Twitter exploded last week when Madonna performed her recent single “Living for Love“ at the Brit Awards and had an epic fall down the stairs. But what would have stopped most other performers in their tracks was a mere blip for the 56-year-old Queen of Pop, who simply got up, composed herself, and carried on performing — dancing and singing her way triumphantly to the end. This isn’t surprising, as Madonna has had to pick herself up many times before, metaphorically. This is a woman who has not only survived the sexist and ageist pop industry, but weathered two divorces, umpteen relationships, mothering four children, and a brutal rape. She is a born survivor.
I was 11 in 1984 when I caught my first glimpse of her on TV singing “Lucky Star,” and my teenage years were spent in awe of her. It wasn’t just that I adored her style (I wore crosses every chance I could get), but it was her attitude that I truly admired — and still do. She seemed to say or do as she pleased. She was no one’s puppet, and began championing girl power long before the Spice Girls appeared on the scene. And just when you assumed she had adopted a persona for good — wham! — she would morph into something completely different. New look, new sound, new opinions.
While I can’t say that I’ve loved everything she’s done (I wasn’t a fan of her Sex coffee table book and musically, she’s gone off the boil for me), I’ve never stopped looking up to her. She taught me more than anyone else to not be ashamed of my sexuality, to strive to work hard, to never apologize for being a woman, and that it’s possible to have it all (career, motherhood, life), just maybe not all at the same time. She is the ultimate feminist who supports other artists. She signed Alanis Morissette back in 1995 and helped her release Jagged Little Pill, the second highest-selling album by a female artist of all time. And recently she refused to be drawn into a feud with Lady Gaga, stating, “We live in a world where people like to pit women against each other, and this is why I love the idea of embracing other females who are doing what I’m doing. It’s important for us to support each other.”
In pitting women against each other, society is also trying to let age dictate a woman’s worthiness, which Madonna is no stranger to. Her single “Living for Love” was recently pulled from Radio 1’s playlist because they felt it was “irrelevant to the remit of the station” which aims to “reflect the lives and interests of 15- to 29-year-olds.” So basically, they’re saying that a 56-year-old woman can’t sing tunes for a younger audience. The critiques continued at the Brit Awards, when Jimmy Carr joked that he broke into Madge’s dressing room only to find it littered with drugs, then laughed, saying “HRT [hormone replacement therapy] ones, of course.” Her tumble also led to a plethora of jokes about hip replacements and comments referring to her as a grandma. Is that not blatant sexism and ageism rolled into one?
In her Rolling Stone interview, she addresses the ageism she faces head on:
“It’s still the one area where you can totally discriminate against somebody and talk shit. Because of their age. Only females, though. Not males. So in that respect we still live in a very sexist society. No one would dare to say a degrading remark about being black or dare to say a degrading remark on Instagram about someone being gay. But my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted?”
I still remember when Madge turned 40, married Guy Ritchie, and had a baby. I was 25 at the time and thought that it was pretty darn cool that she met Mr. Right and was having a child in her fourth decade. Sure, at the time I thought 40 was ancient, but now as a 41-year-old mother myself, I know better. Mentally, I feel like a 17-year-old. I remember her saying she felt like she was just beginning, and as I attempt to change careers again, I feel exactly the same way. Forty ain’t old! And neither is 56. The fact that she can still strut around a stage with incredible muscles and give 20-year-old starlets a run for their money means that age is really just a number. Just when we try to pigeon hole her into a box, she comes back, guns blazing. While the press may try to encourage her to slip away quietly, she’s refusing to give up on her music, gearing up for her thirteenth album release and yet another world tour.
Frankly, it’s inspiring. It tells me that at 56 you can still be sexual, strong, and fabulous. As she says, “Because women, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they’re not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don’t follow the rules. I never did, and I’m not going to start.”
Amen to that.More On