2021 - 2022 Modern Volume 22

Madonna: A Woman Who Defied Sexism and Became a Musical Icon for the History Books

By Anya Goulthorpe

Everyone had heard of Madonna. Whether it’s hearing ‘Get into the Groove’ full blast on your mum’s radio or seeing the iconic 2012 Superbowl halftime performance on the TV – even if she stopped the football for 40 minutes – a stint of evocative pop numbers that have stamped their stead in the music Hall of Fame. She’s everywhere. And whether she’s to everyone’s music taste or not, Madonna is an icon on the musical stage but also for women of all backgrounds from the 1980s to the modern day.

Madonna has built a legacy beyond music by diversifying the feminine agenda throughout her music. Women singing in the 1980s tended to be less outright with their lyrical messages in a field dominated by men. She broke the boundaries by becoming the first person to remix her own populist version of feminism and make it part of a pop music success story. The most poignant song that comes to mind is her 1986 hit ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ which evokes her taking control of her own body. In the music video, Madonna is taking the stand of ‘keeping my baby’ which had often been a taboo subject for women of the time. Yes, contraception had become a method of feminist advances but was often used as a manipulation tactic by men for ‘forced abortions’ and reproductive coercion. By Madonna being so public with this song it influenced women to take a stand and do what they wanted for their own body. She can ultimately be seen as a feminist force she ultimately tries to modify society by clearing the barriers that separate different groups of people and prevails upon all individuals to be empowered and to rise from their subservient position, but especially for the position of women.

‘Justify my Love’ by Madonna, 2001, the video is simply pornographic, but in the best way. Its decadent and fabulous. A truly avant-garde piece of filmography which encapsulates Madonna as a true feminist in 4 minutes. It represents a sophisticated European sexuality which had not been seen since the great foreign films of the 1950’s and 1960’s. She exposes the puritanism and almost suffocating image of American feminism.

When looking at more of her music videos and public images you can see the sort of person Madonna stands to be. In her eyes, life does not depend on one’s race or sexual orientations. Her life and works demonstrate that people can possess traits of both binaries and that boundaries are unnecessary. In her videos, she may appear masculine in a suit like in the song ‘Vogue’, holding her crotch, and at other times in a colorful gown with men swooning over her womanhood in ‘Material Girl’. It is safe to say one of the many reasons why Madonna is such an influential figure is because she arose in a ‘conservative’ period when women were in dire need of an influential figure to rally behind to fight the patriarchy. She is seen to be both energetic and sensual, a dichotomy which gave women a sense of both social and sexual freedom within themselves. This legacy continues today, she is seen as a symbol of wild creative femininity and power who instead of overlaying sexuality, she indulged and cherished it.

Madonna is so powerful today because she was the first of her time. A female icon who was not defined by the men around her. Her music isn’t about vulnerability, pain, and misery, moreover, depicting sexuality, female empowerment, and lyrical mastery directed at those who needed her music the most. Her music is especially accessible to women, women of all ages, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or class. This is what a true feminist icon is made of. Her influence enables women around the world to disregard old-fashioned expectations, meanwhile, equipping them with a political edge to utilise in their individual and joint struggles, something that only women will ever understand.

So what can we take away from Madonna in Women’s History Month? A fabulous feminine lyricist that defies the book. A musical icon. The Queen of Pop.