Image: Madonna onstage at the Billboard Awards. Image source.
Recently named as Woman of the Year at the annual Billboard Women In Music event, Madonna took to the stage with an emotional speech about sexism in the entertainment industry. Described as “exceptional” by talk show host James Corden, the 58-year-old’s impassioned speech touched on the fact that she feels she was treated differently as a single woman than she was during the time she was married to Sean Penn.
“For a while I was not considered a threat,” Madonna said of her marital years. “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.” With that in mind, Mads believes that women have to play a very particular sort of ‘game’ in order to succeed in the entertainment industry.
“You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart,” she said. “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. 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. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticised and vilified and you will definitely not be played on the radio.”
It is in this context that Madonna says she is grateful for the Billboard honour. “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse,” Madonna said. Elaborating by explaining that it was her muse David Bowie who helped reveal just how little freedom women in music have compared to men. “I was of course inspired by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Aretha Franklin, but my real muse was David Bowie,” she explained. “He embodied male and female spirit and that suited me just fine. He made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules — if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl.”
Overall, the speech seemed a little out of character for the artist, but she is clearly fed up with the nature of the status quo. So she ended her speech with a passionate plea for women to appreciate their own worth and that of their peers. “Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by,” she said.
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