Lady Gaga's "Do What You Want," and other Sexism that Sells

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Mary Rose Somarriba
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Art Credit: Taylor McCutchan

When is it OK for a pop star to publicly endorse rape in their music? The answer, it seems, is when it sounds eerily close to the popular clubbing/hookup lifestyle. But we should be wary of how much these lines are blurring.

It's been going on for a while now. Robin Thicke's catchy "Blurred Lines" is an obvious one, employing rapey lyrics like "you know you want it" directed toward women. Perhaps even more disturbing is when female artists partake in the sexist women-are-objects-for-male-pleasure message.

No one seemed to mind when Katy Perry belted in her hit song "E.T.," "Take me, take me / Wanna be a victim / Ready for abduction"—or, for that matter, when she featured Kanye West singing, "Imma disrobe you / Then Imma probe you / See I've abducted you / So I'll tell you what to do / I tell you what to do."

That was just a weird sci-fi song about aliens, right? Or... it might be a trend of female pop artists who find misogynistic lyrics bringing about both shock value and profit.

Take Lady Gaga, for instance. While not always a fan of her videos, I’ve long thought her lyrics were among the most comical and clever of pop artists today. Just listen to her parody of real-life events in “Telephone”—or notice her hilarious reference to clap-on/clap-off lamps in “Applause.” (Turn the lights off!)

But that was until I heard Gaga’s recent hit now on radio waves, "Do what you want." The song features a nauseatingly repetitive refrain "Do what you want, what you want with my body" and a duet with R. Kelly.

R. Kelly, really? Having sex offender R. Kelly featured in a song that drills the female vocal "do what you want with my body"—followed by the male reply (lest we think they are equal opportunity objectifiers) yes I'll "do what I want / what I want with your body"—is plain rape endorsement. It’s as if Britney Spears teamed up with known domestic abuser Chris Brown for a duet remix of "Hit Me Baby One More Time."

The message is clear: It’s sexy for girls to be treated like objects. Forget what the woman wants for her body; all that matters is what the man wants. What kind of message do you think this sends to victims of date rape? Does the song's catchy beat make it any less disgusting? If anything, I'd say it makes it more so. It injects the message into the soundtrack of clubs and parties where it will likely be acted out.

I get the sense that Gaga would draw the line at singing flippantly racist lyrics, or lyrics that encourage the abuse of gays. How does she square this with her anti-bullying campaign—has she heard of the Steubenville case? I mean, seriously, how did this idea not get canned at its inception?

Is it because women's equality is a done deal? Perhaps because the abuse of women is such a thing of the past that we can make a ditty about it? Gaga's irresponsibly sexist song should be a scandal, so let's not kid ourselves: sexism is OK for Gaga, because it sells. But I, for one, refuse to buy it.