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Speak of the Week: Madonna

Speak of the Week: Madonna

“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.”

This is the raw, blunt way Madonna began her acceptance speech at the Billboard Awards this week, where she was honoured as Woman of the Year.

In what was a searing take down of society when it comes to attitudes toward female artists and women at large, Madonna drew on her experience as a musician to highlight many of the profound double-standards she’s been faced with during her career, and that women continue to face every day.

Retracing her tough beginnings while living in New York, she recalled that she looked to David Bowie for inspiration — a performer who at the time, she noted, “embodied male and female spirit”.

“He made me think there were no rules,” she said, “but I was wrong. There are no rules — if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl.”

The rules she outlined were many, including that “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.”

Despite being one of the most divisive artists of the current era – male or female – Madonna went on to suggest that perhaps the most controversial thing she has ever done is “to stick around”, nodding to the ageist attitude that surrounds both pop stars and women alike as they age.

In closing her speech, Madonna shared her advice to other women:

“What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them….As women, we have to start appreciating our own and each other’s worth….True solidarity amongst women is a power on its own.”

At a time in the current zeitgeist when the curtains are still just beginning to be pulled back on our society’s deeply entrenched misogyny, we salute Madonna for giving her no-holds-barred account of what it’s been like for her to be a woman in music, and for reminding all of us that there’s more to be done in the name of equal treatment and equal rights.