Like her music or hate it, but give props to the Force of Nature that is — and has been for 35 years — Madonna. Few women have done more to redefine, and bring into the light of day, female sexual desire. Before Madonna, how common was it, how mainstream was it, for women to own their identity as sexual beings at all? So she’s made me raise my eyebrows a few times over the years, but I think it’s impossible not to respect the lady.
For three and a half decades, Madonna has challenged traditional views of women and the right of women to be openly sexual. She’s been a gender bender, a champion for gay rights long before it was mainstream, a feminist who didn’t mind fighting with other feminists. Her speech about all of these issues when she received the Billboard Woman of the Year award is worth listening to (see below).
Excerpt from the speech:
Years later, divorced and single — sorry Sean — I made my Erotica album and my Sex book was released. I remember being the headline of every newspaper and magazine. Everything I read about myself was damning. 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 fishnets and high heels and lipstick with his butt hanging out?’ Yes, he was. But he was a man.
I follow the THINX blog, and they also had some interesting commentary to consider on those points:
Last week, Mick Jagger became a father for the 8th time at the age of 73 with his 29 year old wife, but last time we checked, we haven’t see any think pieces questioning why he’s still relevant and what type of example he’s setting for young men. This year, Madonna completed a tour that made 170 million dollars, yet people are still questioning if her Met Gala costume choices are appropriate for someone in their 50’s. (read the article here)
Here’s the Speech
The audio quality isn’t great, so you might need to turn it up. My favorite moment? “F— it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a *bad* feminist.”
Let’s Celebrate this Awesome Woman!
Got some favorite Madonna songs? Here are some of mine, chosen not just for the music but also the music videos. Share your favorite songs in the comments section below.
I’ve always loved this song, and Madonna’s attempt to show her appreciation for gay male culture. She’s gotten criticized for that, but I think she probably did way more good than harm with this song and video.
As she said:
“You see the dancers that I work with and little bits and pieces of their life,” said Madonna during an interview on Good Morning America circa 1991. “I deal with a lot of issues… and what I think to be a big problem in the United States and that is homophobia. There is a real big section in the movie devoted to that. These things exist in life. I’m only presenting life to people. I’m not presenting anything that they are not exposed to in everyday life, but maybe they don’t want to deal with it. If you kept putting something in somebody’s face eventually maybe they can come to terms with it.” (read the whole article here)
Like a Virgin
This song probably seems pretty tame by today’s standards, but at the time, whoooo was it controversial!
Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:
After the song and its video were released, “Like a Virgin” attracted the attention of family organizations who complained that the video and the song, promoted sex without marriage and undermined family values, offering an unsavoury image of Madonna as a whore. Outraged moralists condemned her as a sex kitten and sought to ban the song and the video. Conservatives were angered that Madonna dared to portray religious symbolism and the virginal wedding attire in a sexual context. Clerk noted the song attracted an unprecedented level of attention from social groups compared to any female singer’s song. “The main problem was that most of them listened superficially to the lyric of the song, imagining that it detailed or called on an innocent’s sexual initiation.” (read more on Wikipedia)
In other words, this was one of the songs that put everyone on notice that Madonna was a sexual person and she wasn’t afraid to announce it to the world.
Papa Don’t Preach
I like “Papa Don’t Preach” for the same basic reason. It’s all about a woman who’s taking command of her own sexuality, her own body, her refusal to be defined by the men in her life.
Here’s what Madonna said about it not long after the video came out:
Papa Don’t Preach” is a message song that everyone is going to take the wrong way. Immediately they’re going to say I am advising every young girl to go out and get pregnant. When I first heard the song, I thought it was silly. But then I thought, wait a minute, this song is really about a girl who is making a decision in her life. She has a very close relationship with her father and wants to maintain that closeness. To me it’s a celebration of life. It says, ‘I love you, father, and I love this man and this child that is growing inside me’. Of course, who knows how it will end? But at least it starts off positive. (read more on Wikipedia)
Like a Prayer
I’ve always felt that “Like a Virgin,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “Like a Prayer” sort of belong together. All of them have the same basic message of women taking control over their own sexuality. And the video for “Like a Prayer” is probably one of the most controversial of Madonna’s career. It pissed *everybody* off. Some called it racist; some racists hated it because it featured an interracial relationship. The Vatican hated it because there’s sex in a church (yeah, like priests don’t know ANYTHING about having sex in a church), but the song was definitely a feminist middle finger to the Catholic church, from Madonna’s point of view.
What It Feels Like For a Girl
Whoops, one of Madonna’s videos that got banned from MTV and VH1. Why? Because it’s “too violent.” Hmmm… too violent… So all the rap songs that glorify a specific kind of masculine violence and dominance are okay, along with songs about objectifying and terrorizing women… but if you sing about being controlled by men over the backdrop of a video in which you’re attacking them, that’s NOT okay. Gotcha.
The other reason I like this song is that it’s one of the early examples of Madonna moving in an EDM direction. I admit I’m a little old-school, and I like her 80s/90s stuff better, because that’s when I grew up, but I still appreciated her intentional reinvention of her “sound” through the decades. Good for her for evolving with the times. That’s part of why she’s still around after 35 years.
Gosh, I could keep going and going, but I need to get back to work. Truth is, there are very few songs by Madonna that I don’t love. Maybe a better way of putting it: There are very few songs by Madonna that I downright dislike. So I could include so many other videos on this list.
She’s something else. An artist, a feminist, a businesswoman, a lady with tremendous steel balls. (Or maybe, in the spirit of Madonna, I should say “tremendous steel pussy,” because why is male genitalia always associated with bravery and female genitalia associated with cowardice, anyway?!? When I think of the strength I admire the most, it usually comes in a female package.)
Like her or don’t like her, but she still deserves our respect. Congrats, Madonna. And thanks for everything. I hope you’re around for a long while yet to come.