After Madonna’s scary and dangerous fall at the recent Brit awards, Piers Morgan wrote an uncomplimentary article entitled “Falling off the stage, Madonna, is God’s way of telling you you’re too old to cavort like a hooker” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arnticle-
2970792/PIERS-MORGAN-Falling-stage-Madonna-God-s-way-telling-old-cavort-like-hooker.html). He then goes on to describe his subject as someone who has become a pantomime freak, both on and off the stage. I was surprised that someone of Piers Morgan’s fame and status would publicly kick a woman when she was, literally, down.
I have always admired Madonna, and not just for her talent and creativity. Besides being an artist and career woman par excellence, Madonna is also a committed mother of four. Just as admirable, in my opinion, is her courage in taking advantage of her name to behave in a way that both highlights and subverts the double standard that is so crippling to women’s lives; she can as easily portray herself as a demure author of children’s books, or an icon of maternity as a femme fatale whose provocative use of religious imagery in her music videos has attracted male religious ire on various occasions. The latest manifestation of male rage, however, comes from a fellow celebrity and provides the most delicious twist yet on Madonna’s ongoing manipulation of the madonna/whore dichotomy. Morgan’s most scathing criticism relates to Ms. Ciccone’s predilection for younger men: she is, he mocks, as immature as the toy boys she dates and swiftly dumps, preferring them young and naïve because that way she can be in control. Insulting and unfair as it is, there is something oddly gratifying about a beautiful older woman being publicly attacked for doing what middle-aged and downright old men have been doing since time immemorial. Such men, of course, can never be called ‘hookers’; they attract male envy and admiration rather than anger. Madonna, however, has always behaved with the freedom of any male, without compromising her femininity in the slightest. Now, she is holding up a mirror to the male sex that shows them what their behaviour looks like. Not only that, she is showing them the future; for the freedoms that Western women have gained through first and second wave feminism, in conjunction with the fact that they are no longer worn out and ground down by constant childbearing, means that women could soon – en masse – be playing men at their own game; we are tired of double-jobbing and having to walk a social tightrope that sees our reputations jeopardised by the slightest stumble. What’s more, we will play it better. Guys, I’m going to say it loud and say it proud; most women age far more attractively than most men. This is particularly true nowadays, when women don’t get old prematurely as a result of multiple pregnancies, and have the financial resources for clothes, cosmetics, advanced dermatology and even cosmetic surgery. Madonna is far from being the only female celebrity to date younger men: Elle McPherson in her fifties is married to a man in his forties. She had the foresight to freeze her eggs when young, and has announced that a surrogate will carry her and her younger husband’s baby. Where celebrities go, other women will follow. Reproductive technology has added another string to the bow of women in the battle of the sexes (the first was contraception); like older men, older women can now marry younger men and have children.
Apart from all of that, women are less inclined themselves to put up with unsatisfactory relationships and are increasingly asserting their independence to go it alone as single women or single mothers, a trend that Madonna also exemplifies. As a feminist, I welcome this new phase in the battle of the sexes: as a feminist theologian from within the Christian tradition (and a somewhat politically incorrect one), I can’t help but feel sad at the male behaviours that have led to this impasse; so many women have devoted themselves to raising families and supporting husbands only for many to find themselves discarded for a younger model when it suited their lords and masters. I would hazard a guess that Madonna would rather have full and meaningful relationships with men of her own vintage (she gave marriage a try, after all) but has found that they are too threatened by her. In leading the charge for her sex (whether consciously or not) Madonna may have begun a process that will eventually force men to up their moral game, and inaugurate a new age in which men and women reach higher levels of maturity in their relationships. This may sound far-fetched, but a revolution in sexual relationships – both same sex and opposite sex – is well underway; ironically, it is gay people who are now preaching the importance of marriage to disillusioned heterosexuals, especially female ones. When the revolution is over, who knows what new paradigms will have emerged?
A final thought: it is sometimes suggested that the bible, in giving rise to the madonna/whore dichotomy, is responsible for, or contributes to, the double standard in the West. The madonna/whore encapsulation of the double standard is, however, actually a travesty of the two characters concerned (Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene); yet it is archetypal in its mythological power. It is in exploration of the gap between the reality of what is portrayed in the New Testament and the myth it has engendered that, I would suggest, feminist theology can reap rich rewards. Is it a coincidence that the double standard, though universal, has encountered its most thought-provoking challenge yet in a Western, Christian female? Perhaps, but I think not. The reasons for this, however, are for feminist scholarly analysis to tease out. Roll on, third wave feminism…..
This is a modified and abridged version of an article in Feminist Studies in Religion. Read the full article at fsrinc.org/node/1673 or click on the link above.
Category: Feminism and Religion
Tags: Piers Morgan, Madonna, celebrity, feminist theology, the double standard