To Make Small

I watched awards season this year with mixed feelings. I’m thrilled that “BlackkKlansman” got the attention and awards it so deserved (though I was bummed it didn’t get Oscar Best Picture), and happy, also, that a movie about a capable, powerful woman in the shadows of her husband’s success (The Wife) got so many eyeballs and kudos.

But watching Lady Gaga’s progression from wildcat/outlier/demolisher of stereotypes/embracer of oddlings to the precise silhouette of the Image of a Leading Woman was disturbing to me.

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I’m a fan of Gaga’s voice. I’m a fan of her message. I don’t love all of her music (like, I *love* Brandi Carlile and every single thing she does. And also Janelle Monae), but I admire what she does and how she does it. She’s clearly an advocate for people who feel rejected, for people whose lives are lived in shadow. She stands tall and beckons the “misfits” to her, and shares with them her courage in the face of exclusion. Bullied as a child and as a college student (come on, young adults; what are you doing?), she identifies as a fellow outcast, and has found her strength in being unique, being her wild, wacky, incredible self.

And then she does this movie. Which is fantastic–I’m sure she’s great in it. I haven’t seen it because I think Bradley Cooper looks like the raccoon he plays in Guardians of the Galaxy

Raccoon.jpg

and I can’t get the image out of my head. I’m sure he’s great in it. Anyway. Gaga gets the movie and writes some songs and gets an Oscar for one of them. Those are all wonderful and I’m glad she’s got that success.

But during awards season, she was doing these weird, obsequious answers to questions about her success. It’s the “There can be 100 people in the room, and 99 don’t believe in you . . . But I had this one [as she points to Cooper] incredible talent with me” thing she said over and over, to the point where she was mocked about it at the Golden Globes. She took the jab gracefully.

I watched her give the same kind of answer about how she came to this place, and I’m thinking “Wait a minute. YOU are Lady Gaga. You really think 99 people in a room of 100 don’t ‘believe’ in you?

“I’m pretty sure about 80 of the people in a room of 100 would BEG you to be in their movie.

“I bet at least 75 people in the room would give their left arm for a little of your reflected glory.

“You have given hope to people who felt alone and unwanted. You have inspired an entire generation of young people to seek and be who they really are. In being unapologetically bizarre, you give people the courage to embrace and express their own weirdness. You wore a meat dress to an awards show less than 10 years ago.

“YOU ARE AN ICON.

“And yet it was Bradley Cooper who had the courage to believe . . . in YOU?”

I get that there was some performance to these interviews. That the character owes her success in part to his belief in her.

The character.

I am sure she admires Cooper, and by all accounts, he is responsible for all the major bits of the movie; some songwriting, directing, and acting. This was his baby, and he is due some credit. And it appears that his part in the creation of this popular movie is getting forgotten. I could see how a costar might have the urge to move the spotlight his direction. He worked hard, it was a success, and he should get credit for that.

But not for HER.

Her behavior makes my skin crawl, because it smacks of the thing women have done for eons; they make themselves small for other people. I see her trying to close those gorgeous, shimmering wings back up, wrap everything into a ball so it takes up less space just so the focus can be put on Cooper.

Lady, you wore a MEAT DRESS and got away with it. You made THIS VIDEO and became a STAR. You are an enormous, terrifying dragon of purpose and creativity whose words and voice and talent give strength and hope to complete strangers. Why are you making yourself small for someone–ANYONE else?

As much as I’m annoyed by this awards-season performance by Gaga, it has spurred me to action of my own. Merely by coincidence of timing, I came to a crossroads at my workplace. I was confronted with the realization that, in continuing to work in a part-time, entry-level position, in which all hope for advancement was smashed to smithereens at the news of an organizational budgetary crisis and resulting full-time hiring freeze, I was also confining myself to a small work situation when I want much more.

I’ve been asking for more for years, have been trying to do what I’ve done in other jobs–show your ability to do more, to learn jobs outside your narrow duties, to demonstrate your capacity to grow into more responsibility–but management has been singularly unreceptive. For four years.

So I tendered my resignation.

In this respect, I owe Lady Gaga an enormous thank you. I didn’t really see what I was doing until I saw her do it.

I have occasionally been a terrifying dragon of purpose, mostly on behalf of my daughter’s educational needs, so I know what possibilities I contain. And while there’s no meat dress in my future, I believe I can contribute more to a team than what I’m currently allowed to do.

I hope Lady Gaga is happy, whatever form she chooses for herself. I’m grateful for the reminder that I can choose my own direction. I’m grateful for my husband’s emotional and financial support. I’m secure in the knowledge that I’ve worked almost continuously since I was 14, and I’m confident I will find another position.

I just need one that will let me spread my wings.

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