complete bullshit. She’s using the first-person voice in a narrative that DOES NOT BELONG TO HER. She does not need to sing about how she’s masked in a veil or a burqa or that she’s doing it to be mysterious or what the fuck ever. Because wearing a burqa cannot ever be just about a fashion accessory; she cannot sing about wearing a burqa without a “take on the international issues that are associated with” it. There is no fucking way Gaga is singing about the burqa solely for aesthetic purposes – not in this political climate. Why isn’t she singing about wearing babushky, or berets, or any other kind of women-headgear? Because that isn’t controversial. There’s no fucking platform for her to stand on with a babushka because those are not symbols of oppression.

          And the only way that Gaga could ever sing about burqas respectfully or appropriately would be never, because that is not her song to sing.

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      Additionally, I’m glad you brought up homosexuality as well, because god forbid a straight person wear rainbows and go to pride festivals and all that. They obvs don’t know what it’s like to be gay, so they have no right to appropriate it!

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        In 2011 i marched at Sydney’s Mardi Gras as part of Trikone, an organization for queer South Asians. My outfit – a traditional lenggha bottom worn with pasties – was revealing and eye-catching. I had a lot of tourists ask me for photos, and too many photographers jamming their cameras onto my boobs as though they were paparazzi. One even complained when i grabbed some food to eat, as i had apparently “ruined her shot” – a shot i had not consented to.

        After the march i too was asked to pose for photos – by straight people with rainbows talking about us marchers as though we were exotic zoo animals. Smile, click, ignored. Not one of them asked me for my name or my story. I was an accessory, a tourist attraction, someone they can interact with for a minute – and only a minute – to prove their “ally” cred.

        This is what this feels like.

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          Did you ever ask for their story? Did you ever think, “Hey, I wonder why this guy is an ally” and go up to them and ask?
          No one cares about your story like no one cares about their story. If you see someone with something ‘eye catching’ on, you’re gonna be like “huh, that’s an eye catching exterior”, so no one’s going to give three fucks north of Florida what’s in the exterior, or where it’s from, why it’s here, or what’s happened to it.
          Like a person would be quick to buy a very nice looking -but used- car and not look at the carfax. They think it’s shiny and pretty and a color they like so it’s whatever to them. It’s a bit of a silly comparison, but it makes enough of a point in my opinion.
          No one is a special little snow flake because of their sexual orientation. One would think the LGBT community would be more than happy to have allies, whether or not all of those allies wanna sit down and have a Q&A with every single NON heterosexual they meet at a parade.

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            They wouldn’t talk to me even if I tried. I was an accessory, a spectacle – I wasn’t supposed to have a voice.

            This was at one of the biggest Pride parades in the world. Yet the people who should be centerstage were reduced to eye candy for straight people who have no other connection or interest in LGBTIQ+ matters asides from “ooh shiny”.

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        How dare those men and women that’ve never been diagnosed with breast cancer wear pink! They’ve got NO right to appropriate that!
        How dare a person whom is not a parent of an autistic child put a sticker on their car to raise awareness for autism! That’s infuriating, who gave them the right to appropriate it?!
        How dare someone draw a heart on their wrist
        Who does this person drawing butterflies on their wrist to raise awareness for self harm think they are?! They’ve never cut, how dare they appropriate it!
        How care someone wear light purple in light of anorexia awareness, they’ve never had an eating disorder!

        Should I continue or do you realize how foolish you sound yet?

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          @Terry: I think Genevieve was trying to do the same thing you are, claiming the ridiculous-soundingness.

          If that was meant to be a dig at people like me who are protesting AGAINST the appropriation:

          Oh, I wore the pink ribbon once, therefore I can totally talk about what it’s like to have breast cancer!

          Let me get all the attention for the butterflies on my arm and make a zillion dollars out of it. Even though the only relationship I have to self-harm is drawing butterflies.

          This light purple dress is too tight. Now I know what it’s like to be anorexic! LET’S WRITE A SONG ABOUT IT AND HAVE IT BE FULL OF ANOREXIC MODELS AS ACCESSORIES.

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          All of those things were created to be worn by everyone for their intended purpose! All of those things are worn to represent a specific cause. They are not apart of a racial or religious culture in the way it is talked about in this article and I think you know that. If you don’t then you are the one who looks foolish here.

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          You’re entirely missing the point. The issue at hand is someone from a different culture claiming a symbol AND SUBSEQUENTLY ACTING AS A SPOKESPERSON FOR THAT CULTURE.

          Wearing a rainbow pin in of itself is not appropriation. If a straight person is wearing a rainbow pin and is bullied for it, they do NOT have the right to claim “Oh, now I know what it’s like to be LGBTQ*.” Although a more appropriate analogy would be that person turning around and acting as the Head of the LGBTQ* Community without ever identifying or experiencing life as one.

          Wearing a burqa outside of its cultural context and claiming to act on behalf of Muslim women is in the same category because it implies that Muslim women are incapable of speaking up for themselves; that a white woman who has worn a cultural symbol for political (albeit grossly insensitive and tacky) reasons has more right to speak up about Muslim experiences than Muslim women themselves.

          So, yes, drawing butterfly tattoos on yourself and then claiming to know what it’s like to cut yourself and struggle with self-harm is a horrible thing. But correlation with racist acts is not causation. i.e. The mere appearance of butterfly tattoos is not linked to the notion of speaking over those with self-harm experiences.

          (And that’s not even touching about the racist/white privileged problems of a white woman “dressing up” as another culture for fashion)

          Maybe I should just copy and paste this to every person who completely misses the point of the issue at hand?

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          SHE IS NOT CLAIMING TO REPRESENT MUSLIM WOMEN!!!!!!!! How many times can I copy and paste that?? It’s NOT for political reasons, she doesn’t have any right to speak about Muslim issues and SHE DOESN’T. Please find me one line in the song that makes even the slightest claim that she is anything other than Lady Gaga being Gaga as fuck. This is about her and her alone, stop trying to force her into some level of global significance around Muslim issues because that’s not the point.

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          Copy, paste.

          “You know what? No, that’s complete bullshit. She’s using the first-person voice in a narrative that DOES NOT BELONG TO HER. She does not need to sing about how she’s masked in a veil or a burqa or that she’s doing it to be mysterious or what the fuck ever. Because wearing a burqa cannot ever be just about a fashion accessory; she cannot sing about wearing a burqa without a “take on the international issues that are associated with” it. There is no fucking way Gaga is singing about the burqa solely for aesthetic purposes – not in this political climate. Why isn’t she singing about wearing babushky, or berets, or any other kind of women-headgear? Because that isn’t controversial. There’s no fucking platform for her to stand on with a babushka because those are not symbols of oppression.

          And the only way that Gaga could ever sing about burqas respectfully or appropriately would be never, because that is not her song to sing.”

          Isn’t it pathetic that I’m trying to give Gaga more credit than she deserves in assuming she has some politically-noble (but misguided) intent with this bullshit? How fucking narcissistic does someone have to be to use a highly contentious piece of clothing and go “Oooooooooh, HOW CAN I USE THIS TO MAKE MYSELF MORE ARTSY. ME ME ME ME MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” Jesus Fucking Christ, now I’m even more enraged.

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          “She’s using the first-person voice in a narrative that DOES NOT BELONG TO HER.”

          She is using the first person voice but claiming no narrative other than her own.

          “She does not need to sing about how she’s masked in a veil or a burqa or that she’s doing it to be mysterious or what the fuck ever.”

          She doesn’t need to but she wants to. And people are listening.

          “Because wearing a burqa cannot ever be just about a fashion accessory”

          Why not? Here’s a political statement for you: how about we take the oppressive nature away from the burqa and use it as a garment that can sexually empower women. Appreciate it as a purely aesthetic garment and it loses power. To limit Gaga from doing what she wants with it promotes separatism. To say that the garment is for oppressed people only is oppressive in itself.

          “Why isn’t she singing about wearing babushky, or berets, or any other kind of women-headgear?”

          Because the burqa is the only one that fully covers the body. It represents the “aura” she is hiding behind, whereas none of the others you mentioned cover more than the hair.

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          @genevieve

          there is a lot going on in this conversation but i just wanted to offer a perspective on one tiny piece of it —

          ““Because wearing a burqa cannot ever be just about a fashion accessory”

          Why not? Here’s a political statement for you: how about we take the oppressive nature away from the burqa and use it as a garment that can sexually empower women. Appreciate it as a purely aesthetic garment and it loses power. To limit Gaga from doing what she wants with it promotes separatism. To say that the garment is for oppressed people only is oppressive in itself.”

          i honestly don’t think this can be done. we don’t live in a vacuum, ya know? just because any one of us says, okay, let’s look at the burqa as a purely aesthetic garment, it doesn’t make it so. because there are so many women who have to interact with it as a non-purely aesthetic garment. it’s just impossible to remove the implications from the garment because the world we live in has not removed those implications. i don’t believe anyone is saying “the garment is [only] for oppressed people” but the truth is the garment is more than just a garment, and until the complications surrounding it are resolved by the people affected by it (some of whom may feel oppressed and some of whom may not!) it will never be a purely aesthetic thing. it’s a privilege to consider it one, and by that i don’t mean that women who must wear it are oppressed and those of us who can choose to wear it are not oppressed (that’s simplistic and reductionist) i just mean that having the luxury of not having to think about a burqa in a larger context at all is a privilege.

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          @vanessa It is not impossible to remove those implications. That’s exactly what this song is doing. It’s why it’s about sex and not about political turmoil. Earlier people gave me shit because they thought I was saying that only Muslim women have the right to speak up about this, when progress is only made if there is global involvement. Now you say that this has to be resolved by the affected people before people like Gaga can touch it. That is so limiting and stifles cultural progress. If the goal is to remove negative implications, how else will that happen if people don’t start using it for aesthetic purposes and removing the negative implications? Of course it is a privilege to be able to do that, and Lady Gaga is a privileged person. It’s not a bad thing if she exercises that privilege.

          Cultural progress is never impossible. These kinds of things can be the way it starts.

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            This song is NOT going to “remove the implications”. It’s just going to add to the exotification of Muslim women, the burqa, and various other forms of hijab (since people seem to be really bad at differentiating types). As it is, this perspective comes with very little education, knowledge, or research: it’s just stereotypes.

            If Lady Gaga really wants to “remove the implications”, her best bet would be to work as an ally. Celebrate, signal boost, and center the voices of Muslim women who are already tackling the burqa from whatever perspective they came from. Use her privilege to boost the work of others with a more in-depth point of view.

            (I still wish more people answered my question of what would to reaction be if the song was performed and produced by a Muslim woman. If anyone’s got the right to proclaim Burqa Swag it would be actual burqa wearers.)

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      That problem – that people outside of a group are the ones that get the most play – is why I’m so uncomfortable withMackel,ore’s “Same Love.” I mean, fine, make the song, but could you maybe gesture to the DECADES of queer hip hop groups and artists that have paved the way? And maybe,I don’t know, fucking tour with them?

      And that’s not even written in the problematic first-person narrative way in which Gaga’s song was written.

      Also, THANK YOU for bringing up the ways in which this continues to flatten Muslim women and hijabis in particular. Like those cultural stereotypes need more flattening.

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    good article.
    it’s a very common trope, the notion of the orient as mysterious and exotic, esp is the western world, like this shit’ been around since the 1900’s like when england had colonies in the middle east and shit.
    lady gaga is really a top example of how you can take everything and turn it into a commodity, even a serious political issue, such as race gender religion etc, that is really close to the bone.
    however, i think for a lot of people, maybe not in the US but in other places in the world, her songs and agenda, fake has it is, helps both personally to their esteem, and also the overall society exposure to this, cause shes a big star and seeing someone like her saying this things, can be really good for places where this issues are not addressed and the struggle is not as developed as in some western countries. so commodity or not, i don’t think it really matters in those places and to the people there, they got bigger fish to fry.

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      That’s a really patronizing way of looking at other countries’ relationship to struggle, assuming it’s “not as developed as in some Western countries”. If anything I’ve noticed that “Western countries” can be really underdeveloped in considering nuances of culture, family, tradition, politics, agency, identity, and so on when it works against what “Western” culture is used to.

      We don’t need Lady Gaga to be our savior.

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        as i said i’m not american, i was born and raised and still a citizen of one of those countries “who are not as developed as western countries” so i think i have the right to say that. this things help maybe not you, but it helped me when i lived there.

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        and i really agree to this “If anything I’ve noticed that “Western countries” can be really underdeveloped in considering nuances of culture, family, tradition, politics, agency, identity, and so on when it works against what “Western” culture is used to”

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      I don’t know, I feel like this particular argument can be extended to most artists? For many people, Madonna, her music and being a fan of her in the 80s meant a liberation of some kind, whether Madonna actively worked to liberate people or not. I know people who claim the Spice Girls helped to craft their personalities or gave them strength to go on against hardship, too. I don’t undermine that experience, I can even identify with it. But I feel like Lady Gaga has gone past defending issues who needed to be talked about, to directly trying to make profit out of those issues, or to improve her public image with those issues. She could continue supporting the LGBT community or raising awareness for mental illness without being so obviously trying to benefit from that support she gives? I hope I make sense.

      (FYI I’m not American either).

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    Thank you so fucking much for this article. I still have friends that are die-hard Gaga fans, and while I was definitely one of her little monsters early on, Born This Way killed the image I had of her of this genuine, no fucks given quirky girl with a heart full of love for people. You know how sometimes it’s just this gut feeling you get that Something Ain’t Right? Yeah.

    Thank god we still have Ke$ha.

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        It wasn’t. Ke$ha isn’t flawless (especially in regards to cultural appropriation) and I don’t mean that in a “well at least we can count on her to fight against all of this”. But I appreciate the sincerity of her work. Perhaps it was a disjointed statement to make, but Ke$ha is You Do You-ing the fuck out of life.

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          Ke$ha has made repeated comments about “trannies, blah, blah, trannies” even after people in the trans community spoke out about her doing that. Her, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus (and GaGa) all continue to make these statements in desperate grab to be hip and use trans people to validate how ‘wild and crazy’ they are as performers. ‘You do you’ doesn’t equal ‘I piggyback on your community to do me.’

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          Gina, can’t reply to your comment for some reason, but yes, Kesha has said some shitty things in regards to trans individuals, and I won’t defend that. But I do feel that the statements (at least the ones I’m aware of) were made out of a lot of ignorance. I don’t think the girl knows the difference between a drag queen and a trans woman, straight up, and I wish someone would sit her down and explain that shit to her. Meanwhile Gaga’s continued ignorance towards the trans community comes off as much more willful. I’m shocked that an artist who has built herself as an LGBT icon and who constantly proclaims how much she wants to create a safe environment for us can make and continue to make so many completely anti-trans statements and never once acknowledge what she has done.

          I would like to know more about why you feel Kesha has piggybacked on the trans people to validate her image, since that’s not something I’ve gotten from her at all. I don’t really associate Kesha with the LGBT community in general, though that’s not to say that’s not the case.

          She’s also done her share of Native America/First Nation cultural appropriation, which is a pretty rampant problem in our society in general.

          But what I like about Kesha is what I used to adore about Gaga — an artist who gave no fucks about societal norms and who did her own thing, with a message of love, acceptance, and empowerment to people who have previously been treated like shit or had trouble finding a place they fit in. When I think of Gaga now, I think of someone profiting off of the very people she was supposed to be protecting, and it reeks of betrayal.

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          Lea, if you actually search for it, you’ll see Kesha has made at least three separate comments to media at different times about “I’m really a tranny,” “I think like a tranny” “I dress like a tranny.” She’s not a teenager, she’s a woman in her mid-20s who I’m sure has had considerable contact with at least the gay community (which is likely where she picked up the ha-ha tranny schtick). She’s saying this c.r.a.p. to sound outrageous, but she comes off sounding like a jerk. And again, GaGa, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus have made extremely similar comments.

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    Gonna be the odd duck out here and say that I did, for a period of my Babyqueerhood, see “Born this Way” as a sort of personal anthem of queerness. That does NOT change the fact that there are a lot of problems with that song and that many queer people feel it doesn’t represent them at all. As for this Burqa Swag stuff, it does seem really appropriative and inappropriate, although I don’t feel comfortable commenting on it as I’m not a Muslim woman.

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      I don’t see why people keep complaining about Born This Way, especially regarding representing the LGBTQ community. No one expects it to represent the ENTIRE community, that’s absurd. I wish people would can that already. Yes, many queer people will feel that the song/album doesn’t represent them, because there isn’t a single thing in the world that represents *every* *single* LGBTQ person. No, it won’t represent some of us, so what?

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        I could see someone like Deeyah doing this, or similar. Quite a few female Muslim artists incorporate the burqa and the complicated political positions of it in their art already, but they’re not Gaga so all they get is either radio silence, tokenising, or death threats from fundamentalists.

        One of my earliest burlesque acts involved a reverse strip into a Muslim prayer outfit or a burqa. This was in the height of the Ban the Burqa campaigns in Australia (where I was at the time) and elsewhere, as well as me trying to grapple with my interest in burlesque and sexuality clashing with my Muslim background. I also got fed up that in all this commotion about burqas being oppressive no one ever seemed to be asking the *actual women* what they would feel about it. So I did my piece as a way to show a complex view of a Muslim woman: owning her sexual agency and finding pleasure in covering up.

        The piece gets interesting reactions. A lot of people think it’s pretty powerful. Some are offended that I would incorporate Islam into something so obviously sexual (though asides from the nudity that I start out with my piece isn’t very sexual really). A couple have called me out on the use of the burqa in the specific, which is fair – burqas are specific to a part of Central Asia/Middle East, and it’s not something you’d see in Bangladesh or Malaysia (countries of my heritage). At the same time it’s the burqa – and not any other type of hijab – that has become a political symbol: feminism, oppression, colonialism, fundamentalism, agency, faith. If I ended the piece with a Malaysian tudung, or just wrapped my head around with an urna (what passes for hijab in Bangladesh since people are pretty relaxed there) I doubt the underlying message of “Muslim women are not a monolith” would have gone through.

        Deeyah probably picked up on a similar thing when she made her What Will It Be music video, where she walks around the city in a burqa and in the end pulls it off to reveal a bikini (the whole song and video challenges Islamic fundamentalism). She got a lot of death threats because of it. There was also visual artist Sooraya Graham (I think that’s her name) that did a photo for her school of a woman in burqa holding up a bra while doing laundry. Her idea was to show Muslim women as having regular concerns like everyone else – but both Muslims AND non-Muslims gave her so much trouble for that one photo that she had to quit school, move cities, and consider dropping her art and her faith: her two big life anchors.

        And then you have people like Amina who use their sexuality to challenge Islamic fundamentalism – but then their cause gets coopted by the likes of FEMEN to use it as claims that all of Islam is oppressive, and the Muslim women response is “nudity does not liberate me” – which silences people like Amina (or me) for whom nudity and sexuality are radical and liberating but who still feel some connection to Islam somewhere.

        So it is possible that a Muslim woman would do a song like this, or another art piece like this. There is precedent. Whether their work will ever get appreciated for their own rather than being silenced, threatened, coopted, exotified, misunderstood, garbled…now that’s a whole another story.

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          In the US, there is an amazing hip hop dance piece called Don’t Panic, We’re Muslim and all of the dancers dance in niqab. They were featured in a Brother Ali video and performed at Facing Race 2012 (a racial justice conference) and yet most of my friends who are interested in racial justice, talking about creeping Islamaphobia, and hip hop have never heard of them.

          So my suspicion is that, in the US, at least, a Muslim woman would be unlikely to have a huge audience to react, sadly.

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    So what? The world is rotten regardless of where, cultural relativism has no point because all cultures are equally a facade of evopsych drives of domination, destruction and oppression.

    And i’m so not going against my Sensei – the woman who taught me the preemptive feint tactic in handling prying attention of inferiors. More power, long enjoyable life and many notches on her weapon handle is all i can say.

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        it’s a stretch to call what she does making money off oppression. she’s making money solely because she’s privileged in a multitude of ways – which is true of everyone rich. i don’t think she messes things up as much as her class Focus on the Family donating guy average.

        And no i am not rich. It’s just her tactics of handling media rabble is beyond brilliant and has kept my vulnerable spots hidden and me safe and respected through two workplaces.

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    I have to disagree about the Born This Way album and Gaga’s intentions. She is bisexual and therefore NOT unqualified to speak of the LGBT community or unable to represent us in music. This album had a very large impact on me – just because some lgbt people do not identify with feeling like a “freak” doesn’t mean that all of us don’t. I feel empowered by embracing that term. I want to talk to my mom about my girlfriend, but I also want to work through my issues of shame, my anger and frustration of living in a world that doesn’t accept me, and her album allowed me to work through that with a good dance beat. I can only imagine what this album did for teens living in a much more restrictive environment.

    My personal attachment aside, this album also increased LGBT awareness – did you ever hear the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender on the radio before this song??? How about on small town radio?? Gaga’s album was part of the movement towards acceptance & tolerance towards the lgbt community.

    I will not pretend that her use of racial stereotypes is okay and that they are not problematic. Very few pop stars, hip hop artists, etc are aware of these issues, just like the culture I live in. I feel that this album has done much more good than bad.

    That being said, I am completely disappointed with this new song. If her album is supposed to be inspired by the art world, then surely she should make an effort to understand the meaning of the lyrics she chooses, the images, cultural appropriation, etc. If she had done any research about this topic before creating this song then she’d realize the Western stereotype/obsession of the hypersexualized woman wearing a burqa. If she wanted to critique the issue, she did a bad job because what she’s written hasn’t challenged that stereotype, or realizes its complexities, only enforces them by sexualizing the garment.

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      Thanks for saying this. I agree with this article and I am deeply disappointed in Gaga re: the whole goddamn Burqa Swag and her use of racist terms. But I do think she INTENDS to be a force for cultural good and she has had and continues to work as a force for cultural good. She’s an artist who spends an incredible amount of time and money on LGBT rights and community support – I remember when she came through Boston with the Monster Ball she donated an amount of ticket sales to a local LGBT center/teen shelter and promoted it’s name on her jumbotron and asked her fans to text money to them. She’s really done a lot to channel fans into acceptance and activism (ie calling senators about bills, etc), even if she often does it in an immature and self-absorbed way.

      Bottom line for me is that no one should feel they HAVE to support her and her shitty appropriations and accept her as he spokesperson of our community. But she is SEEN by a lot of people outside of the queer community – particularly our parents’ generation! – as a bridge to understanding how to accept queers as “who they are.” I feel like the SONG “Born This Way” was deeply flawed, but the message that she spoke out about during the whole era was deeply empowering for a LOT of people – the idea that the person you express yourself as today is the person who you always were. She’s tied together creative expression with personality and identity in a pretty exciting way!

      I guess I feel that as a queer white artist myself, Lady Gaga will always be my responsibility. She’s already here, she’s already making a big impact in the world – and she is TRYING to make it a good one for not just the queer community but for struggling isolated teens in general and for people who want to make art in a world that doesn’t have much value for it. I want more than anything for her to address her racism and learn and grow from it, as a “pop performance artist” and as a person.

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      I agree. There is a lot to criticize about Lady Gaga: her blatent cultural appropriation, her unapologetic use of offensive racial terms, the meat dress. She is clearly a flawed individual who deserves to be criticized.

      However, I’m tired of hearing her sexual identity called into question. If she says that she is bisexual, then I beleive her. As a bi/pansexual woman myself, I’m very tired of non-monosexual identities constantly called into question. I think that Gaga genuinly tries to be a force for good in the LGBT community, though her efforts are far from perfect.

      That said, I’m not defending any of her racially, culturally, or religiously insensitive actions. Those things are absolutly not OK. But no matter how good or bad of a person she is, her identity deserves respect.

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    It sort of really bothers me that people are reacting so strongly to this but don’t when celebrities run about seriously appropriating First Nation things. Namely, headdresses. Johnny Depp has been praised on this site plenty of times, and no one mentioned a thing when he decided to do redface in the worst possible way.
    For the record, I think this is terrible. I’ve had some serious problems with Gaga for awhile now, mostly for her lack of acknowledgement of her huge amounts of privilege (class, race, etc) and for her almost fetishization of gay boys. She’s a publicity stunt, and it’s horrible. This is definitely the final straw. She’s gross.
    I also reject the notion that this can be compared to, say, T&S supporting the HRC. I think this is so, so much worse, and I think there’s a big difference between supporting something that’s bad and actually doing something truly horrible. Just my opinion.

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      Oh, I’ve talked plenty about my hatred of Johnny Depp has been doing on other websites. I don’t think AS wrote an article about it but for me personally it turned me off to him as a fan. Along with the fact that he’s just been churning out the same shitty performances the last few years. I found The Lone Ranger particularly embarrassing because he went all the way in defending his being cast in the role and then proceeded to ham it up in the most inappropriate and offensive way possible. I was so disgusted with that movie. I’m glad it bombed.

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    Let me just say, that as a South Asian American who lived through Madonna’s appropriation of ALL OF OUR CULTURAL SYMBOLS AND CLOTHING, I wished and wished I didn’t have to fight that fight alone. I wished allies to this community would fucking call out Madonna for the ways in she was exoticizing and appropriating a complex culture that she doesn’t understand. Because you know what? A bunch of South Asian women shouting about it isn’t a loud enough voice. We needed our allies, and our allies, back in the 80s and 90s, weren’t using their voices.

    I don’t think Carmen is speaking for Muslim women. Carmen is calling out Gaga, who is a white American woman, for appropriating a culture she doesn’t understand. That’s holding another person accountable for the ways in which they use their power and fame.

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      Not to mention Madonna’s “appreciation” *cough-cough stealing cough* of ballroom culture in the song “Vogue.” It’s dripping with cultural appropriation of black and latina gay men and trans women. Even though a couple of dancers from the ballroom scene made small amounts of money from helping with making the video, she made the vast cashing in from that huge hit. Gee, big surprise. :(

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    i loved lady gaga for a long long time and it broke my heart to see her take what seemed like a valid and important platform and turn it into shock for the sake of shock value.
    going from a record like ‘the fame’ to ‘the fame monster’ made me optimistic about her vision, and then ‘born this way’ just missed a specific quality; i listened to it a few times but got quickly bored. not only was there nothing new, it was actively boring, and i wished that for all her heavy metal guitar posturing that there was just one song that achieved the balance between rock’n’roll and pop that she seemed to have been reaching for, or that was catchy enough to justify the embarrassing title track. i have to admit that despite that horrorshow of an intro, this new song SOUNDS like something i’d enjoy; i just wish i hadn’t heard the lyrics.
    but regardless of what her art has become…
    i don’t think you need to be a part of the culture she’s talking about to recognize that what she’s done is in extremely poor taste. it is certainly possible to believe in the potential of her art while still being aware enough to recognize when someone you admire has just had a terrible idea. it’s unfortunate that nobody who works with her had the guts to break it to her that this was not one of her better decisions.

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      this is really insightful and interesting commentary from someone who works in The Music Industry. seriously. thanks for the additional perspective stef, it’s always a good reminder when you mention the roles of the people who work around these pop stars. gaga didn’t create this alone, and the fact that a bunch of people nodded along in agreement with her the whole way is kind of horrifying on its own.

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    I’m kind of surprised you’re jumping the gun, so to speak, on this issue, since it’s not really verified. It’s internet rumor. You have no idea if it’s just a demo, what the actual title is, and if it’s going to be on the new album.

    Methinks you ought to have waited on this particular criticism if only because it’s all heresay. To make such a strong statement and write such a strong opinion and to completely vilify someone on an unverified leaked track… well that’s just sloppy, IMO.

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        This is the first I’ve ever heard of it, TBH. What sources, btw? All I saw were sources that linked within the website. And I really just don’t trust random internet gossip, either (not this site, but where the leaked track is posted, etc). I listened to the track and it sounded unfinished and, well, like an unused demo.

        I just think it’s jumping the gun way too soon considering we don’t know that that’s an actual song that’s going to be on the album, nor do we know what the real title is, or if it’s just a random demo that she’s not using at all. It’s all speculation at this point. Now if her album was already out and it was a track on her album, sure. But it’s not. It’s speculation. And i don’t think that the extensive criticism has any real merit, at this point at least.

        It’s a dialogue worth having, but basing it on something that may or may not be the truth is problematic. And especially considering the author’s outrage over it. I just think it’s more prudent to save the outrage for verified things.

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      If this burqa-swag nonsense was the first time Gaga’s handled the issue of racial sensitivity poorly, sure, we’d give her the benefit of the doubt. This is just the latest incarnation in a history of misappropriation and exoticism of the “Other”, as Carmen details.

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      it’s a leak. that means it EXISTS. i don’t care if gaga was going to add more beats or change the tempo. she recorded these lyrics, she recorded this song. i don’t care if it was gonna go public, i don’t care if it’s on the album, i only care that she continues to use cultural appropriation as a starting point in her work. this post is not only about burqa/aura. this post is about an ongoing issue i have with a ‘social justice’ oriented artist who is doing that work wrong and disrespecting and othering people in the process.

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        Yes, it does exist, but my point is that it might just be one of those weird experimental things. I’m a writer, and sometimes I’ll just start writing and sometimes some not so correct (I guess thats the right word) things come out, and I put it away and that’s that. I’ve written experimental poetry, and some of it I won’t show anyone. yes, she wrote it, and recorded it, but I listened to it, and the quality and how it sounds sounds unfinished. I think it was obvious that it wasn’t meant to be heard, and for good reason. now if it does show up on her album, well slap me silly and call me Sally, and I’ll eat my shoe ;-)

        I guess I just haven’t seen as much cultural appropriation from her as I have from, say, Madonna or Cher. I guess I just think that this article is making an argument on weak evidence, that’s all.

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        But did she refer to it as a burqa? Or does it just kind of look like one? I like to wear my scarves wrapped around my head… I’m certainly not emulating or trying to emulate a hijab, I just like how it looks. When I see what she wore, I don’t see a burqa. Now if she said it was, then that’s different. But this is all news to me, hence my initial skepticism.

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          1. It’s pretty obviously a sexualised version of a burqa – though considering that a lot of people, including Muslims, can’t seem to tell the different Islamic headcoverings apart I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some misnaming happening

          2. She’s seemed pretty attached to the burqa (or what she thinks is the burqa) as a symbol for some time, so the link seems pretty clear

          3. Even if it’s not technically a burqa, it’s still problematic because of what it evokes – much like how the faux Native American headdresses popular with hipsters don’t actually have to be 100% authentic warbonnets for them to be deeply troubling.

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          I guess I just don’t see it as blatantly obvious. With faux headdresses, it’s blatant. It’s not about being authentic, it’s more like, you look at something and say “Oh, well that’s obviously a knock-off XYZ.” When I saw the pic of the pink garment, my first thought wasn’t “burqa.” And as far as I know, she didn’t explicitly refer to it as that. that’s why I’m hesitant in this. It all seems so…. heresay. I’m not defending her, I guess I’d just rather see something more concrete than an unreleased track and a gauzy pink garment that may or may not be referring to a sexualized version of a burqa (which sounds absurd, really). I mean, when Madonna went through her whole Indian thing…. that was blatant. when people wear headdresses, that’s blatant. But a headscarf? Not so much, because women of other cultures wear them too.

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            There have been a number of Muslim people, here and elsewhere, that have identified what Gaga’s been wearing as knock-offs of the burqa. I would suggest deferring to their judgement, especially if you’re not Muslim, than assuming that because it doesn’t look like a burqa to you it therefore must not be a burqa.

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    I don’t understand why Lady Gaga is off limits for subject matter for her music. She is, whether you agree or not, an artist (and hey, art definition has been a matter of subjectivity since the days of cavemen and their cave doodles). As an artist who travels the world, she is gaining a massive amount of worldly experience via different cultures and customs. For her to funnel this experience into music is what she does as an artist. To say that she cannot is to say that da Vinci couldn’t paint the Mona Lisa because he has never been a woman and does not understand the plight of women. Artists explore new ideas and topics. It’s what drives art into the future and, as a result, new ideas are discovered. I don’t care if people like her or not. If you don’t like what she’s saying or exploring; ignore her.

    Furthermore, she has come out and said that she is bisexual. Whether you believe her or not (because what female pop star HASN’T claimed bisexuality) it is not for you to decide. The Kinsey scale is not black and white. There are those who can claim bisexuality when there has only been a single occurrence of attraction. For you to say that she can’t write music about the LGBT community comes across as 100% biphobia as if those who are bisexual cannot have a say or cannot have a struggle. Let’s say she isn’t bisexual, why can’t she use her massive popularity to speak about LGBT rights and write anthemic music that go to #1 on the charts? Would you prefer people to use their popularity by ignoring important issues? Is it ok for Macklemore to speak about gay struggle in his One Love song even though he’s straight? The hipocracy of wanting acceptance by straight people yet admonishing straight (or bisexual) people from being massively supportive is odd and does not make sense to me. And why does a white person of privilege get shunned for having an open mind in exploring issues that go beyond their white privilege world? Would you prefer for her to not care about people who are different from her?

    And as a totally unrelated note, my boyfriend is Muslim who comes from a large Muslim family. They have heard the song and are not outraged by it. If that little percentage of Muslim’s of the worldwide Muslim population matters in their opinion.

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      OK, here’s the thing I’m noticing about the perspective of Muslims in this thread:

      “I/someone else is a Muslim, and this is what I/they feel about the song. Therefore my/their perspective is the only one that’s valid and no one else’s count.”

      Can we all honour and respect the complexity here please?!

      There’s already a bunch of Muslims here on this thread with rather differing views of the song. As @Fikri mentioned, some will find this liberating, some will want to throw things. And some, like me, have a more ambivalent complicated perspective.

      Why are people expecting there to be One Official Muslim Response to this song? And why does this response have to be either This Song Doesn’t Bother Me So Stop Complaining or This Song Is The Worst Thing Ever?

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        I feel that the complexity of the issue discussed is what, as an artist, she is aiming to spark through debate. She has done her job so that is why I have issue with those who try to minimalize what she does. I am not a ‘Little Monster’, but I highly admire her work and the thoughtfulness that she inputs but is never given credit for.

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          Has there actually been any productive dialogue involving burqa-wearing Muslim women that has come about thanks to this song, or has it just been “look how shiny I am in this burqa”?

          I’d be more impressed if Gaga starts highlighting all the other artists that have done similar work in this vein and give them attention (Deeyah, Sooraya Graham, etc), particularly in being an advocate for them while they’re being attacked by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but I doubt that’d happen.

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          Then you miss the point. The only comparison I will make between her and Madonna is that they are both provacateurs in order to raise awareness of some sort. With Madonna, people were so stunned by the stunts she would pull that they couldn’t take their focus off of the shock and focus on the message. Now, years later, the shock has worn off and she is remembered for pushing the boundaries and possibly even revolutionizing how women can be in terms of power, sexuality and frankness and also helping to destigmatize and push homosexuality into the mainstream. Perhaps with Gaga, people are still at the stage where all they can do is focus on the shock, but it will take years in order for the bigger picture to be seen.

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      1) da Vinci painting Mona Lisa isn’t at all on the same level because he’s not misappropriating a religious/cultural perspective and turning into a frivilous “fashionpiece” by doing so. You’re comparing apples to kangaroos.

      2) Nobody is invalidating Gaga’s bisexuality or her place WITHIN the LGBTQ* community. As a gay woman, I have zero right to claim to represent the entire community and the myriad of experiences within it. Gaga, on the otherhand, doesn’t seem to understand that. That’s the problem, not her identity or whether we believe it or not. It’s awesome that she’s raised awareness and started charities for LGBTQ* causes but that doesn’t excuse her problematic behaviour towards that community and other communities.

      3) Cool. Why isn’t anyone making the argument that your anecdote about your boyfriend’s large Muslim family being the “minority” since you can’t claim to speak on behalf of every other Muslim person in the world? Those who aren’t offended are not saying “EVERYONE HAS TO BE OFFENDED OR ELSE YOU’RE A BAD MUSLIM”, but their voices are just as valid as your boyfriend’s and his family’s.

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        Your idea that she’s misappropriating religious or cultural experience into something frivolous is your perspective on what she is doing. Again, with art, it’s subjective. You believe that, but there are others who say otherwise, that it has a deeper meaning. In the end, it only validates her claim of being an artist when what she does provokes thought on either side of the aisle and sparks debate.

        And for number two, I have never once heard her refer to herself as “savior of the gays” so I have no idea what you are talking about.

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      How do you know that she hasn’t had dialogue with Muslim women with different perspectives on the Muslim faith (freedom vs oppression) and decided to mash the two together in one song? If you answered “I don’t know to this question, or to any question in the response above, then you are a hipocrate for speaking about somebody when you don’t have all the info when your entire premise in this piece is how Lady Gaga has the nerve to things she doesn’t understand.

      Furthermore about gay rights, the gay struggle is anchored in oppression. Gay people did not invent oppression. Those who are oppressed may it be through gender, race, sexuality or more or any reason combined can all relate with one another. To be oppressed is to be made to feel worthless by a larger force by way of control. Can she not feel oppressed for being a woman and/or for being bisexual? Can she not empathize with other members of the LGBT community and do her part in making a change in which she wants to see made? My problem with the gay community (and I guess that I’m a reluctant member by sexuality) is that they (the word they should indicate my disconnect) want acceptance, yet when those want them to feel accepted, they say “no, not by you. You’re one of ‘them'” and thus, we are separate and do not assimilate because then, identity is lost.

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      nobody is disregarding Gaga’s sexual identity though… the reasons why I don’t like what she does have zero connection to her bisexuality? I just don’t like that she uses sexuality as a career opportunity. I’m also not down with the lyrics of this song, and with the decreasing quality of her music, which is what drew me to her on the first place.

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    I’m glad I’m not the only queer that hates “born this way,” both as a song and an argument! For the record, I enjoy the freedom to be a freak /and/ have a chat to my mom about my girlfriend (in the “queers vs. good gays” set up, I want all the cake and to eat it too). I realize I don’t speak for everyone on that, but there you are. That’s my one.

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    Just a thought – but what if cultural appropriation and commercialisation actually can be a tool of dismounting millenia-old patterns of evopsych behaviours and sacredness/taboo layers around them? What if there is no high road, only lesser evil?

    In a world utterly corrupt the only clean acts are by necessity nihilistic /Takeshi Kovacs/

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        thing is i am not sure about this at all. i am definitely not making a statement that commercialisation is a tool of something positive. I’m merely wondering.
        and i fail to see positive aspects in traditional cultural patterns. Same hierarchy, same oppression, same trickledown shit. One can blame it all on colonialism but is it really just that? Wish it was – but part of it is human nature. Cruel, callous human animal nature. And the only force that opposes that is technology, which more and more interferes with birth lottery and ‘natural inequality’. What i was thinking – maybe commercialisation could be considered a vector of technology.

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    I really want to write a lovely insightful comment, but the truth is I have very little knowledge regarding Lady Gaga because I have never cared for “shock” musicians. I’m still incredibly divided on this issue. While I don’t think she should have worn the Burka I also don’t think she can really be told not to because she has that right.

    My biggest question right now, for the people who are staunchly against this song because they don’t feel she has the right to speak about the experiences of Muslim women (which I don’t think she is trying to do, but I digress) is this: What are your thoughts on authors who write a character of a background different from their own (be it racially, culturally, or religion-wise)? Isn’t it the same thing? I only point it out because you don’t hear writers called out as often as musicians or film makers.

    This is all just my personal opinion though, and I’m sorry for writing so much, but I wanted to add my thoughts.

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      Writers do get called out for similar malarkey – though I suppose if you’re not in various genre fandoms you’d be less likely to see the discussions and fallout. (Look up Racefail for when this hit sci-fi/fantasy.)

      As for your question: I think here a large part of the trouble is that the ‘character’ she’s playing here is stuck in Stereotype Land. It’s one-dimensional – reducing something really complex into frivolousity. It’s not accompanied by any real research or backing or work. It’s a cheap shot.

      About the only redeeming factor here in my view is that at least the burqa-wearer depicted here seems to be having fun or enjoying it positively, which is a rather marked departure from the usual “burqas are oppressive!” crowd. I could imagine that Gaga was probably assuming that she’s doing Muslim women a favor. But that then also reminds me of all the burlesque performers I knew of (I used to be more heavily involved in the scene) who would create these acts based on stereotypes of the exotic and then when called out on it were all ‘but I’m ~celebrating~ the culture!!’. Except no, not really – you’re taking a cartoon version of the culture, using it as a temporary accessory, and draw applause on yourself for how ‘pretty’ you are – while the people whose culture it is still get demonised for being who they are.

      On one had that’s not entirely Gaga’s (or the burlesque performer’s) fault – this sort of fucked-up cultural dynamics have existed since colonisation. However, works like these only serve to reinforce such dynamics. It may seem to be defying the status quo in its positive appraisal of the burqa, but it’s still playing to the status quo of The Other As Exotic.

      (I tried looking up Deeyah’s What Will It Be video and it seems to be offline – probably to ward off even more of the death threats Deeyah faced as a result of that track. I wonder if Lady Gaga will get the same sort of hate-on from fundamentalist Muslim types that led people like Deeyah and Soorayah Graham to change their careers entirely. Will Gaga speak up for those women?)

  40. Thumb up 12

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    All you people who say Lady Gaga has the right to do whatever she wants:

    In a way that’s true. She does have the right to do whatever she wants.
    But freedom of speech (or freedom of artistry) does NOT mean freedom from consequence or freedom from criticism.
    If she wants to enjoy the right to dress up in a sexualised burqa, we get the right to protest and critique and respond too.

    Being an artist doesn’t let you off the hook. If anything, you’re in a far greater position to really consider the implications of your work. Yes, you do have some level of freedom to express yourself however – but so do the critics.

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/03/07/speech-and-kirk-cameron/

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      “But freedom of speech (or freedom of artistry) does NOT mean freedom from consequence or freedom from criticism.”

      i wish i could post this at the top of every single article we ever publish. actually maybe every single thing ever published anywhere in the entire world. really really really excellent point, tiara.

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    I just came here to say Carmen writes things so well it makes arguing with tone deaf people way more easy. Directing everyone to this from now on, Carmen. Thank you for writing this, you’re amazing, thoughtful and spot on.

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    When I saw the title of this article in my Old Reader, I thought it would be written by a Muslim woman and/or a woman from a Muslim family. I was disappointed but not surprised to see that it wasn’t. How and why do the editors let these kinds of articles run? I know Autostraddle tries to be inclusive of different queer women, but thi is unacceptable.

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      Especially because it’s not as though there aren’t plenty of women actually affected by this “burqa swag” shit who have been vocal about Lady Gaga’s appropriation and sexualization of the burqa. I’ve seen posts about this topic going around on Tumblr several times. AS couldn’t have found one of them to write on this instead?

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        According to another comment here by Carmen:

        1. The article was written in collaboration with Muslim members of staff
        2. Carmen was using the burqa swag thing as a jumping off point for tackling other ways Lady Gaga has culturally appropriated
        3. Other Muslim writers on Autostraddle have written connected articles – Fikri on the Burqa Avenger and Miriam on FEMEN vs Muslimah Pride – that are linked here

        Your point is fair, but the creation of this article wasn’t Carmen’s alone, and sometimes there needs to be support from others to say “hey there is something deeply troubling about this”.

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          My main issue with Carmen being listed as the author of this article is that I feel that her anger/frustration are misplaced since she isn’t Muslim. I’m glad that she as a Latin@ cares about Lady Gaga’s burqa BS, but I’d really rather have a Muslim woman as the official author or co-author on an article that uses the burqa issue as a jumping-off point. It kind of feels like she’s speaking over the Muslim women who helped her write the article.

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          I’m one of the people Carmen consulted with on this piece. I cannot speak more broadly about the appropriate boundaries of allyhood — assuming that this is an issue that can be definitively spoken about — but I can comment on what went on within these specific circumstances as I saw it.

          First, Carmen asked for someone more familiar than her with the background/meaning of the burqa to go through that part. There were some initial problematic assumptions & mischaracterisations, but Carmen listened when I pointed them out and they’re no longer in the piece. It’s entirely possibly there’s stuff both of us overlooked or aren’t aware of altogether (for it would be just as problematic to say that because a Muslim woman wrote this piece/was part of the process, it cannot be faulted, even if only to do specifically with the parts about the burqa), and that’s why the comments section will always remain open. Tiara in particular has been amazing at challenging a lot of the dominant discourse about Muslims in spaces like these.

          Second, I’m personally glad that Carmen wrote about this because having to always speak up about issues affecting Muslim women — and feeling alone in doing so — gets tiring. I constantly wish more other people would step up to the plate. More on point, talking about Gaga is tiring (and not an area I am familiar with, for good reason). I know a lot of talk about good allyhood recently involves “sit down, shut up and listen” (which for most part I am onboard with) but like Tiara said, support from others to pick up what we don’t always have the time/energy to is also really, really important.

          Third, I think it’s important to note that while the “burqa issue” (yaaaargh) is the jumping-off point of the piece, the crux of Carmen’s argument really stands without it — this latest song leak is a breaking point, rather than a catalyst, and part of an ongoing trend rather than an isolated incident. Gaga has done a lot of problematic shit for a very long time — not to mention relies on tired appropriative tropes to be seen as “edgy” instead of being y’know, actually creative — and it’s something lots of people are invested in.

          I completely see where you’re coming from! But I’ve been deeply uncomfortable with a lot of the talk in this comment thread about soliciting/listening to/representing the voices of Muslim women because, like everything is always, it’s far more complicated than that.

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    While I agree that Lady Gaga is only writing about her own personal experience, I’m still gonna call her out on it, because the experience she wrote about isn’t authentic. She wore this garment, much like she does with most everything she does, for attention. She went to public places to be photographed, mugged and and posed, then raced to twitter to brag, pst, and hash tag.

    And that’s what’s offensive, is that she continually trivializes other people’s problems for her own personal gain. My biggest problem with the song is her calling herself an enigma, because sinking to any low for attention is the plainly obvious key to decoding any Gaga mystery. Try it. You’ll find yourself a lot less befuddled.

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    “Choosing to publicly express your faith is not unknown to a lot of us; as a lapsed Catholic I know better than to judge Muslim families for putting their daughters in burqas. After all, mine gave me a cross necklace and a youth bible when I was barely 14. Religion is religion. Garb is garb. It’s not always a choice, but it’s also not always our business.”

    Veiling yourself is supposed to be a choice you make. Not your parents. And giving someone a cross and a bible is nothing like forcing a person to wear a full body covering that impedes their freedom of movement. Even forcing someone to wear a cross doesn’t compare because its a much smaller item that interferes much less with day to day life. Children are not possessions. Forcing them to express your religion for you is wrong. And when people’s rights are being infringed (and in the UK atleast you have the right to decide on your own religion once you’re thirteen) then its everyone’s business.

    This is not a criticism of the veil. This is a criticism of forcing people to participate in religion in ways they aren’t comfortable with.

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