Listen up, kids; surprising people with kisses that they didn’t ask for or necessarily want is not polite. This applies to all people everywhere ever, regardless of their gender or age. For anyone wondering, you’re supposed to ask first and then wait until the person you asked says OK sure thing, and anything else is in fact sexual assault. So, yes, when Madonna surprised Drake with a kiss on stage this week, she was doing a Bad Thing and, yes, if a man had done it, it would have been a Bad Thing too. Also, yes, it’s not the first time that Madonna has done a Bad Thing this year. She was recently quoted calling her adopted son a racist slur. She has failed to understand that people aren’t grumpy about her grill because she’s too old, but because she’s too white. Saying that she wears it because it pisses people off is not, in the cultural appropriation context, a very good reason at all. I would never try to argue that Madonna is faultless or that she retains any semblance of her past self’s effortless coolness.
However, without in any way condoning Madonna’s actions, I do think that the Internet’s reaction to the kiss is a prime example of the ageism which exists in society, particularly in relation to women of a certain age and their ability to feel sexy/act sexily. I don’t know much but I do know that soon we are all going to grow old and get a little bit saggy. I also know that despite this, sex doesn’t stop feeling really nice. When my time comes, I want to know that I am free to have sex with whoever the fuck I want, and wear whatever the fuck I feel like. So if Madonna is part of the change in society which means those things can happen, then thank god for her.
It’s fairly obvious that the older women who are still celebrated as sexy are the women who have somehow managed to remain looking very young. The pressure to have smooth, glowing skin, lovely perky boobs and a tight, fit body merely increases with age and is exalted in women like Jennifer Lopez, Julianne Moore and Sofia Vergara. These are all gorgeous women but also the lucky recipients of some exceptional genes, and who also have enough time and money in their lives to spend hours at the gym. The rest of us are just ticking bombs of ugliness, panicking that there is a quickly approaching limit on the period in our lives when anyone will consider us to be beautiful. It’s scary how early on that panic sets in: my friends and I have barely graduated from university and we already have conversations about how many grey hairs we’re getting. I can’t even imagine how much worse those worries are for women of thirty, forty, fifty. The pressure to look young just gets all the more potent and simultaneously more impossible to achieve. Actually, society seems to prefer women who just “give up” on the whole sexy thing in favour of this other thing called “ageing gracefully.”
The concept of “ageing gracefully” is a weapon used against women who act or dress “too young.” It’s basically a polite way of telling older women that they have no hope of being sexy so maybe they should just accept they’re ugly now and try to make the best out of a bad situation. But instead of saying that they sweeten things up with words like “age appropriate” and “classic.” When Madonna struts around on stage with no pants on, singing songs about sex and kissing younger men, she is purposefully rejecting the instruction to age gracefully and reclaiming her right to dictate whether she can be sexy or not. Weirdly, it’s the exact thing that Younger Madonna was celebrated for; she pushed the boundaries on women’s ability to act and behave in a sexual manner to where they are today, and we have so many good things to thank for it. Now she is fighting for the same thing for women who society thinks are “past their prime,” and no one’s thanking her at all.
The other thing that unrealistically youthful beauty standards for women creates is the idea that an older woman dating a younger man must be doing so in order to “leech his life force.” Memes accusing Madonna of this are rife on social media right now. All that things like this do is perpetuate the idea that relationships where the woman is older are unnatural and gross, and that the woman is merely a predator who is in the relationship for selfish, vain reasons. Because god forbid they both think the other person is cute (a fit young guy could never find a older woman attractive, surely) and really like hanging out together and want to have sex all the time?
Of course, relationships with a much older man and a young, beautiful woman are everywhere and, except in extreme cases, no one blinks an eye. There is a minimum of twelve years age difference between Jay-Z and Bey, Angelina and Brad, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, and Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. These things are merely accepted facts and hardly mentioned by the press, whereas as well-known “cougars” like Sam Taylor-Johnson, Vivienne Westwood and Robin Wright are, through the cougar label, often defined by their relationships instead of their achievements.
Once when asked in an interview about wearing sexy and revealing clothing, Madonna answered, “I may be dressing like the typical bimbo, whatever, but I’m in charge. I’m in charge of my fantasies…Isn’t that what feminism is all about?” We currently live in a world where young women are sexualised at an increasingly early age; in contrast with Madonna, those girls are unwilling participants in other peoples’ fantasies. Women as young as twelve have reported being catcalled while they’re walking to school, and no one has problem with suddenly celebrating the recent miraculous discovery of fifteen year old Lily-Rose Depp’s beauty. Next time you go to laugh at Madonna kissing Drake or complain about her black leather bras and knee-high boots, first ask yourself, do you want to live in a world where there are more creepy pedofiles than badass cougars?
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