My introduction to Madonna was hearing Jennifer W signing Like A Virgin in P.E. class in 7th grade. Dawn S giggled at her and said, “Aw! You don’t even know what a virgin is!” I knew what a virgin was because I had read Forever, by Judy Blume. I was scandalized! And intrigued.
I was back to be scandalized pretty quickly after realizing Madonna was wearing her underwear on top of her clothes. I liked Cyndi Lauper better anyway, and everyone knew you had to pick one, or the other. It was like Wham! and Duran Duran. You had to choose. Since I was a decade away from the escandalo news that She Bop was about masturbation, and because I loved Time After Time, Lauper was my girl.
It also had to do with the fact that Lauper always looked like she was having fun in her videos. Madonna always looked like work, to me.
I fell headfirst into girl crushes on artists like Debbie Harry, Terri Nunn, the women of TLC, and En Vogue, Annie Lennox, Natalie Merchant, and Jane Wiedlin, and now and then, I would flirt with the idea of Madonna. But still, it looked exhausting to be Madonna.
Today, I finally got around to watching her new video, B*tch, I’m Madonna. It was embedded in an article pointing out her age, and her age-inappropriateness. The article suggested that she dresses too youthfully, she isn’t dignified, and she’s trying too hard to prove she’s still attractive. Listen, the last time Madonna ever looked dignified was when Kurt Loder was interviewing her for the MTV Awards, and she had to hiss at Courtney Love–and that was just Madonna looking dignified in comparison.
Why do people expect dignity from an artist in the first place? Art isn’t dignified. Why would you expect dignity out of Madonna ever? Remember, she made the Bra as Outwear mainstream fashion. This is not a woman who will ever teach Cotillion.
Also, have you seen her body? At 56, she’s got more going on than half of the world, half her age. Why shouldn’t she dress provocatively? Why is that gross? Is it because she might be signaling a desire to have sexual relations? I mean, we’re always hearing that women who dress like that are “asking for it.” Is it gross because a 56 year old woman might be still be in the market for the same things she enjoyed 20 years prior?
Madonna’s got nothing to prove when it comes to being attractive. The woman is hot. The fact that I almost wrote, “The woman is still hot,” gives a lot away. We have an expectation that after a certain age, attractive women will transition from Hot to Still Hot, which is a more appropriate description. Like bananas go from unripe, to ripe, to still ripe, to still edible, to what-the-hell-is-that-omg-it-was-a-banana!
Madonna defies your “still ripe” label. She will be “ripe” until she tells you otherwise. You don’t get to put your labels on Madonna because she’s such an expert at packaging and marketing herself. Madonna will tell you when she’s ready for you to see her as something other than the Material Girl, and you will like it.
We don’t look to Madonna for propriety. We look to Madonna to show us the way, and to tell us how it is going to be. And that’s why it always looks like work. Madonna is a teacher. Madonna isn’t the playground lady like Cyndi Lauper, or the classroom aide like Terri Nunn, or the fun art/music teacher like Debbie Harry, or the brilliant librarian like Annie Lennox. Madonna is the in-your-face classroom instructor, clearing away the jungles of gender-role-based ignorance with her razor edged, cone shaped bras.
Madonna shows you the future. She shows you the possibility. She shows you what it looks like and inures you to it so that when Britney, and Beyonce, and Katy Perry, and Miley come marching out from behind her, you already know why it works. And she doesn’t apologize for it.
She is everything your patriarchy tells you is wrong with women. She is brash. She is bold. She is in control of, and exercising control over her sexuality. She sees herself as equal to women of all ages, and does not see herself as less desirable because of her age. She is a strong, savvy business owner. She is dedicated to fitness. She is independently wealthy and does not need marriage (because needing and wanting are different things.) And she is good at her life.
She still looks like a lot of work to me, but she’s work worth doing because she has never pretended to be anything she isn’t.
B*tch, she’s Madonna.