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Terrific new Guardian editorial about ageism and Madonna


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Madonna’s age isn’t relevant. Her music is

Like many female artists, the singer has to put up with constant references to how old she is. It’s a double standard

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‘When men talk about women ageing gracefully, they are not acting out of concern. They’re telling them to know their station, to sit down and shut up.’ Photograph: Michael Campanella/Getty Images

When the carping over Madonna’s age began in earnest, the focus wasn’t on her singing, or songwriting, or even her stagecraft. The problem, according to certain sections of the press, lay with her hands. “Why do Madonna’s hands look older than her face?” asked the Daily Mail in 2006. Such was the paper’s concern over the then 47-year-old’s apparently awful paws, a plastic surgeon was drafted in to provide professional analysis. “As a person ages [the] plumpness goes, making the hand look bonier and more veiny … less elastic,” he said sagely. Since then, close-ups of Madonna’s hands have been as much a tabloid staple as Victoria Beckham’s scowl or Amanda Holden’s sideboob.

Music critics tend not to pass comment on a musician’s appearance – to do so would undermine the seriousness of their endeavour. But the assessments of Madonna’s 14th album, Madame X, have nonetheless brought more subtle kind of disparagement. “Perhaps the erstwhile Queen of Pop should be content with the role of Queen Mother of Pop now,” said the Daily Telegraph’s critic, going on to note that a woman who has shifted 350m units and broken every record for a female artist going hasn’t had a Top 10 hit in a decade. Even in the Guardian’s review, which was mostly positive, the theme of her age was never far away.

Madonna is not alone in being seen through the prism of age. In 2014, looking ahead to Kate Bush’s live shows at Hammersmith Apollo, a (male) critic at the Independent cringed at the idea that she might start dancing. “However beneficial any yoga regime she might follow,” he said, “it’s simply unbecoming for a woman of a certain age to be prancing about, and certainly not in the leotard and leg-warmers of the 1979 shows.”

In fighting to do her job at 60, Madonna is, as ever, blazing a trail. Do we really think that Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift will simply down tools when they reach 45 and take up knitting? The fact she is still annoying people by doing the job she has been doing for 35 years would suggest she’s a long way from being irrelevant. In the minds of her most vicious detractors – the ones that jeered with hilarity as “grandma” fell off the stage at the 2015 Brits – she would be better off binning the fishnets, putting on a nice cardie and waiting for death.

Even the more moderate language used in relation to her is revealing. “Dignity” crops up a lot, as does “appropriate” and “growing old gracefully”. When men talk about women ageing gracefully, they are not acting out of concern. They’re telling them to know their station, to sit down and shut up. “People have always been trying to silence me for one reason or another, whether it’s that I’m not pretty enough, I don’t sing well enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not married enough – and now it’s that I’m not young enough,” Madonna told Vogue recently. “Now I’m being punished for turning 60.”

Tracey Thorn, the Everything but the Girl singer-turned-solo artist and author, last year shared her objections to being described as “a 55-year-old wife and mother” in a review by the American music writer Robert Christgau. “The more I think about it the crosser I’m getting,” she said on Twitter. “‘55-year-old husband and father.’ I’m trying to imagine it as a description in an album review. Nope. Can’t do it.” I have no right to throw stones here. In 2003 I interviewed Siouxsie Sioux, an artist I’d admired for as long as I could remember. Near the end of our chat I asked blithely if musical retirement was on the cards. She was 45. She gave me a proper bollocking, and pointed out – rightly – that I would never have asked a man that question.

Ultimately it all boils down to what society deems alluring and acceptable. Older men, with their silver hair and laughter lines, are seen as stately and wise. Women of the same age are past it and embarrassing. Today, Iggy Pop (72) gets to run around shirtless during live performances. Nick Cave (61) dyes his hair and wears his shirts slashed to the waist; Elton John (72), who this year spoils us with a film, a memoir and a farewell tour, gads about in shades and diamante-encrusted suits. What links them, beyond their occupation, is that they get to decide how they conduct themselves and, crucially, when they stop working. And they get to do this without fear of criticism or vitriol. It’s high time female artists enjoyed the same privilege.

Fiona Sturges is an arts writer specialising in books, music, podcasting and TV

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i think the next couple of decades are going to likely be her most provocative, she's in a full on war with society again (as she was in the early 90s) and we all know she's not going to back down.

I really think one of her greatest legacies is going to be changing the paradigm for older women culturally. But indeed, she's probably going to be in for some of the worst criticism of her career, hold on tight because Madonna still doing it at 60, 70 and beyond, they'll want to burn her at the stake. This is just the beginning of a battle they started but she will win.

 

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4 minutes ago, Carey said:

i think the next couple of decades are going to likely be her most provocative, she's in a full on war with society again (as she was in the early 90s) and we all know she's not going to back down.

I really think one of her greatest legacies is going to be changing the paradigm for older women culturally. But indeed, she's probably going to be in for some of the worst criticism of her career, hold on tight because Madonna still doing it at 60, 70 and beyond, they'll want to burn her at the stake. This is just the beginning of a battle they started but she will win.

 

Very interesting viewpoint - I can completely see it happening! 

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I think she'll have the last laugh. But only if she keeps releasing quality work. When quality is on the table, she has a trump. 

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18 minutes ago, Carey said:

 

I really think one of her greatest legacies is going to be changing the paradigm for older women culturally. But indeed, she's probably going to be in for some of the worst criticism of her career, hold on tight because Madonna still doing it at 60, 70 and beyond, they'll want to burn her at the stake. This is just the beginning of a battle they started but she will win.

 

she ahs already started doing it. I don´t see anybody in thier 35-45 being critisised or told that they are old.Pink? Beyonce? nodboy tells them anything.Even kylie .

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38 minutes ago, promise to try said:

she ahs already started doing it. I don´t see anybody in thier 35-45 being critisised or told that they are old.Pink? Beyonce? nodboy tells them anything.Even kylie .

exactly

Madame X is a barrier pusher

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2 minutes ago, Genevieve Vavance said:

does anyone remember when 40 was considered OLD? Then 50? and now 60?

Meanwhile 40 is not old, 50 is not old

why?? Take a guess

 

Madame X is a pioneer

At one time 30 was considered old; I find it so strange In retrospect ; this need to use age and experience as a means to insult someone as if there’s nothing more to life than youthful looks and being sexual

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Just now, eroticerotic said:

At one time 30 was considered old; I find it so strange In retrospect ; this need to use age and experience as a means to insult someone. 

yes I am 35 now and I don't feel old at all :lmao: 

but back when I was 13 I was like move over grandpa (I'm just kidding)

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2 minutes ago, Genevieve Vavance said:

yes I am 35 now and I don't feel old at all :lmao: 

but back when I was 13 I was like move over grandpa (I'm just kidding)

I guess that’s the power of youth, u think the world revolves around u and that you are an immortal lol. Fun times fun times.

i will say I feel much more energetic , sexual, and healthy now nearing 40 than I did at 20;  I’m pretty sure that’s not a novel concept so I do wonder why the stigma was ever there in the first place?

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6 minutes ago, Genevieve Vavance said:

does anyone remember when 40 was considered OLD? Then 50? and now 60?

Meanwhile 40 is not old, 50 is not old

why?? Take a guess

 

Madame X is a pioneer

She was referred to as grandma by smash hits in 93, I seem to remember.

Great piece of journalism and even calling out their own review if the article.

Guardian journalists (and their readers) are some of the worst for low key sexism, ageism etc

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Amazing article. The best thing about this is that a female writer is supporting her. What a great read.

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Wow, incredible article

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Madame X is a Slayer of Ageism 

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1 hour ago, jonski43 said:

Guardian journalists (and their readers) are some of the worst for low key sexism, ageism etc

True. Stupid middle aged balding dads who jerk off to Breaking Bad.

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2 hours ago, Lolo said:

True. Stupid middle aged balding dads who jerk off to Breaking Bad.

I wouldn't even say middle aged. Just look at the guardian reviewer. Typical bearded late twenties / early thirties woke London elite. 

Exactly the type that works at radio one and refuses to play her.

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Madonna is No.1 trending topic on Twitter this evening in my country , Ireland . Random I know but it’s mostly based in The NY Times interview and its accompanying photos. Mostly positive , ok maybe it’s a slow news day here but the power of Madonna . I’m throwing in my fair share of the Madame X reviews from critics to keep it half glass full 

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Fabulous article, nice to see something supportive and positive written about her every now and then! 

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37 minutes ago, RyanAnth4 said:

Madonna is No.1 trending topic on Twitter this evening in my country , Ireland . Random I know but it’s mostly based in The NY Times interview and its accompanying photos. Mostly positive , ok maybe it’s a slow news day here but the power of Madonna . I’m throwing in my fair share of the Madame X reviews from critics to keep it half glass full 

That's so good to hear! 

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Great article BUT I’ve got to thinking...why doesn’t Cher or Dolly Parton face the same  animosity as Madonna?

i mean Cher & Dolly are both over 70 & still making music/performing whilst still running around in skimpy outfits & keen on  maintaining the same beauty looks they had in their youth plus continued surgery...

Cher & Dolly don’t get half the shit Madonna does and are generally well loved by all

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23 minutes ago, Lolasmommy said:

Great article BUT I’ve got to thinking...why doesn’t Cher or Dolly Parton face the same  animosity as Madonna?

i mean Cher & Dolly are both over 70 & still making music/performing whilst still running around in skimpy outfits & keen on  maintaining the same beauty looks they had in their youth plus continued surgery...

Cher & Dolly don’t get half the shit Madonna does and are generally well loved by all

 

I think there are 2 reasons: 

1. Cher and Dolly are both camp artists to some degree (Dolly less so). This makes them safer for public consumption, as they are 'in on the joke'. 

2. Madonna is provocative, challenging, makes no apologies for her age or sexuality - and comes off less than humble sometimes (because she does not bow down - that is who she is). The public finds a woman of her age, doing what she does, without campiness or cartoonishness - CHALLENGING. If she put out Donna Summer or Kylie type disco songs with no meaning/content/overt sexuality - she would be much more palatable and loved. But I, for one - am glad who she is! She is good for the music industry - whether they know it or not. 

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6 hours ago, air1975 said:

In 2003 I interviewed Siouxsie Sioux, an artist I’d admired for as long as I could remember. Near the end of our chat I asked blithely if musical retirement was on the cards. She was 45. She gave me a proper bollocking, and pointed out – rightly – that I would never have asked a man that question.

Ultimately it all boils down to what society deems alluring and acceptable. Older men, with their silver hair and laughter lines, are seen as stately and wise. Women of the same age are past it and embarrassing. Today, Iggy Pop (72) gets to run around shirtless during live performances. Nick Cave (61) dyes his hair and wears his shirts slashed to the waist; Elton John (72), who this year spoils us with a film, a memoir and a farewell tour, gads about in shades and diamante-encrusted suits. What links them, beyond their occupation, is that they get to decide how they conduct themselves and, crucially, when they stop working. And they get to do this without fear of criticism or vitriol. It’s high time female artists enjoyed the same privilege.

While this article may seem to be supportive overall at first about Madonna, to me it mostly reads like a timid, luke-warm half-ass attempt at supporting female artists to have the same privileges granted to males solely in lieu of their gender. You want give female artists the same privilege? Start by giving older male artists a taste of the same nasty bitter ageist medicine you have imposed on Madonna, and all of the ladies that were trashed for being too old according to patriarchy standards, then - how about that?

Should not be too difficult to do. Journalists have done it for ages (pun intended) on women, should be a piece of cake to reverse that on men. Example: Elton John? Ugh, there is nothing good about potato-faced fatty Smelton these days worth looking at (hardly there ever was barred his flamboyant costumes in the 70s) or even listen to, and just because he is seventybloodytwo and a male should not grant him a free pass. Iggy Pop? Pfft... he gets to run around shirtless because no fucking (male) journalist still dares to say anything about it but the sight of that 72 year old dry prune-resembling body ain't pretty, it should be said loud and clear. And don't get me started on Mick Jagger. The Slagger struts around like the slut he is, although a bit slower given his 75 years of age, but that does not mean the sight of his gristle-looking flesh now is appealing.

There.

To eradicate ageism against women, perhaps it is about time that journalists reserve the same harsh ageist treatment to men. Equal shit treatment opportunity. Maybe only then things will be looked into perspective, seeing how wrong and stupid it was judging people according to their age, and changes about how people are viewed regardless of their age and gender will be truly possible for everyone.

 

 

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