Piers, Madonna and the Double Standard

http://fsrinc.org/node/1673Religion and Feminism



After Madonna’s scary and dangerous fall at the recent Brit awards, Piers Morgan wrote an uncomplimentary article entitled “Falling off the stage, Madonna, is God’s way of telling you you’re too old to cavort like a hooker” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arnticle-

2970792/PIERS-MORGAN-Falling-stage-Madonna-God-s-way-telling-old-cavort-like-hooker.html). He then goes on to describe his subject as someone who has become a pantomime freak, both on and off the stage. I was surprised that someone of Piers Morgan’s fame and status would publicly kick a woman when she was, literally, down.

I have always admired Madonna, and not just for her talent and creativity. Besides being an artist and career woman par excellence, Madonna is also a committed mother of four. Just as admirable, in my opinion, is her courage in taking advantage of her name to behave in a way that both highlights and subverts the double standard that is so crippling to women’s lives; she can as easily portray herself as a demure author of children’s books, or an icon of maternity as a femme fatale whose provocative use of religious imagery in her music videos has attracted male religious ire on various occasions. The latest manifestation of male rage, however, comes from a fellow celebrity and provides the most delicious twist yet on Madonna’s ongoing manipulation of the madonna/whore dichotomy. Morgan’s most scathing criticism relates to Ms. Ciccone’s predilection for younger men: she is, he mocks, as immature as the toy boys she dates and swiftly dumps, preferring them young and naïve because that way she can be in control. Insulting and unfair as it is, there is something oddly gratifying  about a beautiful older woman being publicly attacked for doing what middle-aged and downright old men have been doing since time immemorial. Such men, of course, can never be called ‘hookers’; they attract male envy and admiration rather than anger. Madonna, however, has always behaved with the freedom of any male, without compromising her femininity in the slightest. Now, she is holding up a mirror to the male sex that shows them what their behaviour looks like. Not only that, she is showing them the future; for the freedoms that Western women  have gained through first and second wave feminism, in conjunction with the fact that they are no longer worn out and ground down by constant childbearing, means that women could soon – en masse – be playing men at their own game; we are tired of double-jobbing and having to walk a social tightrope that sees our reputations jeopardised by the slightest stumble. What’s more, we will play it better. Guys, I’m going to say it loud and say it proud; most women age far more attractively than most men. This is particularly true nowadays, when women don’t get old prematurely as a result of multiple pregnancies, and have the financial resources for clothes, cosmetics, advanced dermatology and even cosmetic surgery. Madonna is far from being the only female celebrity to date younger men: Elle McPherson in her fifties is married to a man in his forties. She had the foresight to freeze her eggs when young, and has announced that a surrogate will carry her and her younger husband’s baby. Where celebrities go, other women will follow. Reproductive technology has added another string to the bow of women in the battle of the sexes (the first was contraception); like older men, older women can now marry younger men and have children.

Apart from all of that, women are less inclined themselves to put up with unsatisfactory relationships and are increasingly asserting their independence to go it alone as single women or single mothers, a trend that Madonna also exemplifies. As a feminist, I welcome  this new phase in the battle of the sexes: as a feminist theologian from within the Christian tradition (and a somewhat politically incorrect one), I can’t help but feel sad at the male behaviours that have led to this impasse; so many women have devoted themselves to raising families and supporting husbands only for many to find themselves discarded for a younger model when it suited their lords and masters. I would hazard a guess that Madonna would rather have full and meaningful relationships with men of her own vintage (she gave marriage a try, after all) but has found that they are too threatened by her. In leading the charge for her sex (whether consciously or not) Madonna may have begun a process that will eventually force men to up their moral game, and inaugurate a new age in which men and women  reach higher levels of maturity in their relationships. This may sound far-fetched, but a revolution in sexual relationships – both same sex and opposite sex – is well underway; ironically, it is gay people who are now preaching the importance of marriage to disillusioned heterosexuals, especially female ones. When the revolution is over, who knows what new paradigms will have emerged?

A final thought: it is sometimes suggested that the bible, in giving rise to the madonna/whore dichotomy, is responsible for, or contributes to, the double standard in the West. The madonna/whore encapsulation of the double standard is, however,  actually a travesty of the two characters concerned (Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene); yet it is archetypal in its mythological power. It is in exploration of the gap between the reality of what is portrayed in the New Testament and the myth it has engendered that, I would suggest, feminist theology can reap rich rewards. Is it a coincidence that the double standard, though universal, has encountered its most thought-provoking challenge yet in a Western, Christian female? Perhaps, but I think not. The reasons for this, however, are for feminist scholarly analysis to tease out. Roll on, third wave feminism…..

This is a modified and abridged version of an article in Feminist Studies in Religion. Read the full article at fsrinc.org/node/1673 or click on the link above.

Category: Feminism and Religion

Tags: Piers Morgan, Madonna, celebrity, feminist theology, the double standard

5 Replies to “Piers, Madonna and the Double Standard”

  1. Alfred Dorn says: Reply

    Of course you’re assuming that anything PM says about anybody really has any credibility. He just flung his cloak of culture to reveal that he’s no better than back alley slime, that thinks berating someone that won’t have anything to do with his type will cover up his sorry inadequacies.

    1. Yes, I have a feeling Madonna turned him down at some stage. She’s keeping a dignified silence throughout! Yet a man like Morgan has an arsenal of ready made insults to hurl at women who hurt their egos, but that’s not the case the other way round.

  2. So is it bad that women ‘have been deserted by their lords and masters’ for younger models or good that older women will be able desert their partners due to increased access to plastic surgery etc? Is the message stop treating eachother as objects that have a value linked to status/wealth/beauty or ‘haha older women are more beautiful than older men and they are going to punish you?’

    That is just one example of the subtle ways in which your language accuses men and excuses women – I spotted about 50 in the two or three articles I read. I never understand why exploring the intricacies of unsavoury behaviour by both genders is twisted into a positive spin on female liberation. Also why are celebrities such as Madonna who are at most symbols for the cult of modern self obsession & narcissism (status and beauty above all else) used to discuss the liberation of oppressed groups.

    I see simlarities with how feminist theologians try to ascribe symbolic meaning to all sorts of trivialities in religious texts and how modern feminists try and celebrate female celebrities who are plainly not some embodiment of a better world but are just faces at the top of the tree in pop culture which in face merely fuels and symbolises oppression.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. No, I think it’s sad that women are copying men’s immature behaviour, but it’s probably a phase that has to be gone through for men to mature as a sex. Older women would far rather have mature, grown-up relationships with men of their own vintage! And it was an awful remark of Morgan to make; there’s no equivalent a woman can make about a man.

  3. P. Morgan obviously couldn’t find a mature woman who would put up with that type of behavior, and feels that he has to make up insults at the smarter young ones who feel that they need a bath after thinking about him.

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