Demasculinizing Meat

Raw meat racks hanging from claw-like hooks at the butcher’s are just bits of carcass ready to become food. Food for thought they aren’t. Not until Lady Gaga wrapped the scraps of the pink flesh splotched with congealed blood around her taut feminine body and belted out songs at the MTV Video Music Awards. That outfit did invoke all sorts of reactions, but it has been voted as the most iconic dress and made it to the first position in Time magazine’s list of Ten Top Fashion Statements of 2010.

It does not quite fit in as fashion. But the cadaver analogy works even as the honour is an unintentional wry commentary on how the sanctified popular award-givers that usually sit in judgment over pop culture feed off it.

This is not about red carpet gowns or little dresses. It isn’t even about clothes that are put together with safety pins or made up entirely of net. It is about making the desirable revolting in order to make the revolting desirable.

Lady G had rather cunningly left parts of her buttocks bare, as much as her legs, arms and cleavage. It was meat meeting meat to convey the predatory nature of pop culture. It has been done before, but a woman making such a statement shakes the idea of objectification.

The violent woman

It is mostly the preserve of men to portray the dark meaty side of life. Female darkness is tragic. Dracula digs his teeth into a woman’s neck. Shylock’s is a male transaction revealing avarice and vengeance. Even Majnu from the love legend decides to feed a hungry Laila by cutting off a slice of his thigh. Fairytales too ensure that a Red Riding Hood should not be exposed to the big bad wolf with sharp teeth.

Contemporary performances are stage-managed to shock or elicit other feelings. Catharsis employs the purging of emotions that could well be a garb for the exposure of more primal instincts.

The artifice of pop culture reflects angst without any anchor. Among the many works that use violence in live terms as symbols, there is the recent display by a ‘gun artist’ whose brush is a rifle and paints are bullets. Victor Mitic was inspired when he “watched the news and saw a military group destroying a 2,000-year-old sculpture of Buddha. I wanted to use similar energy. The weapons had been around for a number of years, but no one has used them to paint with yet. I wanted to use it as a tool of creation, rather than of destruction.”

For a copy of Guernica he shot 20,000 bullets; he has made portraits of symbols of peace like Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus. But then, there is also Mao, John Wayne, Marylyn Monroe and Paris Hilton. Is Mao the symbol of destruction being destroyed? And is Paris Hilton being recreated yet again or being made into a voodoo doll?

The woman as hunter

The Lady Gaga perspective is a statement as well. It happened before a show in Los Angeles. She got talking to some members of the US Military who said they had been discharged from the service due to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. Explaining her curious couture choice later, she had said: “It is a devastation to me that I know my fans who are gay … feel like they have governmental oppression on them. That’s actually why I wore the meat tonight.” She conceded there could be other ways of seeing it but “for me this evening, it’s ‘If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re gonna have as much rights as the meat on our bones'”.

Her interviewer was Ellen DeGeneres, who is gay and also an animal rights activist. She thought the butchering was needless and recommended a vegetable bikini and skirt made of corn husks.

This is so reminiscent of the Biblical fig leaf and rather interesting to posit with the outed gay woman harking back to a time when temptation itself was a sin. Lady G’s overt enthusiasm at the suggestion was, of course, much like Berlusconi’s excitement at being in the Vatican.

What the pop star did is to use the hunter analogy, for only predators and butchers come this close to bloodied meat. In contemporary times it has become a male preserve although in the animal kingdom it is often the female who hunts as well as nurtures. Also, the humans of old, irrespective of gender, did wear the skins of animals as protection. One might call it a trend until something different came along.

The woman as sexed-up subject

One might want to transpose Madonna’s sadomasochistic use of bondage wear with Lady Gaga’s more gory garments. There could be wariness regarding how the feminine is perceived. When Madonna wore those conical metal bras as outer wear, she was in a sense doing a Superman impersonation. However, she did not let her Clark Kent persona out and therefore seemed less human. It did signal the appearance of the Iron woman on stage who was not in fighting gear but enjoying the ‘amour’ for itself, instead of as a shield.

Lady G has herself used the metal, but as a device to explore the monstrosity within. It is arms, not armour. When she had blood splashed on her person, it might have seemed like a dirge on skin, but the spurting of fluid was also an ode to female sexuality and fertility.

This is where Lady Gaga has come out trumps. Her ‘flesh impact’, incidentally a term used for Monroe’s obvious sexuality, raises questions about what really is objectified. The dead or the living? Does a person with all senses intact get dehumanised due to the very expedient of such caustic killing?

Female pulchritude has often been embellished with mink coats and fur stoles, the squeaky clean brushed-up look for the season. The only vampire colour is on their lips with a glossy strawberry flavoured finish.

Lady Gaga has defied that and conveyed that women are not bestial virgins.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at



Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections