Thank You Thursdays: Madonna

As Madonna celebrates the launch of another album today, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect a little bit on her influence on the way that we (or at least those of us born before, like what, 1985) think about our bodies and ourselves.
When my friends and I made dances in my living room, sliding down walls seductively, moving our hips in circles, donning those fingerless gloves, it was Madonna we were channeling. In a fairly frigid suburb, she was one of the only experiences we had of a girl/woman who seemed resolutely in charge of her own sexuality and the expression of it. I think amid all the virgin/whore thinking that permeates too much of most American girl’s childhoods, she’s was always an interesting anomaly, a woman who couldn’t quite be pinned down, someone who disrupted all of those categories with a certain sinful glee (think “Like a Virgin” and “Like a Prayer”).
Her legacy is confusing. After all, she is also the material girl–urging total conformity to conspicuous consumption. And as she says in the above clip, she can be “spoiled and petulant.” But who can’t? And how awesome is it that she is honest about herself? She did smooch Britney Spears during the VMAs in what seemed like a totally flagrant display of “kissing for boys’ titillation.” Her lyrics have sometimes been incredibly boring, but they’ve also been awesome: think “Express Yourself” and, one of my personal favorites, “Human Nature”–“Did I say something true? Oops, I didn’t know we couldn’t talk about sex. Did I have a point of view? Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about you?”
And as Latoya so thoroughly points out over at Racialicious (thanks for the heads up readers), she’s got a really bizarre and possibly colonial mindset when it comes to race and the entire continent of Africa. Major grounds for pause.
Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to me that this working class gal from the Detroit suburbs, who had dreams of becoming a ballerina and studied with Alvin Ailey, who dropped out of the University of Michigan and hopped on her first plane ever to New York City with $35 in her pocket, ended up changing the way just about every young woman of a certain generation understood sex. Thank you, Madonna, for being someone who complicated the idea of female sexuality on such a grand scale.

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