Like Anything But a Virgin

As far as being a singer goes, Madonna is nothing special. She has a mediocre voice and is a terrible actress. Her main talents lie in being a shrewd businesswoman, envelope-pusher and groundbreaker. Kind of like Prince.

In fact, Prince is an excellent figure to compare her to. Both have mediocre vocal talents (Prince is more talented, though) and the most inspiring thing you can say about their songs is that they’re irresistibly catchy, so much so that people who were born ten years after Like a Prayer and 1999 were released know all the words. Both are unapologetically sexual and forthright, not giving a damn who they offend. Both are masters at self-promotion, and introducing controversial, ground-breaking ideas.

So why is Prince remembered for being a ground-breaker and Madonna remembered for being a self-promoting slut? This was brought up in one of my units, that if Madonna was a man, she’d be remembered as a ground-breaker and thought-provoker, in the same way Prince and (child molestation accusations aside) Michael Jackson are. But, you know, only men are allowed to be ground-breaking and thought-provoking; when women do it, they’re out-of-line sluts trying to draw attention away from the fact they have no talent beyond shit-stirring.

Funnily enough, growing up a Catholic, Madonna, along with Sinead O’Connor, were my two idols. I was about twelve years old and wanted to know what was so bad about ripping up a picture of the Pope. He was only a man, after all. (And I have Polish ancestry; you can only imagine the trouble I got into for challenging not only the Pope, but “˜our‘ Pope.) I wonder what would happen to Mel Gibson – a devout Catholic known to be critical of the Church for being too liberal – did the same thing? Would he be banned from respectable circles? I doubt it.

But back to my original topic. Why have Madonna’s achievements as an entertainer and businesswoman been largely overlooked in favour of her sexual accomplishments? (And I do say accomplishments; kudos to any woman who pursues whatever man she wants.) Probably because a woman who pursues whoever she wants in her bed with little thought of a relationship is acting like a man, and we can’t have that. We can’t have women talking about their sexuality freely; it might give other women ideas. And once other women get ideas, they might start demanding the same standards Madonna demands. And if that happens, men may just start having to give into those demands, or not get laid.

OMG, men not getting laid because they’re too inconsiderate for any self-respecting women. No, we can’t have that! Quick, let’s brand Madonna as a slut and show the women of the world if they act like her, they’ll get criticised like her. That should teach them.

Well, I don’t think it has taught them, because Madonna has enjoyed a twenty-year career, most of it at the top of her game. Sure, she’s been in some stinker movies, but those movies starred Tom Hanks and Warren Beatty, among others, so I wouldn’t be so quick to judge if I were the Patriarchy. I remember being in year six and one girl did a presentation on Madonna, even gave it wearing a cone-shaped bra. Eleven years old and emulating a controversial sex symbol! Was there something about her, her ballsiness, her can-do attitude, her catchy pop-songs, that pre-pubescent girls saw – and liked? I guess her equivalent, twelve years later, is Gwen Stefani; personally, I think we got the much better deal. But then, my grandparents got Tallulah Bankhead so maybe it’s all relative.

Funnily enough, I know plenty of women my age and a few years younger who love Gwen, Pink, whoever’s hot right now, but cite Madonna as their idol. Can’t say I blame them. The woman is pushing fifty, pushing envelopes and will no doubt outlive, career-wise, 90% of the Hot Young Things currently on the charts.

I say Madonna has an enduring appeal because she’s so ballsy, so forthright, so envelope-pushing. Sure, part of her agenda is shock value, but I think part of it is to make people question gender, politics, sexuality and religion – those four topics which are well and truly out of bounds for women, or so the Patriarchy tells us. Somehow, I don’t think Madonna cares. She’s selling out concert dates at $350 a ticket, there must be a fair few people out there who like her.

I’ve spoken before about how women are the greatest enemy of feminism, always bringing each other down rather than see someone else succeed. But I think the success of women like Madonna says that, ultimately, the majority of us want to see a woman who speaks her mind, a woman who embraces her sexuality, a woman who challenges us to challenge the status quo.

Madonna’s appeal does not lie in her catchy pop songs; there are plenty of Spice Girls around to cover that. No, Madonna’s appeal lies in her willingness to saunter up to the Patriarchy, say “˜Fuck You’ and kick it in the balls for good measure, all to the soundtrack of millions of women – and men – screaming with delight.


  1. Glaivester says

    I never liked Madonna that much. I far prefer Chrissie Hynde, Pat Benatar, and Deborah Harry. I think that sometimes Madonna seemed to eager to prove that she could and would have (or at least pursue) any man she wanted. The others I mentioned could give off that vibe without having to demonstrate it for us.

  2. scarlett says

    I realise that, buyt I still admire that she did it, and was so vocal about it. I also really admire that she pushed boundaries concerning religion.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, but the point is, none of the women you mention are remembered as ground-breaking, either. Not by mainstream listeners who would know Price as an important figure in musical history.

  4. Ifritah says

    I’m having one of those moments where I start to wonder if my taste is just far too peculiar. I personally find Madonna a, if not top notch, than at least decent of an actress. And I’ve always enjoyed her voice. Now, I’m wondering if I’m just weird… ^_~

    I’m also wondering about me due to the fact that I’ve rarely heard Madonna referred to as a slut. A sex symbol, certainly, but that’s about it.

    In either case, the woman does radiate a message of ‘screw you, this is expression, take it or leave it’. And no matter how crappy her music might have become of late (though that Mr. DJ song is somewhat catchy), I think for quite a lot of people she will be respected for that. (Including my mother, who has had this very conversation with me before.)

  5. scarlett says

    I wonder if she’s a bad actress, or a mediocre actress with terrible taste? I loved her in Evita, and in all fairness, someone of her ‘crap movies’ were headlined by Oscar-winners like Hanks and Beatty. Maybe she’s just one of those actresses who needs more direction then others?
    I think public opinion is fairly evening split between her being a slut and a sex symbol, at least in the circles I grew up in. Which, going back to the double standards thing, is unfair because no-one ever called Beatty a slut.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    I actually like her acting pretty well. Haven’t enjoyed any of the movies I saw her in, but she did well. And damned if she didn’t manage to do a good job of everything in Evita! I think she does have talent, at least a decent dose of it… it’s just not talent that really propelled her success. That’s okay: the same is true of a helluva lot of men, both in and out of entertainment.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, I meant to add: she was certainly referred to as a horribly trashy slut and a bad influence on our children in the 80’s. I think in the wake of people like Titney Spears, it’s hard to raise an eyebrow at “Like a Virgin” anymore. But back then, people found her shocking and a horrible afront to feminism.

    I saw their point, in that she was selling sex rather than talent… but I always maintained, “At least she’s pimping herself. It’s a step in the right direction.”

  8. scarlett says

    That’s what I liked about her. She went out and hustled herself a career. May not have been spectactualrly talented, but she got there, using talents that men have been using for years.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    You know what I dig about her career? I’ve never heard that she slept her way into it. Either she didn’t, or that was one piece of information she was very determined to keep out of the legend. Either way, the perception in the end is that she made it on her own, even if you don’t approve of her methods.

  10. Mecha says

    That’s actually a really good point/thought. She played up the sexual angle, but I can’t think of anyone saying, “She clearly screwed a record exec to get a deal,” and I’ve never even thought it. Personal sexual freedom without societal sexual slavery. I suppose that says a lot for the powerful self-confident sexual image she portrays, that people don’t do that.

    Then again, I can’t think of loud rumors of that of any female pop singer I know of. Maybe I just don’t track rumors enough. ^^;



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