gaga feminism

soda-can-hair*Content Warning- Pedophilia*

I’ve recently had the misfortune of reading a particularly bad post-modernist book entitled Gaga Feminism. The author is Judith Jack Halberstam who can be reached on twitter at @Jhalberstam.

Halberstam comes from a queer theory background and uses this framework throughout the book. Within the first few pages Susan Faludi, author of the insightful book Backlash, is bashed for not incorporating the latest female-erasing queer theory analyses into her projects.

Within the first fifteen pages, however, we see an incredibly worrying passage. Halberstam recommends civil libertarian Judith Levine’s (twitter here) “brave and controversial” book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex.  From wikipedia:

[Levine] suggests liberalization of age-of-consent laws in the United States and the conception of minors as sexual beings, which Levine argues is extant in Western Europe. Levine argues for weakening most United States laws governing possession of child pornography, the access of abortions to minors, and conduct classified as statutory rape. Conservative commentators have heavily criticized her work.

This content is pretty concerning to me as a feminist who is opposed to the sexual exploitation of children. Halberstam states:

Levine, by asking impertinent questions about children and sex—like, Why label a child a victim if she doesn’t feel victimized? or, Why presume that all sexual conduct between adults and children is unwanted by the child or that all sexual activity among kids under the age of ten is pernicious?—has pushed back on one version of feminism that sees women and girls perpetually as the victims of unchecked male sexual aggression, and has pushed forward with another that understands children as sexual, parents as erotic figures, and sexuality itself as the pursuit of pleasure. By casting “harm” in terms of the judgments adults pass about child sexuality rather than in terms of exposure to inappropriate material, Levine went gaga and began a much-needed public conversation about the folly of imposing sexual regulation on children and the wisdom of making more-neutral assessments about what children want. Indeed, Levine proposed, when we really don’t know or understand what children want or how they may feel about something, we could always do something wacky and crazy … like asking them to let us know what feels good and what feels intrusive or wrong. p 15

Let’s unpack a few of the statements included in this quote.

Halberstam uses an interesting device in this in-need-of-editing passage– the “rhetorical question”. This way, Halberstam gets away with saying offensive and dangerous things by phrasing them as queries rather than statements. For example:

Why presume that all sexual conduct between adults and children is unwanted by the child

The phrase begins with the assumption that most people make generalizations about the participants in a particular sexual practice, and stands as a corrective to those generalizations. It frames the generalizers as out-of-touch prudes who just don’t understand what children want; meanies who won’t let children play with their favorite toys.

In fact, however, the rhetorical question is doing the opposite of what it purports to do. While it means to stand up for the rights of children to enjoy all facets of their lives, it’s actually making an excuse for pedophilia by claiming that some children actually enjoy sexual contact from adults.

Adults are responsible for setting appropriate boundaries with children, and children’s feelings towards inappropriate behavior are entirely irrelevant to whether the behavior should be engaged in. Halberstam’s re-framing of sexual violation as a potentially enjoyable pastime for children is a repellent reversal.

I asked Halberstam about this quote, and the response was to change the subject to child-on-child sexual behavior:


Halberstam first prevaricates on the term “child” the way that many child sexual abuse advocates do when they suggest that perhaps pedophilia may not be okay, but hebephilia or ephebophilia are. This changing of the goal posts is not appropriate when in any case we are talking about exploitative, dominating, and abusive behavior from adults towards minors.

Then Halberstam changes the subject in order to avoid my pointed question. The response presumes that I was asking about child on child sexual contact, which I was not. Dodging the question is a frequent tactic of those who wish to avoid revealing the truth.

Over the course of this afternoon, Halberstam has refused to answer my pointed questions regarding the viewpoints quoted in Gaga Feminism.

Moving along, let’s dissect another portion of this text:

[Judith Levine] has pushed forward with another [version of feminism] that understands children as sexual, parents as erotic figures, and sexuality itself as the pursuit of pleasure.

It’s concerning to me that Halberstam “understands children as sexual” and also “understands parents as erotic figures”. Halberstam seems to be clearly advocating for incestual relationships between parents and their children, which is obviously damaging, abusive, and exploitative. Halberstam is silent on this topic when asked directly:


This leads us to the third portion of the quote that I’d like to unpack:

when we really don’t know or understand what children want or how they may feel about something, we could always do something wacky and crazy … like asking them to let us know what feels good and what feels intrusive or wrong.

This is an exceptionally disturbing, grooming quote. Frequently child sexual abusers will groom children into “enjoying” the abuse that they are receiving. This is very confusing for children who grow up not knowing what to do with the conflicting feelings they have. Many adults deal with severe trauma caused by being exploited and used in this way in youth, so to see this ostensibly feminist author attempt to justify such treatment based on whether the child involved enjoyed the treatment is truly beyond the pale.

Halberstam believes that by asking these questions, I have “turned back the clock on discussions about child sexuality about 50 years”:

j jack halberstam 3At this point, there was little to be said on the topic between the two of us. Halberstam engages in the justification of child sexual abuse, and calls those who object to the practice out-of-touch. I admit that my conversations on this matter left me feeling thoroughly disgusted.

There’s more to say about Gaga Feminism as an at best ineffective and at worst dangerous piece of so-called feminist literature. For example, the book states that we don’t need to have an end goal in mind with our activism, so long as we focus on the process:

A gaga feminism does not need to know and name the political outcome of its efforts. More important is to identify the form that transformative struggle should take. p 137

This is obviously no help at all to those struggling with poverty, sexual exploitation, or even workplace discrimination. To fight for abortion rights, for example, we must have a plan and execute it. The “transformative struggle”, so to speak, is worth bollocks if it doesn’t secure our rights for us . This book has a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of feminism, which is to liberate women from oppression.

Halberstam’s fatalism comes out in the following passage which takes as a given that feminists will lose:

Gaga feminism is the ideology that motivates the queen in the chess match—as the queen, you can make big moves, bold moves, aggressive moves. You can do damage, take others out, move at will. You will also have everyone gunning for you, coming for you, following you. You will go down. But, in the words of Lady Gaga: “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen. p 147

At this point, the book seems to be seeking teenage-level approval valorizing our pop music choices and framing our individual lives as feminist battlefields while ignoring structural inequalities, the importance of activist movements, and real solutions for women.

Gaga Feminism is a book that justifies child sexual abuse and has no conception of power relations or the purpose of political movements. It is being taught in several colleges, which is incredibly worrying. This book is anti-feminist propaganda.


The author, Judith Jack Halberstam

About smash
Women's liberationist.

12 Responses to gaga feminism

  1. ellahawthorne100 says:

    Wow, I’m really surprised that this exists. WTF.

  2. Redpeachmoon says:

    Surely sounds awful. And crazy.

  3. Hecuba says:

    Halperstam is repeating mens’ excuses/justifications concerning male pseudo sex right to sexually prey on female children and to a much lesser extent; male children with impunity. Who are these adults Halperstam is referencing in her vile endorsement of male sex predatory rights to female children: ‘why presume that all sexual conduct between adults and children is unwanted by the child?’

    No guesses Halperstam means adult men and the child is not an entity but a female child because this is what men for centuries have claimed is their male pseudo sex right – namely males have sacrosanct right to sexually prey on female children and adult women.

    Halperstam is uttering malespeak libertarian language and her lies are being accepted as truths.

    Halperstam also engages in male supremacist reversal because she claimed this: ‘“turned back the clock on discussions about child sexuality about 50 years.” In reality Halperstam has turned the clock back 50 years on female and male children’s right not to be sexually preyed on by males. Until First Wave Radical Feminists spoke out and demanded legislation criminalising male sexual predators who sexually preyed on female children with impunity; mens’ male supremacist legal system endorsed and justified male pseudo sex right to sexually prey on women, girls and boys. But Halperstam refuses to acknowledge this fact because she is a female handmaiden who believes males have the sacrosanct right to sexually prey on women; girls and boys!

    Halperstam is not a feminist – she is an anti-woman pawn of men’s male supremacist system and this is why she is being lauded by that hallowed white male supremacist system – called Academia!

    By the way it is not ‘parents’ who sexually prey on their children but biological fathers; uncles; brothers; male cousins. Freud discovered this fact and he swiftly retracted his findings because his great and good white bros. (sic) didn’t want to know the truth and Freud knew his burgeoning career would end because the great and good white men (sic) had the power to destroy his career. The great and good white men (sic) didn’t want their dirty secret made public and Freud capitulated by creating a misogynistic myth that female children lie about being sexually preyed on by their biological fathers; uncles; brothers.

    • morag99 says:

      “In reality Halperstam has turned the clock back 50 years on female and male children’s right not to be sexually preyed on by males.”

      Yes, of course, it’s a flagrant reversal. Judith Jack Halberstam is a reprehensible promoter of pedophilia and child sexual abuse.

      Queer theory and activism, including the transgender contingent, peddle audacious lies, violate language in order to create intellectual and emotional chaos, and work hard to obscure who has the power and who is oppressed by that power.

      Just as they work to destroy the category “woman” they also work to destroy the category “child.” Then, it’s open season. Not just for fetishistic and rapist males, but for a few twisted females, too, who are propped up as speakers (and authors of stupid books), and who also, it seems, want a piece of the action — i.e., a little slice of male power and prerogatives.

      • Just no says:

        This disgusting crap used to come up a lot on an ex-christian site I used to visit. I was very happy to escape oppressive christianity and find like-minded people, but I quickly found that the favorite topic among atheist men on the site was how “natural” it is for adult men to lust after 11-13 year old girls.

        They complained that consent and stat rape laws are just tools of prudes who don’t want to admit that pre-teen girls “enjoy” wearing revealing outfits to attract men and that nothing is more naturally attractive to men than an underaged girl that they can “teach about sex” (ie: molest). This is one of the most damaging narratives that men espouse and I’m quite saddened to see this abusive tripe being supported by academia.

  4. Emilie says:

    Thank you for continuing to raise your voice and engage in topics like these with you article. A very interesting read Smash!

    • morag99 says:

      Also: excellent critique, Hecuba! I like how you’ve brought Freud into it, and how you’ve made the connection between the male psychoanalysts who worked very hard to suppress the truth about male sexual violence against children, and women like Halberstam who are continuing the cover-up with new tactics.

      There was a time when men took cover and tried to keep their sex crimes against children and women private, or part of an exclusive and private men’s club. Now they are, more and more, taking cover out in the open (seeking to enlarge and legitimate their hunting territories) by defining themselves as minorities who are misundertood and victimized by, not only the “conservative” (as opposed the “liberal”?) white men in power, but by radical feminists of all races and classes. Of course, we lack the power to stop them in their tracks, but they are correct to identify us as their enemies.

      So, their other trick (in keeping with their agenda to violate language, concepts, meaning and, of course, flesh-and-blood bodies) is to enlist “feminist” and “queer” women to be their spokesmen. They want and need “feminism” to be associated with their movement for complete sexual freedom — sexual freedom without limits, without compunction.

      Which means, as we well know, the appropriation of sexed bodies, and the primacy, sanctity and LEGALITY of subjective identities over enforced identities (over biological and objective reality). All of which is the road they are paving with a thousand mind-fucks. All of which is a road leading to the shaking off — to the deconstruction — of shame surrounding paraphilia, incest, molestation, so-called domestic violence, and the rape of children, women and even of certain men.

  5. morag99 says:

    Smash, thank you, thank you for bringing this book, and its destructive and dangerous ideas, to our attention.

    Of course, Judith isn’t doing anything new; she’s just contributing to/continuing the decades-long work of male post-modernists who have tried very hard to destroy language and meaning — and have, to a great extent, succeeded. They have managed to both obscure and secure their sexual dominance, to kill off all but a small minority of feminists (the unmodified kind — women’s liberationists) and have outright stolen the name of the women’s movement.

    “Gaga Feminism” — what a fucking joke. Lady Gaga herself (Ms.Germanotta) probably doesn’t yet have the slightest clue what’s going on, or how her stage name is being used in service of ‘ideas” that are not at all compatible with LGBT rights or human rights in general. LGB, with the addition of the “T,” has slowly morphed away from the legitimacy of same-sex partnership, eroticism and love, and into a men’s rights movement keen to do damage to others (namely, women and children), with very little resistance from the larger society.

  6. This is so, so gross. Holy wow. Thank you for writing something critical of the book. I would hope she would debate someone like a psychologist about this so they can trounce her publicly.

    I’m sure kids would enjoy drinking or driving a car if given the chance but its not an excuse to shove a bottle in their hands or give them the keys to a car, now is it?

  7. KgSch says:

    Ew, creepy! The book sounds like a bunch of useless post-modern nonsense, but that justification of childhood sexual abuse is just beyond awful.

    Before people, primary women, started to speak out against it, incest and other forms of child sexual abuse was mainly considered not to exist and to be something the child “made up”. Now, according to “gaga feminism” (is Lady Gaga aware that the book with her name justifies pedophilia?) childhood sexual abuse does exist, but the child probably wanted it. You see, there’s this thing called child grooming. Everyone (nearly all female) who was a victim of rape as a child has suffered serious trauma and many of them have issues with any kind of relationship. (Of course, these “feminists” would suggest pimping themselves out to BDSM kinksters to “heal”.)

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