In an interview with Out magazine this week, pop icon Madonna made some statements that were immediately singled out for public scrutiny. I read the quotes being circulated, and rolled my eyes to the point where I could visualize gazing at my frontal lobe. I read the full interview for context and clarity that might soften the blow of her harsh words, and came away instead with only intensified anger.
“Gay rights are way more advanced than women’s rights. People are a lot more open-minded to the gay community than they are to women, period. It’s moved along for the gay community, for the African-American community, but women are still just trading on their ass. To me, the last great frontier is women.”
Did Madonna just make a statement worthy of the Oppression Olympics Opening Ceremony that flies in the face of the very notion of intersectionality? Really? As though responding to my internal query, the very next quote is, “Women are still the most marginalized group.”
I find myself wondering what justification Madonna, or anyone, has for declaring any marginalized group The MOST Marginalized? It’s horrific enough to imagine that someone wants to “win” that “competition,” but even worse is the fact that she comes across as another white celebrity feminist who doesn’t seem to be aware that there is such a thing in the world as black women, black gay men, gay white people of any gender identity, biracial genderqueer individuals, and on and on.
You might be saying to yourself, “Oh, Pia. Silly goose, of course Madonna knows that black women exist in the world.” To which I reply yes, I’m certain she does, and yet the only explanation I’m left with is that she is not aware -- as Patricia Arquette was not aware when she misstepped a few weeks ago at the Oscars -- just how horrifically these statements erase us from he conversation, the movement, and subsequently from progress.
Patricia Arquette won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a motion Picture for her performance in “Boyhood,” and gave an inspiring and highly feminist acceptance speech that was met with cheers. Unfortunately, in her remarks to the press immediately following the ceremony, she undid all that goodwill by asserting that, “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for [women] now.” I can’t even imagine a mentality that can draw such strict dividing lines between gay, black, and woman.
I’m old enough to remember when “Vogue” was released, and queer enough to have known about the Harlem drag balls where vogueing originated first. Madonna has always given some credit to the communities she’s taken inspiration from, but many would argue that she hasn’t given quite enough credit when measured against how much she’s profited. As a former fan of hers, I’ve tended to cut Madonna copious amounts of slack on her appropriative tendencies, allowing for the legitimate fact of outside inspiration often leading to artistic interpretation/expression. However, as the years have gone on, the ambition that got her to the top has morphed into a thirst for relevance that is not compensated for by music I care to listen to any longer.
Controversy moves differently today than it did when Madonna touched herself onstage at the first ever MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. Everything moves faster, and lesser transgressions can become national news with a few swipes of an iPhone. When her latest album, “Rebel Heart,” was first being teased in the media, she got flack for circulating images of cultural icons including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Princess Diana, and Nelson Mandela with their faces wrapped in the same BDSM-style binding as hers was in the album art. (The images were allegedly fan-generated and sent to her, but she disseminated them on her own Instagram account and subsequently apologized but did not remove them.) She also referred to her white son as “n*gga” last year on Instagram, and walked last year’s Grammy Awards red carpet in a grill, saying “it pisses everybody off when I wear my grill, so that’s why I wear it.”
She walked this year’s Grammy Awards red carpet in a tiny ensemble that got attention for baring much of her fabulously toned behind, so one could applaud her for continuing to push the envelope, and get attention, and for using new media to get up to her old tricks. What I will never applaud, however, is this interview and its brand of divisiveness that confirms that #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, adding more bricks to the wall preventing intersectionality, true allyship, and the kind of solidarity discussed by Mikki Kendall, who started that hashtag.
It feels deplorably cynical to think that Madonna is co-opting feminism now, but here we are. It feels deplorable because of course I want her to use her considerable voice to promote a necessary feminist agenda; I just wish she could find a way to do it without denying the very fact of my existence.
The downplaying of the gay community’s continuing fight alone speaks to the inanity of this idea. To think that Madonna would suggest that gay rights and racial disparity are lower on the Struggle Totem Pole than women’s rights, especially in an interview with a gay magazine, is absurd. Yet, she did just that. She also talks about being judged in sexist ways by the media, and of course I see her point.
Being a woman in pop music has a particular challenge when it comes to production credits in the internet age. As Grammy awards and bank accounts will substantiate, the producer of a track or an album may not be as famous as the person who records it, but the industry cred goes to them. With female pop stars in particular, there’s a notion that some bouncy babe is the one on the mic and touring, but there’s a male “hitmaker” in the studio somewhere creating the actual material.
Even when a woman writes and produces her own material, or collaborates with others, her role in the creation is usually downplayed in favor of focus on her vocals, looks, dancing, body, costumes, etc. And if a woman has the nerve to be exceedingly gorgeous, well-styled, dance well, and sing well, it’s all too easy to believe the “hitmaker” storyline.
Icelandic superstar Björk gave the media a much-needed reminder of this last month when she corrected folks who were erroneously reporting that her latest release was produced by a male artist, instead of the truth, which is that she co-produced every track. Add to the gender-based stereotypes the fact that Madonna’s latest album features co-production from legitimate “hitmaker” “SuperProducers,” including Diplo and Kanye West, and it’s even easier to understand why she would want to assert her agency and ownership.
But Madonna, this just isn’t the way.
If staying in the news and misusing social media and making digital headlines for being halfway right and all the way offensive is what she’s after, then kudos to Madonna. I recognize my role in this circus.
I’ll provide this link and take that hit because while it’s easy for me to ignore her media shenanigans, it’s also still too easy for the media to fully ignore me as a black woman. So I’ll speak up and remind everyone that Madonna’s own children are beautifully diverse in race. One would think that she could find a way to address the very important topics she tried to address with even a hint of inclusiveness.