The singer Madonna has an immense ability to stir up controversy and has always done so ever since she first came into the public domain decades ago. Off hand, I can think about how her choice of men and songs, such as ‘Like a Prayer’ have been talking points but there was a difference.
In these cases the points of controversy were of Madonna’s making (not fault) i.e an exercise of her choice such as what to wear and what to sing. Madonna seemed to court controversy to ensure that her saleability, which depended on her popularity, remained sky high.
By contrast, Madonna is now being pilloried for her age which is something that she has no control over. There is a ironic sense of powerlessness about this which isn’t hubris because of the inevitability of growing old.
She was the starring act at this year’s Eurovision Song contest and appeared on stage dressed as a Gothic Goddess. To some, she delivered a muted and humdrum performance. This was blamed on her age in the main. Madonna is now 60 years old. In today’s policy terms of the ageing population, that isn’t old when you consider that ordinary people are expected to work till 67 years of age.
Granted not all of us will be donning high heels and singing on stage but there is something rather personal in the attacks on Madonna which go beyond her choice of career and mutates into expecting her to be invisible as she gets older.
Madonna herself has acknowledged the ageism against her.
I watched ‘Loose Women’ today and listened to the female panel’s talking points about how Madonna ought to give up performing because of her age. Other reasons cited were her immense wealth and the imputation that she was still performing for money. It really is a dire situation if women cannot appreciate other women having a life beyond a certain age. The message was ‘hang up your shoes, go and retire on your savings and keep quiet’. Even worse, Madonna was advised by the panel to make way for younger people. This is the ‘sell by date’ argument.
The programme left me wondering what other older women watching would have taken from it as to what it meant for them.
We may not all be Madonna but age is a great leveller and, like other older women, she may be trying to assert her authority and grace in even greater proportions as she gets older. The older we get the more invisible in society we become. An older woman who was retiring once advised me never to ever let people ever define me as ‘old’ because, she said, the stigma is hard to shake off.
Older men don’t face the same criticism. Donald Trump is in his 70s. Joe Biden is in his 70s. Ronald Reagan was in the same age group as President. When Obama left office it was assumed that he would do even greater things as he had a lot of years ahead of him. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has been referred to as being too old for office. She is 71 with a high IQ and a wealth of political experience. American political high office is full of older women such as Nancy Pelosi, 71, and Elizabeth Warren, 69 but they too constantly face age discrimination.
A professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, Susan Douglas, is writing a book on the power of older women. She told the New York Times that “a demographic revolution” was occurring — both in the number of women who are working into their 60s and 70s and in the perception, in the wake of #MeToo, of their expertise and value. Older women are now saying ‘No, I’m still vibrant, I still have a lot to offer, and I’m not going to be consigned to invisibility,’ ” she said. “These women are reinventing what it means to be an older woman.”
There is also the cultural element. Many ethnic minority women come to feminism later in life because of cultural constraints placed on our sexuality and freedom when we are younger. The cultural shackles are loosened as we get older. This is what happened to me. I became a feminist at 36 when I had my daughter in 1999. Motherhood feminised me, hence my blogger name. The older I get the more ambitious I become and no one is going to tell me to pipe down.
My sister gave me a plaque which reads ‘Live the Life You Love’. It was featured in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Mums Make Porn as part of my reflection scene. I have been ignored for far too long and won’t stand for it anymore. Stand up Madonna and keep singing even if you aren’t up to dancing on stage as energetically as you used to.