This past Friday, Billboard hosted their annual “Women in Music” event. Past women who have been honored as Billboard’s Woman of the Year include Reba McEntire, Ciara, Beyoncé, Fergie, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift (twice), Lady Gaga, and Pink.
This year, however, the woman honored dropped the goddamned mic in her acceptance speech. It should come as no surprise that that night’s honoree is the top grossing solo artist of all time with a combined earning of $1.3 billion dollars since 1990.
That legend is Madonna. She began her speech with a joke — “I always feel better with something hard between my legs,” and then began to speak candidly, passionately, and personally.
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.
Madonna went on to share her experiences of being held up at gunpoint, raped on a rooftop, “with a knife digging into my throat,” and having been burgled countless times that she simply stopped locking her door. All within the first year of moving to New York.
From those personal experiences, she shared a crucial life lesson: “In life there is no real safety except for self-belief.”
She spoke with clarity about the double standards that women not only face in the music industry, but in general; how her favorite muse, David Bowie, empowered her into thinking that there were no rules, only if you’re a male.
If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. 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 you will definitely not be played on the radio.
Now I know Madonna isn’t perhaps the best example of equality. She’s not without her flaws. She has openly praised Margaret Thatcher, “gay rights are way more advanced than women’s rights”, and finally, the reason why “we’re fucked” is because she felt like women betrayed America by voting for Trump. She has absolutely fucked up in the past, as we all have, only she has done it in a very public arena. That is why what she has said has also been incredibly important: throughout all of her gaffes, she has remained empowered without shame, evolved as an entertainer, has inspired countless other artists, innovated an entire industry but above all, she has existed in a world, and sometimes at a time, so desperate to dismiss her.
“People say that I’m so controversial, but i think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around.”