The truth is I came of age during the reign of Madonna. The young me actually idolized this woman, surely to the dismay of my own mother who couldn’t accept her overt sexuality as a form of role-modeling. But, to me, I saw a woman… an unabashed woman IN CONTROL. Of herself, of her environment, of her sexuality, of her image, and of her desires. If she exposed herself for ‘attention’, she did so in a way that changed the control women have over their own destinies.
In a line surely used a million times over, music and sport were my refuge growing up. But music was my way of really ‘seeing’ the world. And did she ever show me the world! I had the best tour guide in Madonna, both inside and outside of my small town and of myself.
She was/is a woman far ahead of her time, and far ahead of the rest of us. She spoke of taboo topics and whether you respect or appreciate her modus operandi, it’s probably changed things for you personally, knowing or not. Where would we be as a society without this midwestern girl to rip open what was/is acceptable for us to talk about publicly, whether it’s been (homo)sexuality, AIDS, misogyny, sexism, ageism, or any other endless list of -isms that hold us back from evolving?
So needless to say, I was moved by her recent acceptance speech as Billboard’s Woman of the Year 2016. She discusses life in the music industry for women, including her own early struggles from rape and the loss of friends to AIDS to having to ‘play the game’. It’s best to hear it in her own words/emotions so you can watch the full speech below (skip ahead to the 1:00 minute mark to get to the actual dialogue of the acceptance):
- “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse. When I started there was no internet, so people had to say it to my face.“
- “In the years to follow I lost almost every friend I had to AIDS, or drugs, or gunshot. As you can imagine, all these unexpected events not only helped me become the daring woman that stands before you. But also reminded me that I am vulnerable. And in life there is no real safety except self-belief. “
- “I am not the owner of my talents. I’m not the owner of anything. Everything I have is a gift from god. And even the shitty, fucked-up things that happened to me, that still happen to me, are also gifts… to teach me lessons, and make me stronger.“
- “He (David Bowie) made me think ‘there are no rules’. But I was wrong. There are no rules… if you’re a boy. If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. What is that game? You are allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy, but don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion. Don’t have an opinion that is out of line with the status quo, at least. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dressed like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat, do not share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be. But more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men.“
- “I was called a whore and a witch. One headline compared me to satan. I said ‘Wait a minute… isn’t Prince running around with fish nets and high heels and lip stick with his butt hanging out?’ Yes he was. But he was a man. This was the first time I truly understood that women really did not have the same freedom as men. I remember feeling paralyzed. It took me awhile to pull myself together and get on with my creative life. To get on with my life. I took comfort in the poetry of Maya Angelou and the writings of James Baldwin and in the music of Nina Simone. I remember wishing that I had a female peer that I could look to for support.“
- “Camile Paglia, the famous feminist writer, said that I set women back by objectifying myself sexually. ‘Oh, I thought… so if you’re a feminist you don’t have sexuality, you deny it.’ So I said ‘I’m a different kind of feminist, I’m a BAD feminist.‘“
- “Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. And they believe they have to back a man to get the job done.“
- “As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth. And each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend. To align yourself with. To learn from. To be inspired by. To collaborate with. To support. To be enlightened by.“
- “To the doubters, to the naysayers, to everyone that gave me hell.. and said I could not, that I would not, that I must not…your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. Made me the woman that I am today, so thank you.“
Thank god for the woman you are today, Madonna, and the woman you have been for all of us. But especially ‘thank you’ from the young feminist me.
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