Guest post by Josh the SpokesGay
I’ve got something to say about ageism and Madonna. I’m looking at you, my feminist friends. For the moment, please put aside how much you totally hate her (or think she can do no wrong) and consider this on its own.
Madonna is right when she complains about sexist ageism in the Rolling Stone article. Full stop. She’s right. And most of you agree with that, even though many of you couldn’t get past the ham-handed way she said it.
“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,” Madonna continues. “But my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted? What’s the difference between that and racism, or any discrimination? They’re judging me by my age. I don’t understand. I’m trying to get my head around it. 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.”
Ham-handed, yes. Lots of people would, in fact, say something degrading about being black or gay. But what I’m pretty confident Madonna is getting at (spare me the charge of trying to massage her words because I’m just a huge fan; boring) is that the kind of people in polite society who would, in fact, never dare to criticize a performer for being black or gay will do so on the basis of that performer being a woman. That is a plain fact. I’ve been noticing this for years and commenting on it for years, often here at Butterflies and Wheels.
Look. Madonna is an egotist. Stipulated. She’s narcissistic. Stipulated. She’s a rich white woman, probably the most famous woman in the world. She ain’t hurting. She’s also a person and a woman in a misogynist culture; she doesn’t just “not suffer” from that just because she’s super rich. People can be lots of different things at the same time, which I know you know even though some of my friends gloss right over that.
Madonna has also made a career out of appropriating styles and cultures that wouldn’t get anything but scorn if they weren’t adopted by a pretty white woman. There’s a whole lot of behavior Madonna should rightly be taken to task for.
Stipulated. OK? Madonna is not the oppressed-est woman to walk the face of the earth.
Like most privileged white people, she’s too blasé about how she characterizes stigma and discrimination. I get it. It’s tone-deaf, and sometimes worse. No, we’re NOT past racial discrimination, or trans discrimination, or any of the plethora of oppressions. I also get it because I’ve said those things: “You wouldn’t dare be so casual about that shit if we were talking about gay people.” It’s hard to do that without sounding like (or giving support to the idea that) you think whatever flak you’re getting pales in comparison to racist/homophobic/transphobic abuse.
I know. It is problematic. I know why it pisses folks off to hear stuff like this. People, especially rich famous people, need to do a whole lot better about being aware of where they’re situated as compared to the “nobodies.”
But I’ve watched a bunch of my friends basically throw a fit over what Madonna said. Reams of digital ink spilled about how dumb she is, how obnoxious, how she must think she’s the most downtrodden woman on earth. Here’s the important part–this is all said while ignoring the obvious. Self-centered as she is, it’s highly unlikely that she thinks, on balance, that she’s worse off than your average workaday gay person, or person of color. And even if she did, it’s remarkable that no one I noticed complaining even approached acknowledging what they know to be true: It IS normalized to talk this way about women in a way it’s becoming socially unacceptable to talk with regard to other minority groups.
Come the fuck on. I know you know this.
The reality is that misogyny, from the most “mild” sexism to the most virulent rape threats, is totally normalized in our public conversation. In a way that other oppressions aren’t. In polite society you’re supposed to at least pay lip service to the idea that it’s out of bounds to criticize someone for being black qua black, gay qua gay, etc. Yeah, that ain’t good enough by a country mile, and it papers over real bigotry. Lip-service liberalism—“I think everyone should be treated equally!”—is a piss poor substitute for real, comprehensive solutions to our problems of bigotry. I know that. I’m not holding it up in order to claim, “therefore people of color have it better.” Please take that on board before you rush to tell me I’m ignoring intersectionality. But there is a qualitative difference with sexism. It’s so normalized that people you really think know better don’t even notice it.
Truth: You don’t even have to pay lip service to the idea that it’s not cool to tell a woman to put her sexuality away at a certain age. Or that she’s embarrassing. Or desperate. Or [insert whatever degrading thing you like because it’s OK cuz everyone knows it’s “inappropriate” to do these things as an older woman]. The word “feminist” is a goddamn dirty word. It is most certainly NOT required to pretend you give a shit about women as people. It just ain’t. You get to do that with impunity.
It’s so normalized that many of you, people I respect and am happy to fight alongside with, couldn’t seem to acknowledge it going on right in front of you. Because rich spoiled Madonna must think she has it so hard, so fuck her, amiright?
By making that the only conversation in reaction to her statement (or to Patricia Arquette’s, who made similarly sloppy remarks recently), you’re enacting it. I’ve seen so many of you all stand up and call foul when the slut-shaming crap gets hurled at younger performers like Beyoncé or Miley Cyrus. Yet it doesn’t seem to bother many even a little tiny bit when it gets thrown at an older woman.
Perhaps it does, and I just never see it. But I’m a bit skeptical, you’ll forgive me, when I see my so many of you never say anything about the vicious, misogynist shit that gets hurled at Madonna simply because she’s 56 and she won’t put her drawers on. But lots of folks are super-ready to dismiss her entirely when she notes it because we all know Madonna’s merely and only a spoiled princess. What’s important, apparently, is making sure you communicate to the world how stupid and vapid you think she is, and that she cannot say anything truthful or noteworthy about the double-standard of sexual performance and age applied to men and women.
I’m tired of it. Not because Madonna needs my help, but because she’s right, and I’m tired of otherwise informed people ignoring it. Or worse, participating in it. Some of you have taken to Twitter to talk about how Madonna is “embarrassing herself” merely because she showed off her ass and she’s 56. I’ve seen you do it. Even those of you who proclaim how sex-positive you are. Some of you who hail Beyoncé as the most empowerful groundbreaking-est best-est EVER feminist.
I see you. Do you see you?
And if it weren’t Madonna, it would be some other older woman, I’m sure. But I’ve been following her career for 30 years and she has been saying this all along. She was talking about double standards for women back in the goddamn 80s. She got called a narcissistic slut then, and she gets called a narcissistic slut now. It’s just as bad, perhaps worse, now that we’re all supposed to pretend we’re “post-feminist”.
I’m not asking you to be a fan, or to think M’s brand of sexual performance is per se “liberating” or “feminist.” These are complicated questions. But I’m damned disappointed in so many people who throw in to trash her when she’s saying something you well know is true, and that you call out freely when it happens to a performer you don’t happen to dislike the way you dislike Madonna.
She’s right. And you’re a hypocrite.