Not everyone might feel comfortable with Madonna being regarded as a feminist icon. She’s an icon for sure, albeit a controversial one. And really, you could argue therein lies the charisma of Madonna– she doesn’t shy away from controversy. In fact, tracing her career, you could say she enjoys facing them head on. But whether you think she’s a feminist or not, it’s safe to say she won’t really care what you think. She knows what she believes in, and she stands by her truth.“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a b*tch, okay,” goes one of her most famous quotes.
Her impact goes beyond fingerless gloves, fishnet stockings, and oversized bangles. In honor of the original pop royalty turning 60, we list down the ways she’s had an impact on women and the feminist movement.
Here was an Italian catholic girl, unabashedly singing about how much she enjoys sex in several of her songs. The same theme of flaunting sexuality is seen throughout her career, from her costumes to her projects, and statements. One article from New York Times said, “Madonna is the true feminist. She exposes the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode. Madonna has taught young women to be fully female and sexual while still exercising total control over their lives. She shows girls how to be attractive, sensual, energetic, ambitious, aggressive and funny–all at the same time.”
She was one of the first female icons who celebrated androgyny. She even cited David Bowie as her muse, saying “He embodied male and female spirit and that suited me just fine. He made me think there were no rules.” Several of her music also challenged the boundaries of femininity. In the music video of “Human Nature,” she shows the men who’s really in charge while singing “Express yourself / don’t repress yourself”
During her acceptance speech for the Woman of the Year at Billboard’s Women In Music, she dropped several truth bombs. “I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer,” she opened. “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.” She also gave a rundown on the “rules” for women in the industry. “If you’re a girl, you have to play the game,” she said. “You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. 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.”
In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, she recounted a conversation with her ex-husband, who she said questioned “Why do you have to do this again? Why do you have to make another record? Why do you have to go on tour? Why do you have to make a movie?” She rebutted by saying she didn’t have to explain herself. Men like Steven Spielberg and Pablo Picasso, she pointed out, never get asked why they don’t stop doing what they like just because of their age. “I’m so tired of that question. I just don’t understand it. I’ll stop doing everything that I do when I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ll stop when I run out of ideas. I’ll stop when you f**king kill me. How about that?”
Art by Marian Hukom
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