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Madonna, age and when a fall is not a fall

by on March 2, 2015

Unless you’ve been under a stone you’ve probably heard about the wardrobe malfunction that tugged Madonna over on stage at last week’s Brit awards.  But have you also been following how this has been reported? This item in The Guardian examines the media accounts of Madonna’s “fall”, asking when did falling over stop being one of life’s occasional vicissitudes and start being a sign that the endgame was approaching. Deborah Orr goes on to suggest that ‘this collective interpretation of a designer garroting as a “fall” is just part of an enduring obsession with Madonna’s age. Madonna is always being accused of trying to hide her age, to deny the reality of her age or failing to act her age.’

And indeed Madonna herself in a recent interview, reported here on the ContactMusic website, compared ageism to racism and homophobia, and said women in particular receive degrading remarks on the basis of their age. She is quoted as saying that “women generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they’re not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don’t follow the rules. I never did, and I’m not going to start.”

Back to Deborah Orr’s commentary in which she finds Madonna a ‘more inspiring figure now, as she declares the sexual worth of women in their 50s, than she was when declaring the sexual worth of a woman aged 28’. Her conclusion (below) is I think a very pertinent contribution to a topic we’ve seen raised many times, namely the conflation of youth and female worth and how this affects both the representation of older women in the media as well as their fortunes in the jobs market.

The trouble with female sexual worth, even self-defined sexual worth, is that it’s seen as a youthful gift of nature, with transient value. A culture that prioritises female sexual worth is a culture that necessarily sees a large part of female identity as not just disposable, not just transient, but as inevitably guaranteed to self-destruct.’

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