Last night, in an interview with Howard Stern, Lady Gaga
discussed her controversial performance of her song "Swine" at SXSW, in which a fellow performer vomited paint onto her while on stage. Gaga explains that the performance was intended to be disturbing: "The song is about rape, the song is about demoralization, the song is about rage and fury and passion—and I had a lot of pain that I wanted to release."
"Where you raped by a record producer?" Howard Stern asks bluntly.
Lady Gaga stumbles, attempting to deflect the question, and redirect the conversation "I don't...I-I-I don't wanna...I don't want..." Stern interrupts, pushing her; "Was that what happened to you? I feel that happened to you." "Happy times, Howard." Says Gaga, again clearly implying that she would prefer to not to answer Stern's question, and instead move on to another subject. When Stern doesn't let up, Gaga tries humor to diffuse the situation.
But Stern persists.
"I feel like you were raped by someone. I think that's what you're saying." He is aggressive, arrogant and entitled. Acting as if not only he, but all also each listener, has a right to this most private, painful detail of her life. Eventually, she speaks, in terms intentionally vague, on the subject.
MTV ran this story with the headline "Lady Gaga Opens Up About Rape" while Rolling Stone titled their article on the topic "Lady Gaga Reveals Sexual Assault to Howard Stern". The framing of this story is incorrect. It does not accurately color the events that transpired in the beginning of that interview; in which Lady Gaga is jostled and pressured into speaking about her own experience with sexual violence, a topic which she is not initially willing to discuss. Both this interview and the media coverage of it, point to the flawed way that we as a society deal with cases and victims of rape or sexual violence. Popular culture too often boils down and consumes these personal tragedies; taking the most intimate and inexplicable individual injuries, condensing them into sound-bites or headlines, putting them on the covers of gossip magazines until people lose interest, and eventually discarding them. For the women, these moments do not fade: they become integrated into the fabric of their lives. They are forever part and parcel of their being. If nothing else, is the decision of if, where, and when to share her story not at least hers to make? Lady Gaga told Stern: "I didn't tell anybody. I didn't even tell myself for the longest time."
Lady Gaga's evident reticence did not deter Stern from prying."Did you ever go and confront the guy that did that to you? They say that's healing. I don't know if it is or not," He says, trivializing and oversimplifying an experience which for Stern is totally inaccessible. He cannot empathize, and he does not attempt to. Stern muses that perhaps the reason that so many women fail to speak out at the time of their attack (including those implicated in the now very public Bill Cosby rape scandal) is an inability to process, understand, or accept the nature of these encounters. There is certainly truth in this, but there is also something to be said for respecting silence. Respecting that some women may decide not to speak publicly about these attacks. Respecting her choice to say, in whatever way she can, a word which is often so difficult to say. No.
Consent. Consent is an important word for rape educators and activists. Actually, consent is an important word for everybody. It is a simple concept which is often complicated and clouded by circumstance. What it means in rape cases, is explicit agreement. Agreement not under threat of force, or coercion, or influence of alcohol, or pressure (verbal or nonverbal). Gaga has made it clear that she will not consent to this violent instance overshadowing her career or her talent "I don't want to be defined by it." She said during the interview, "I'm going to take responsibility for all my pain looking beautiful, and all of the things that I've made out of my strife. I did that."