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The decades long discourse about Madonna is getting old


By Sarah Finnan
09th Feb 2023

@madonna

The decades long discourse about Madonna is getting old

The Grammys took place over in LA earlier this week, but while there were many historic moments to speak of – Kim Petras becoming the first transgender woman to win an award, the crowning of a new EGOT title holder (all hail Viola Davis), Beyoncé breaking the record for most Grammy wins ever – the internet has instead focused their attention on Madonna’s face. 

Here we go again. Sigh. 

One of the guest presenters on the night, Madonna took to the stage to introduce Kim Petras and Sam Smith for their Unholy performance. What followed was a slew of online abuse about what she looked like.

In her speech on the night, Madonna said after four decades in music, she’s learned one thing. “If they call you shocking, scandalous, troublesome, problematic, provocative or dangerous, you’re definitely onto something.” Ironic, isn’t it?

Addressing the court of public opinion in a subsequent post on social media, Madonna certainly didn’t mince her words, labelling the attacks ageist and misogynistic. 

“Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong willed, hard-working and adventurous.

“I have never apologised for any of the creative choices I have made nor the way that I look or dress and I’m not going to start. I have been degraded by the media since the beginning of my career but I understand that this is all a test and I am happy to do the trailblazing so that all the women behind me can have an easier time in the years to come. In the words of Beyoncé, ‘You won’t break my soul.’

“I look forward to many more years of subversive behaviour-pushing boundaries, standing up to the patriarchy, and most of all enjoying my life,” she finished before adding, “bow down b*tches.”

If you’re sick of reading think pieces on why we should all just leave women alone, then best believe we’re sick of writing them. We’re actually sick of having these discussions in the first place. This conversation is not new, we’have had it many times before in relation to many different women – Linda Evangelista, Sarah Jessica Parker and the rest of the Sex and the City gang. We’ve even had this very conversation with regards to Madonna too – just a few months ago when her Hung Up on Tokischa music video dropped. It was cruel then and it’s cruel now. 

Getting older is a privilege, but it’s one women are rarely (if ever) allowed to enjoy. We’re castigated for looking our age but ridiculed for doing anything about it. We worship youth but condemn vanity. We expect women to look the same at 50 as they did at 25, but ridicule them for buying into “superficial” beauty treatments. To paraphrase what my colleague Holly so eloquently captured in this piece, we’re quite happy to praise celebrities for “ageing gracefully” without ever considering the punishing rituals women subject themselves to in order to meet such standards. 

As Andie MacDowell pointed out, men almost never face the same challenges. Where women are mocked, men are celebrated. “We don’t do that to men! We love an older man. We love men as they age. I would love the same expectation for women… What I would like for all of us to do is to stop and consider how we think about mature men and how we think about mature women and really start gauging what we say and what we project. We need to! There are changes that need to be made for my generation of women and the next. I just want people to reflect on it is all,” MacDowell responded when asked about her decision to embrace her greys. George Clooney has grey hair too, the difference being that his gruaig earned him the “sexiest man alive” title (two separate times!).

Male celebrities are widely considered to “get better with age”. Fans extol the virtues of an older man. But women, they face much harsher standards when it comes to their appearance. We use the phrase “silver fox” to describe older men, but there’s no such equivalent for women.

Madonna herself once said, “I am certainly not against plastic surgery. However, I am absolutely against having to discuss it.” Can’t we all just live and let live? 

Feature image via @madonna