Just last week, Madonna didn’t hold back in an amazing installment of “Carpool Karaoke”, but at the Billboard Women in Music Awards on Friday, the iconic singer got real in whole other way in her acceptance speech for the honor of Woman of the Year.
In a decidedly blunt speech, Madonna spoke up about her views on feminism and the many instances of sexism that she’s encountered as a woman working in the music industry. She got right to the point in the opening sentence of her acceptance: “I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer,” Madonna said. “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.”
Madonna spoke about the struggles she faced early on in her career, even mentioning that in 1979, when she moved to New York City, she was held up at gunpoint, robbed, and raped with a knife to her throat. She said this difficult time taught her that belief in herself was the only real safety in life. Also, around this time her life, Madonna said that David Bowie became a major source of inspiration for her as he broke with gender norms as an artist.
Eventually, however, Madonna found that women in music were not allowed the same freedom as men to break with traditional archetypes.
“If you’re a girl, you have to play the game,” she said before outlining its rules. “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. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio.”
The singer also recalled a time that she was criticized as someone who hindered the progress of women through her ultra sexy image. One feminist writer, Camille Paglia, wrote that by objectifying herself sexually, she set back all women, to which Madonna says she thought, “Oh, if you’re a feminist, you don’t have sexuality, you deny it. So I said, ‘F*ck it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.'”
Ultimately, however, Madonna said that women supporting each other will be the key a continued fight against sexism.
“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,” she said. “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.”
If her inspirational words weren’t enough, Madge also wore an outfit that perfectly mirrored the points about feminism made her in speech. She showed off a custom suit by Gucci’s Alessandro Michele that featured a ton of stunning embroidery, plus most significantly, a panel across her back with the word “Euterpe” emblazoned in red.
In Greek mythology, Euterpe is the name of the muse of music. As the Woman of the Year at a major music event—and as W points out, one totally in control of her own image (literally wearing a custom-made outfit)—Madonna proves she’s owning her own myth.
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