“As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and be enlightened by. True solidarity amongst women is a power on its own.”
When Madonna addressed the recent annual Billboard Women In Music event where she was named Woman of the Year, she spoke from her heart about the tough lessons she had to learn on her path to fame.
She highlighted the need for women to fight against the stereotypes that limit them and to reject the unspoken ‘rules’ that force girls to conform.
Here is the edited text of her speech.
“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 misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse.
“When I first moved to New York, I was a teenager, it was 1979, and New York was a very scary place. People were just dying of AIDS everywhere. Manhattan was under the siege of a plague, and it wasn’t safe to be gay. It wasn’t cool to be associated with the gay community.
“In the first year I was held up at gun point, raped on a rooftop with a knife digging into my throat, and I had my apartment broken into and robbed so many times I just stopped locking the door.
“In the years to follow, I lost almost every friend I had to AIDS or drugs or gunshot. As you can imagine, all these unexpected events not only helped me become the daring woman that stands before you, but it also reminded me that I am vulnerable, and in life there is no real safety except self belief. And an understanding that I am not the owner of my talents.
“I was of course inspired by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Aretha Franklin, but my real muse was David Bowie. He embodied male and female spirit and that suited me just fine. He made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules — if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl.
“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 at least. 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 criticised, you will be vilified and you will definitely not be played on the radio.”
“Eventually I was left alone because I married Sean Penn, and not only would he would bust a cap in your ass, but I was off the market,” she said.
“For a while I was not considered a threat. Years later, divorced and single — sorry Sean — I made my Erotica album and my Sex book was released. I remember being the headline of every newspaper and magazine. Everything I read about myself was damning. I was called a whore and a witch.
“One headline compared me to Satan. I said, ‘Wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnets and high heels and lipstick with his butt hanging out?’ Yes, he was. But he was a man.
“This was the first time I truly understood women do not have the same freedom as men.
“I realized that I could not be a victim any longer. That everything happened for a reason. And my job was to learn from every s–t storm I wandered into.”
“I remember wishing I had a female peer I could look to for support. Camille Paglia, the famous feminist writer, said I set women back by objectifying myself sexually. So I thought, ‘oh, if you’re a feminist, you don’t have sexuality, you deny it.’ So I said ‘f…. it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.'”
“People say that I’m so controversial, but I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around.
“Michael is gone, Tupac is gone, Prince is gone, Whitney is gone, Amy Winehouse is gone, David Bowie is gone, but I am still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones and every day I count my blessings.
“What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. They believe they have to back a man to get the job done. And there are some very good men worth backing, but not because they’re men—because they’re worthy.”
“As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by. True solidarity amongst women is a power on its own.”
“It’s not so much about receiving this award as it is having this opportunity to stand before you and say thank you. Not only to the people who have loved and supported me along the way, you have no idea…you have no idea how much your support means. But to the doubters and naysayers and everyone who gave me hell and said I could not, that I would not or I must not — your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. It made me the woman that I am today. So thank you.”