In a time when we’re still seeing women struggle for their rights the world over, this writer thinks we are blessed to have one icon who uses her platform to speak about the revolutionary acts that we can and should be doing to combat this: Madonna. But even saying the performer’s name in 2017 can polarise the audience – including the female audience – and I’m continually baffled by the negativity that now seems to come along with being Madonna. She was always a symbol of rebellion, the underdog; a woman who, through music and her art was intent on changing the status quo for what it meant to be a woman. In her view, anything was possible with the right attitude and determination – she came to New York with nothing more than a few dollars in her pocket determined to her her ambitions fulfilled – and her lyrics acted as a social commentary for how things should be challenged. She was a voice for so many who couldn’t be heard and she knew people would despise her for that; for saying “no way am I taking this because you say I should.” Why would you accept the basic in life when you can and could have the best of everything?
That’s the empowering premise of Madonna.
You, yourself are the woman who can make this happen. Regardless of age, regardless of anything else, you can stand up and demand the best. That was what Madonna always stood for. She still does. Over three decades into a career which has seen her become the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time, she still demands the best of everything life has to offer. And this is the problem as many see it; this is why she is vilified. Is it because she’s a woman approaching 60, still relevant in an ageist industry that favours 20-year-olds still demanding the best? Yes is the short answer. Because there’s always one rule for men and another for women.
There are no rules — if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl
“If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin,” she said at the Billboard Women in Music event last year.
I’ve had the sh**t kicked out of me for my entire career, and a large part of that is because I’m female
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This forms the basis of her latest interview with Harper’s Bazaar US, in which she addresses her ageist, sexist critics head on. “I’ve had the sh**t kicked out of me for my entire career, and a large part of that is because I’m female and also because I refuse to live a conventional life. I’ve created a very unconventional family. I have lovers who are three decades younger than me. This makes people very uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do makes people feel really uncomfortable,” she said.
It’s too easy to dismiss her as a white, rich pop star living in another reality (and many do), but she knows both sides; she knows she lives a life of privilege while being aware of the lashings of hate that come with that, knows that because she’s a woman growing older, limitations are placed on her life. She knows that she can’t be seen as a sexual woman almost 60 because this is widely considered taboo in modern society and she doesn’t care. But instead of being lauded by the masses for this empowering attitude, she’s punished. Even down to the fact that after achieving so much, she still lives to create music and some, like her ex-husband Guy Richie, still, ask why.
I believe in freedom of expression, I don’t believe in censorship. I believe in equal rights for all people. And I believe women should own their sexuality and sexual expression. I don’t believe there’s a certain age where you can’t say and feel and be who you want to be
“My ex-husband, who used to say to me, “But why do you have to do this again? Why do you have to make another record? Why do you have to go on tour? Why do you have to make a movie?” And I’m like, “Why do I have to explain myself?” I feel like that’s a very sexist thing to say. Does somebody ask Steven Spielberg why he’s still making movies? Hasn’t he had enough success? Hasn’t he made enough money? Hasn’t he made a name for himself? Did somebody go to Pablo Picasso and say, “Okay, you’re 80 years old. Haven’t you painted enough paintings?” No. I’m so tired of that question. I just don’t understand it.”
It’s a glorious, too true thing to say; to point out that as women, you’re allowed success, but only to a point – there’s a cutoff. Whereas, keep going if you’re a man and nothing will get said.
And this is why we need more incredible women like Madonna, women who say; I’ve had enough of this mediocre sh**t. I want more, I want the best, and I want it now, until the day I want it no longer.
“I’ll stop when I run out of ideas. I’ll stop when you f**king kill me. How about that?”