Madonna, never put it away – unless you want to

Oh goody, we have another prominent Australian feminist telling another woman what she can and cannot wear. Didn’t we do this last week?

The front cover of today’s Sunday Life features the question:

“… is it time for Madonna to hang up her hotpants?”

The answer, OF COURSE, is “only if she wants to”. But you won’t find that in the magazine.

The intro to the Madonna article is full of age-shaming:


I’m sitting on the side with the third option: MADONNA SHOULD DO WHATEVER THE HELL SHE WANTS TO DO.

Besides, we all know that “retire gracefully” means “become invisible so we don’t have to see old people enjoying themselves in public and WORSE, have to look at their bodies”.

Helen Barlow’s article is pretty meh, but it’s Julia Baird’s piece that really gets my fuck-being-age-appropriate goat. Starting with “Remember Madonna’s stomach, back in the 1980s?“… blah blah blah she used to be hot three decades ago when she was young… “Now when I think of her, I think of her arms. Her taut, muscled biceps, alarmingly free of padding” – ooh, careful there Judgey McBaird – “are perfect symbols of her determination“. Really? I think they look like arms. Arms that do a lot of exercise. Arms that are symbols of arms.

“She works very, very hard – and this is why she has endured.

But, now, this hard work is deflating as well as inspiring. She might not have cared about what people thought of her sexually, but she obviously cares what people think of her physically.”

And you know this how, exactly? Did she tell you this, or are you just projecting your own shit onto her? Because it sounds a lot like you’re saying that anyone who works out is doing it so others have something nice to look at.

Baird then goes on to write some nonsense about how Madonna works out because she doesn’t like herself, and that as women age they should be able to let themselves go.

But this bit had me laughing my arse off:

“Madonna taught us to face fears: of the consequences of blooming sexuality, independence, anger, eccentricity and unconventionality. Of being women who don’t do as they are told.”


“Madonna may be telling us that middle-aged women should not become invisible, inaudible or afraid to be alone, which is, of course, good – but she makes it seem like you have to look a certain way to do so.”

I call bullshit. Madonna has always looked a “certain way” – ie, sexy. Why on earth should she stop looking sexy, cover herself up in grey cardigans as Baird wants, just because she’s over 50? Because the thing is, it’s pretty fucking obvious that you don’t have to have Madonna’s look to be sexy in public: Helen Mirren, Sophia Loren, Roseanne Barr, Julianne Moore, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Isabella Rossellini, Jane Lynch, Kim Cattrall… Sure, these women were sexy before they were 50, so rant about beauty standards, rant about the entertainment industry, rant about how popular culture believes that women over 50 who are not attractive actresses should be invisible, but let’s not pretend that telling Madonna to “put it away” – to become invisible – is an intelligent contribution to anything.

“She recently told Naomi Wolf in Harper’s Bazaar that what was more important was, “to continue to be a provocateur, to be rebellious, to start a revolution”.

Yes! But can only the pretty start revolutions? When Madonna refuses to age, when she turns her body into a scientific experiment, she stops representing rebellion and starts representing obedience.”

Actually, no. The most rebellious thing Madonna can do is to continue what she’s doing because she’s clearly making A LOT OF MAINSTREAM PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE. So what if she’s done something to her face? It’s her face, she can do what she wants to it. Yes, we have a big problem with the entertainment industry pressuring women to look perpetually young, but with every opinion piece that blames Madonna for it, the patriarchy just laughs and laughs and laughs.

As for the insulting line about the scientific experiment, wow. Just wow. My mother is a world champion surf life saver. Her body is lean and muscular. She is strong. She works out because she enjoys it and because being strong helps her do the other things she enjoys: competing and patrolling. And she is older than Madonna. Hell, over the last six months I’ve lost some weight through exercise and I love how strong my body feels. Saying that someone who uses their body for more than sitting on their arse writing body-shaming opinion pieces is treating it as a “scientific experiment”, is just dumb and, frankly, I expect better than this from the author of Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians.

49 responses to “Madonna, never put it away – unless you want to

  1. Yes – we old birds don’t work out to piss other women off. We work out to feel healthy, strong and live life to the full.

    Oh yeah and it would be nice to know that if Madonna and I fall off our high heels we won’t break a hip in the process.

    Mwah for this x

  2. I dunno. I think you slagging off other people’s opinions is just as bad as expounding your own. Bitch to bitch. Plus I can’t really follow your quotation marks so I’m not sure who’s saying what. Madonna can do what she wants.

    • I can’t help but wonder why one would read an online opinion blog…if one felt that people critiquing the media or current events was being a ‘bitch’.
      And then bother to comment…?

      You may have possibly missed the point of the post, which was, I believe…’Madonna can do what she wants”.

  3. You say bitch like it’s a bad thing.

  4. Your mum sounds awesome.

  5. Yes to this.
    Not a big fan of Madonna but I love the fact that she refuses to be told and as a result sends the patriarchy compliant into hyperventilation.
    Most amusing.

    • Same here. I haven’t bought a Madonna album since True Blue (which the internet tells me was released in 1986, sheesh!) because I’m not into pop, but I have an enormous amount of respect for her. To have remained at the top of the industry for decades is an incredible achievement – particularly when the MSM keeps telling her she’s too old.

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  7. “Bitch to bitch”. That sounds saucy.

  8. Good on you and your mum and Madonna too I guess. I haven’t got a clue what Madonna looks like or does these days and frankly I couldn’t care less. I couldn’t care less what any singer does or what they look like. Why other people are so fascinated by these things is a bit of a mystery to me.

    • Madonna is the world’s highest-selling female recording artist, so she’s a pretty Big Deal. Regardless of whether you like her music – and I don’t, because I don’t like pop – she deserves enormous respect for being at the top of an industry that says women must be pretty and young or invisible, for three decades.

      • Also, I wonder if the constant sniping from journalists about Madonna’s body is because they’re lazy? See, in the 80s, Madonna’s look was pretty easy to do: bangles, teased hair, op shop clothes. Sure, you had to have chutzpah to pull it off, but it was a look you could do for a costume party or Blue Light Disco. In the 90s it was more shoulderpad-y and expensive, but still kinda do-able. Plus, it meant you could say ‘bustier’ a lot. But now, to look like Madonna requires effort. Lots of gym hours. And if you go to a costume party dressed as 80s or 90s Madonna, the young people might not get the reference and so you lose your cool points. And so your icon has left you behind.

        • That might be right, but I would guess that it is more the kind of laziness that comes about because trashing people is an easy way to get attention without doing very much work.

          I know Madonna has achieved a lot as a musician, but the point I was trying to make is why are people so fascinated by what musicians look like or wear or do outside of their music? I know almost everyone does it, but it is still quite odd to me. Celebrity voyerism as its own branch of entertainment.

  9. Up until now, Madonna has been complying with pop entertainment industry rules. But now she’s defying the rules. (Baird’s got that the wrong way round.) That’d be the problem.

    Cher gets approval for continuing to torture her body, because she’s in a niche-market now. Madonna is still competing successfully in the pop mainstream. As her fans are failing to find her hideous on their own, the media has to tell people she is. I’m guessing the reason for this is : the men who run the pop entertainment industry don’t like Ladies doing it for themselves.

    • Absolutely. Madonna is being incredibly rebellious by yelling, “Look at me! I am over 50 and I’m fucking hot and rich and powerful!”.

      • I don’t think Madonna is being rebellious by presenting a ‘hot’ image: I think that’s the most conformist thing she does. The rich and powerful thing is the bit that’s annoying people.

        • Personal take on the rich, powerful and hot thing.

          She’s refusing to act her age. That’s what has the MSM so hot and bothered. Other women of her years bow out of mainstream pop and move onto other genres like “Progressive mature rock” or whatever the hell it is Celine Dion is doing now. Madonna refuses to hand in her hot card. She refuses to acknowledge it’s expiration date. In doing so she is making society uncomfortable because she is showing them that 50+ women can be sexy and sexual and that those things are not exclusive to youth. I don’t see her physique or attractiveness as conformity at all. To conform to beauty norms at her age, would be to cover her body, don a twin set and pearls and age ‘gracefully’.

          Everything that woman does flies in face of convention. People assumed when she reached that age were women become invisible that she’d fade. Instead, she’s burning brighter than ever. That’s what has every one so up in arms.

          I for one hope she never stops.

  10. I am so with you on this NWN… I had exactly the same reaction to the piece as you (not quite so eloquently articulated). Agree!
    Plus, having a strong body feels excellent, no matter how often you go to the gym or how many kilos you carry. Great your mum is focused on maintaining that strong energy.

  11. I’m not the biggest Madonna fan (but I will be going to see her when she comes to Melbourne!), but I think, “good on her”. She’s still pushing boundaries about sex, beauty, age etc. And, at the risk of sounding like I’m a cosmetic surgery advocate, whatever she has had done to her face actually looks fantastic! She looks better than she did 30 years ago.

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  15. thedailymagnet

    I disagree with you, sort of, about Greer’s comments, NWN, because, she was really saying that Julia shouldn’t hide her big bum by wearing tiny jackets that don’t fit (& doing up one button to pretend they do), and y’know if ever we as women can get away(without copping flak) with poor wardrobe choices and slightly more voluptuous than average curves – shouldn’t it be when you run the country? You’d think you’d be able to just let it all hang out, wouldn’t you? I’d make unisex trackees the official uniform in Parliament so there can be no nonsense about clothing & more focus on policy.
    If the present PM did show off her big bum more, then she could potentially emancipate a lot of women who are imprisoned by body image, rather than focusing on who they are and what they can do. Conversely, I’m all for old girls staying fit, but Madonna looks like she should go home and have a good few weeks of eating heavy-duty Italian food. I can’t imagine that lifesaver NWN mum would worry about her weight, so long as she’s active, healthy and enjoying her life – there’s heaps of pressure on girl musicians to look like Barbie.

    • But who decides what is a “poor wardrobe choice”? And why should every not-skinny body have to make an issue out of the fact that they are doing a professional job WITH a not-skinny body? We don’t have this conversation about male politicians.

      Your comment about Madonna needing a good feed is what we’re talking about here: public criticism of Madonna’s body. You’re also assuming that Madonna exercises purely for weight reasons but my mother doesn’t. That’s a pretty big assumption.

      • “We don’t have this conversation about male politicians.”

        That’s because nobody thinks it’s sexist when you do it to men so it usually just washes over people.

        When Malcolm Turnbull lost weight over Christmas it got a mention on the 7 o’clock news. I’ve heard nearly a thousand jokes about the size of “Sloppy Joe” Hockey over the past 6 years. When one of the Liberal candidates at the last election was revealed to be an unrepentant homophobe with extreme religious views, The Chaser spent an entire episode making fat jokes about him.

        But you’re right, there was no conversation about any of this.

        • No Sue, that’s because it isn’t sexist when it happens to men. There are other -ist words that apply, but sexist is not one of them.

          Are you really using one story on one day (Turnbull) to say it’s just the same as the constant focus on female MPs’ bodies? Really, Sue?

          Fat jokes are a different issue. You may have heard a thousand of them, but did you hear them on the news? No, you didn’t. Did you read them in the paper? No, you didn’t. You heard them on The Chaser – hardly known for intelligent conversation – and in daily life. So it’s not an equal comparison to discussion of the PM’s body and clothing on supposedly highbrow QandA.

          We’re talking about the constant public critiquing of female bodies that applies to almost every female in the public eye. Yes, there is fat-ism when it comes to male bodies, but that doesn’t mean that all men in the public eye are having their bodies publicly criticised.

          • “it’s not an equal comparison to discussion of the PM’s body and clothing on supposedly highbrow QandA.”

            I guess “supposedly” is the operative word here. If we are only talking about “highbrow” news media in this country, it is going to be a pretty narrow field. I have seen cracks about Hockey’s size on QandA. In one instance he was right there on the panel and had to make light of it to avoid looking thin-skinned. I have heard Wayne Swan do it in parliament. This almost never generates substantial levels of debate.

            Germaine Greer had a crack at Julia Gillard’s arse while talking about her role as PM. Personally, I think it was an incredibly lousy thing to do. It deserves criticism. But it was one comment. In response to that comment I have seen much debate about sexism, feminism, body image and the relevance of Germaine Greer. What I have not seen is guests on QandA making similar comments about female MPs week in and week out as a matter of course.

            I agree that women MPs receive considerably more criticism on their appearance than men. It is unfair and sexist and blogs like this do an excellent job of bringing it to light. But I do not believe the difference is as great as you claim (constantly from everywhere vs practically nothing from anywhere). There is a difference between criticism of female MPs’ bodies and debate about that criticism. Conflating the two while engaging in that debate is a self-perpetuating distortion.

            • Sue, you’re a classic patriarchy- denying troll. You strategically acknowledge that yes there is a problem, but the problem is not nearly as problematic as the author imagines, and then you proceed to make the author’s analysis of the problem out to be a bigger problem than the actual problem. This is the way trolls strive to keep debate and ideas suspended in some benign holding pen of circular argument. It ultimately serves those invested in upholding the status quo.

              • In other words, anyone who comes here with sufficiently different views that they are willing to argue for is a troll. I have talked about very specific observations and how they have brought my opinions into conflict with the author’s. Rather than refuting any of it, you have given your analysis of my argument, put a label on me and then dismissed me on the basis of that label. It never ceases to amaze me how some people seem to have inexhaustible energy for discussing issues with those who have similar views, but if someone with an opposing viewpoint comes along, suddenly they have done it so many times that it is all far too tedious and tiresome or that person is probably just a troll and not worth it.

                As for being a patriarchy-denier, let me quote from the Ashley Judd article linked in someone else’s comment the other day:

                “it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us”

                My own viewpoint is that if this aspect of patriarchy was ever simply about exploiting women for the benefit of men, it has now evolved to something far beyond. It has looked at what can be achieved by exploiting women and decided that if men can be exploited in the same way, it can double its returns.

                • “In other words, anyone who comes here with sufficiently different views that they are willing to argue for is a troll.”

                  Nope. I say troll because you do in fact demonstrate all the behaviours of concern trolling. Try googling it.

                  As for the Ashley Judd quote, I do not agree with that. But this is not my blog or your’s and therefore not the forum to debate it and even if it were, I’m way beyond investing too much energy re-inventing the feminist wheel. Why not start your own blog where you can advance your personal perspective with a greater degree of freedom?

                  • I see no way to defend the concern troll accusation. Anyone who consistently disagrees with only a portion of what a person says fits that pattern of behaviour. Your accusation is like saying that anyone who claims to be for capitalism but argues against Tim Wilson is secretly a communist. What defines a concern troll is motive. Of course I cannot prove mine. Just like I cannot prove I am not a communist.

                    “But this is not my blog or your’s and therefore not the forum to debate it”

                    From this blog’s comment guidelines: “Your comments are welcomed and encouraged.” “when you come back and chat again, and chat with each other, that makes me very happy.” “Don’t feel that you have to agree with me – I love genuine debate.”

                    I thought it was a forum for that kind of debate.

                    “Why not start your own blog where you can advance your personal perspective with a greater degree of freedom?”

                    In other words, even if your views are legitimate, they still don’t belong on this blog that openly declares itself a place for debate.

                    But I do agree that this is not my blog and also note this part of the guidelines: “if you’re being deliberately antagonistic, please take it somewhere else because this blog has a “no dickheads” policy.”

                    I leave this to NWN to judge. One word from her and I will go back to reading this blog without ever making another comment. I am stubborn and argumentative but I do not wish to be rude.

                    • *puts on her judging cape and rollerskates*

                      Linda, I’m not feeling the concern troll accusation in this case. My opinion is that Sue loves to argue, just like you do, just like I do.

                      Sue, I’m surprised you don’t have a blog. Any particular reason?

                    • I honestly do not think my writing skills are up to it. Your writing is full of life and colour. My writing … is not. Sufficient for comments but not for full articles. Not if I want people to read them.

                    • From the comments you post here, there is nothing that suggests your writing skills are not up to it.

                    • Then I guess we are back to disagreeing.

                      It is nice of you to say though.

                    • Linda Radfem

                      “My opinion is that Sue loves to argue, just like you do, just like I do.”

                      I don’t love to argue for the hell of it. I’m just a committed activist and that’s a hat that never comes off.

    Oh look. Another article telling us Madonna is washed up.

  17. thedailymagnet

    Actually NWN, the pressures of the music industry are not those that every1 would see in the first instance – my comments about Madonna are actually about that. She is all about presentation and that is part and parcel of the marketing machine – whch is pretty mercenary for all musos, but especially for more mature women. It is also brutal on society’s young women and girls, and the image stereotypes and sexualization of women and girls was something Ban ki Moon spoke out about just last year – it’s a real problem. If we look at this issue we can see that other musos don’t deal with it in the same way. Renee Geyer, fantastic female vocalist, doesn’t shoulder the same burden – is it because she works in a different genre, because she’s a better singer, or because she is tougher and doesn’t conform to industry pressures that churn out pop stereotypes?
    One good thing that female pollies can contribute to other women, working or otherwise, is that they can bring to the image of women something more intellectual and indepth than the way they appear.
    Lifesaving is a very all-rounder type of exercise(a bit of everything, cardio, outdoors, endurance swimming, running with resistance, etc), that could indicate a focus on a holistic, healthy life rather than conforming to a marketing stereotype. Apologies to NWN & Mum if this is an unsafe assumption.

  18. I’m 48 and my arms look exactly like Madonnas. I do next to nothing to make them this way. I’ve lived a generally healthy life and have in the past been highly physical but am no longer. It seems to me that it is Madonnas arms that Julia Baird is particularly offended by, she seems to have no comprehension that women’s arms can naturally be this way. A 53 year old man would not receive the same treatment. Her comments are sexist. I have in the past covered up my arms in order to not incur this sort of reaction, it’s really really tiresome that some women are so intimidated by any sign of physical strength in other women. I’m not going to cover up for the likes of Julia Baird any more.

    • Bravo! It always amazes me that some people feel they’re entitled to tell others that their bodies aren’t “good” enough to be seen in public. Teresa, welcome to the News with Nipples.

    • I don’t know what Madonna’s arms look like. I assume they are muscular. I say good on you for deciding not to hide your muscular arms. If you know women who are intimidated by them, the extra exposure will probably do them good.

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