Guest post: And I always think to myself, why is that accepted?

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.


  1. Jane Cobb says

    Thank you. As a 60 year old woman I am sick of being expected to “age gracefully” which actually translates as “Fade into the background.” I’ve even been told in a gym changing room that “old people should use the cubicles because it isn’t very nice to see old bodies.” Well fuck ’em, I’ll hide when I’m dead, meanwhile I’m with Madonna.

  2. says

    Thanks for writing this, Josh.


    I’ve even been told in a gym changing room that “old people should use the cubicles because it isn’t very nice to see old bodies.”

    I… That’s awful.

  3. iknklast says

    Bravo. As a woman of 54, I’m tired of what older women “should” do. I will put on my field pants and go trek around in a prairie all day, thank you. And NO, I DO NOT HAVE TO BE (OR WANT TO BE) A GRANDMOTHER! So quit the pity party for me, because I am a full person in my own right, with or without grandkids! (When’s the last time you saw a man pitied or criticized because he was not yet a grandfather?)

  4. Carol White says

    Thank you, Josh. Good on Madonna for having such a long career, when so many of her contemporaries from the 80’s have faded into obscurity. More women in music and show business need to speak out loudly about the double standard of women not being allowed to age in the spotlight. No one tells Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler to stop shaking their butts and go be respectable old men. Older leading men like Harrison Ford are constantly cast opposite leading ladies young enough to be their daughters, and no one says boo. The paradigm that says women can only behave and look a certain way after a certain age, all those lists that say “things to never do/wear after age [blank]” need to be demolished. I don’t look my age, and I sure as hell don’t act it. Go, Madonna! Keep going till you’re 90!

  5. RossR says

    Yes, but…
    “There’s a whole lot of behavior Madonna should rightly be taken to task for.”
    Rightly!? Who has any right to tell her what to do? That’s kinda the point.

    (PS Sorry, I still can’t figure out blockquotes)

  6. Anne Fenwick says

    It’s true, ageism is one of the bigotries that’s rampant, acceptable and institutionalised to the point where it goes virtually unquestioned – in employment for example. The other one is xenophobia. I’ve got personal reasons why that one always kills me (figuratively speaking).

  7. Onamission5 says

    @RossR #6:

    People have the right to call Madonna (or anyone else) out when she engages in behavior that hurts other people.

    Being an outspoken sexual woman over the age of 40? Ain’t it.

  8. quixote says

    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.

    This. So much this.

    And as for reading into any feminist statement endless “zomg you didn’t say how awful racism is, zomg you said nothing about gays, trans, zomg every-other-category-there-is-or-can-be” I’ve come to realize that’s just our New! Improved! acceptable way to tell women to STFU. Because anyone can do that. Because bigotry against women is normalized. (You did an excellent and patient job of addressing all those ZOMGs preventively, by the way.)

  9. chrislawson says

    It’s true that Madonna is an extremely privileged person complaining about one of the few aspects of her life that is not priviliged, and yet…

    1. She is right that the way she is treated about her age is unfair.
    2. Ageism affects plenty of women who are not very privileged, and so any effort to ameliorate ageism will benefit not just Madonna but millions of other women and even some men.
    3. Ageism with regard to female beauty is not a new complaint — see the story of Medea — and I am pretty sure that the only reason it is being talked about now is *because* it has been raised by a woman of privilege (in this case, privileged access to media).

  10. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I am pretty sure that the only reason it is being talked about now is *because* it has been raised by a woman of privilege (in this case, privileged access to media).

    Even though the point is that she can’t even raise the question without being smacked right back down because of ageism. Thank you for reading for comprehension.

  11. chrislawson says

    I forgot:

    4. Madonna worked hard for her privileges; she sure wasn’t born with most of them.

  12. chrislawson says


    I was *supporting* your claim that she should be listened to. My point was that people dissing her for her privilege are ignoring that fact that most women who make this observation are never heard in the mass media. Yes, she’s been smacked down for it, but that’s still a sign of more privilege than being utterly ignored.

  13. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Older leading men like Harrison Ford are constantly cast opposite leading ladies young enough to be their daughters, and no one says boo.

    Exactly. Another thing Madonna (and many other women) have noted constantly since I was old enough to be cognizant of this stuff in the 80s. It’s de rigeur to cast Grandpa-aged leading men with women barely old enough to be called grown ups and no one says a goddamned thing about this disgustingly obvious male wish fulfillment.

    But that’s “normal.” And Madonna’s just a jealous slut with sour grapes. Don’t. Even.

  14. guest says

    Adding to the ‘thanks Josh’. This seems to be one of those things that just can’t be said–and of course as an older white woman I’m in no position to say it and expect anyone to care.

    re no. 10: I recently circulated an essay about my experience in management to a few people–it’s very personal, talking about my motivations and my mistakes, but I wrote it years ago to explain, basically, how I was naive enough to think I had male privilege and then suddenly realised I didn’t. And I got the usual ‘well what about those people over there, you didn’t mention them and their issues’ response. Thanks for pointing out one thing that response does–it certainly does shut me up, as since I can’t also speak directly from the experience of a black, gay or trans person I guess I can’t legitimately speak at all. And now that you’ve pointed it out, it does seem to be true (though I’d be happy for a reality check on this) that a man who belongs to one of these marginalised groups telling us about his personal experience isn’t as likely to hear ‘well that’s all very well, but I don’t hear you saying anything about white women, they have issues too that you don’t.’

  15. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Chris Lawson—I’m sorry I jumped on you so quickly. I wasn’t reading carefully and I was already worked up. My apologies.

    Thanks to everyone else who said “thanks.” It’s gratifying to know this conversation can actually be had at all. It was nearly impossible to have it in certain other quarters of the Internet as I was suffocated under the weight of “zomg incantation-of-magical-word-intersectionality!!222!!!!@2!!!”

    That’s tiresome.

  16. johnthedrunkard says

    Madonna absolutely has to right to state what should be obvious. She doesn’t have to be perfectly scripted, she isn’t writing an essay for publication, she’s being interviewed in Rolling Stone fer Krissake.

    This IS a good example of how pointless the ‘privilege’ card can be. The ‘Dear Muslima’ trick can be pulled on just about anyone. If celeb X dares to remark that the sky is blue, somebody will pipe in with: ‘only the downtrodden Ys get to say anything about that!’

  17. Julia F. says

    As Coco Chanel once remarked:”No one is young after forty but one can be irresistible at any age.”

  18. says

    Completely clueless as to the events/writing in question, but yes, Josh, totally true. Ageism is a fun pastime for people of all ages, and sexism is just so baked-in to cultures that it has formed a carbonized plastic and un-removable film on the bottom of the pan. No matter whatever else Madonna said, or how she said it, negates the truth of the sexist-ageist observation.

  19. oneclick boedicea says

    Calling women and female children sluts is sexist. And the worst part of misogyny is male hate attacks in the home (DV) or rape, both of which can be fatal. Sexist violence is fatal, just the same as it is for racist or any other type of hate attack. The pro sexism branch of feminism really doesnt seem to understand that women calling other women sluts is no different than men calling us sluts. Its all the same shit, just a different gender of of sexist doing it.

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