Fresh off of hosting the most talked about event at Art Basel Miami last week, Madonna shocked again, but this time it was her words, not her wild stage antics, that put her in the spotlight. On November 9th, at Billboard’s Women In Music event she showcased a side of herself that was more raw than even her most scandalous nude photos. The singer was awarded the Woman of the Year award and her acceptance speech blew everyone away for it’s candid discussion of what it means to be a women in the entertainment world and beyond.
Madonna almost seems impenetrable in the face of criticism – no one walks over the queen of pop! However her her speech painted a different story and shed a much needed light on sexism and survival in the music industry. While accepting the award she told the audience “I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer. 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.”
The singer continued to describe the double standards she encountered in the music industry and offered a prime example in recently deceased legends David Bowie and Prince, the industry’s favorite gender-benders. “My real muse was David Bowie. 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,If you’re a girl, you have to play the game.”
Speaking on the harsh criticism surrounding the debut of her Erotica album and Sex book she said, “I was called a whore and a witch. One headline compared me to Satan. I said, ‘Wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnets and high heels and lipstick with his butt hanging out?’ Yes, he was. But he was a man…This was the first time I truly understood women do not have the same freedom as men…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.”
The singer also spoke of Prince and Bowie as she touched on the theme of survival, saying “I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around,” she explained. “Michael is gone. Tupac is gone. Prince is gone. Whitney is gone. Amy Winehouse is gone. David Bowie is gone. But I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones and every day I count my blessings.”
Her mention of the departed legends wasn’t the only part of her speech that highlighted the importance of endurance in the face of hardship. Speaking of her early career, the singer described her life the first year that she lived in NYC. “It was 1979 and New York was a very scary place. In the first year I was held at gunpoint, raped on a rooftop with a knife digging into my throat and I had my apartment broken into and robbed so many times I stopped locking the door. In the years that followed, I lost almost every friend I had to AIDS or drugs or gunshots.”
Madonna’s speech concluded by highlighting a sentiment that has becoming increasingly urgent in our post-election age. Solidarity is key. The new wave of feminism must be all inclusive and supportive, it must stand in contrast to the way she was treated in the past by females who derided her unbridled sexuality. Speaking of former experiences she admitted, “I remember wishing I had a female peer I could look to for support. Camille Paglia, the famous feminist writer, said I set women back by objectifying myself sexually. So I thought, ‘oh, if you’re a feminist, you don’t have sexuality, you deny it.’ So I said ‘fuck it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.'”
In the face of social retrograde and advancing misogyny, women of all persuasions need to be band together if feminism and human rights are to progress. Take it from the one and only, Queen of Pop:
“What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. They believe they have to back a man to get the job done. And there are some very good men worth backing, but not because they’re men — because they’re worthy. As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. 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… -Madonna
Women In Music airs tonite at 9pm on LifeTime, watch Madonna’s speech below.