She Pop: Madonna, Motherhood, and Choices
You know: a lot of people have problems with Madonna. In fact, pretty much the entire history of Madonna has been the history of people having various problems with her! I first learned of her existence when a news channel reported on one of her concerts. I was maybe five or six. It was her "crucifix as fashion accessory" phase; possibly, also, her "pretending to masturbate on stage" phase. And my mother turned to me and said, "you know, it's important to realize that not everyone likes her. Some of us have issues with her blaspheming our Lord Holy Jesus Christ."
ILLUSTRATION: Oh, OK, so Mom had a point.
And then we had the discussion about how "Madonna" is also the name of the Virgin Mary Mother of Lord Jesus, who was a far better role model (and yet, set an equally attainable and realistic standard for female behavior!) and etcetera. And, for some reason, this exchange resulted in me having the same unreasonable affection for her - yes, even when she is terrible! Even when she is arrogant and self-absorbed and culture-appropriatey (although that last one, actually, gives me serious pause) and all of those other annoying things she so often tends to be - that I have for every other girl who has publicly figured out that she is never, ever, ever going to live up to the Virgin Mary. And is cool with that! And is cool with herself, even!
Madonna's appearance on Letterman last night gave me, if only fleetingly, the same warm and fuzzy feelings. Jezebel has a post (and video!) up on the matter, noting that Madonna doesn't seem "very likable," and criticizing her for coming off as arrogant and "ungraceful." Which: yeah. Fair enough. But then there was this exchange:
LETTERMAN: If you had to be one thing in your life, in this world, would you just want to be a parent?
MADONNA: No! Yikes!
LETTERMAN: [Parenting] is the most important job, isn't it?
MADONNA. Yeah. Uh, yes. That's the politically correct answer. Uh-huh.
These moments actually seemed like the least scripted, rehearsed, artificial-media-event-like exchanges in what was otherwise an extremely scripted, rehearsed, artificial-media-event-like interview. Madonna may have made a career out of striking various calculated poses for other people, but I honestly believe all of the following: Madonna is a mom. Madonna doesn't consider being a mother the most important thing about herself. And if Madonna had to choose between being a mother and being, well, Madonna, she wouldn't go for the babies.
It's refreshing to hear a female celebrity say this stuff, especially in an environment where getting married, getting impregnated, and shopping around pictures of your totes adorable impregnation-results is de rigeur for other female celebrities, where women whose lives don't and may never include a husband and baby are portrayed as pathetic lost souls ("Jennifer Aniston is freezing her eggs," anyone?) and where motherhood is consistently portrayed, for women, as the Holy Grail and the key to becoming a whole, fulfilled, worthwhile person. How many times have you heard that women don't know what love means until they become mothers, that being a mother automatically becomes the most important and fulfilling thing in a woman's life whether or not she ever believed it would be or planned for it to be (just GET PREGNANT, ladies! It'll make you happy EVENTUALLY), that women are sacrificing their one true destiny and purpose in life by delaying children or not having children at all? I mean, God knows people have children and love their children and should, by all means, consider the well-being of their children a major priority. But I don't hear talk-show hosts asking men if they'd sacrifice their careers for fatherhood. Nor is anyone shocked when men don't consider having children a priority, or don't consider "fatherhood" the one true purpose of their lives.
The fact is, Madonna didn't have to give up on being successful in order to be a mother. She got to be both. Which is great for her. Lots of people do both - and lots of people also have to deal with substantial issues surrounding time and material resources that either make it necessary for them to choose careers they don't want in order to provide for their families, or to put off or cancel plans for starting a family in order to have the careers of their choice. The pressure to choose family over career, however, is specifically applied to women. Dudes get to weigh their options; ladies get told that they either have babies or fail at life. The fact that Madonna evidently believes she would be a success at life whether or not she had children makes me absurdly happy.
And, yeah, Madonna believes herself to be hot shit. She will no doubt continue to believe this, whether or not it is objectively true. And that will continue to result in her being obnoxious in public. But what that belief allows her to do sometimes - to be an openly sexual woman in her fifties, to eschew appropriately feminine self-deprecation, to say out loud and on national television that being a mother is not the only important thing about her - is, really, kind of wonderful. Whether or not I like Madonna's music, or would like to hang out with her one-on-one, isn't really important to me. I'm just glad we have one of her around.
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