Madonna delivers powerful speech on sexism, misogyny and ageism at Billboard Women in Music event

Madonna attends the 11th annual Billboard Women in Music honors.
(Evan Agostini / Invision)

While being honored as this year’s Woman of the Year at Billboard’s event for women in music, Madonna gave a powerful speech about her experience in the music industry. She unflinchingly recounted moments where people’s perceptions of her age, gender or creative expression of her sexuality had the potential to stall her career.

“There are no rules, if you’re a boy,” she said from the stage Friday night. “If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world.”

She added: “Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age because to age is a sin. You will be criticized… vilified and definitely not played on the radio.”

Madonna was presented her award by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper who called her “relevant but revolutionary,” noting the inspirational role the “Like A Virgin” singer-songwriter played for him as a gay teen.


“Her music and outspokenness showed me as a teenager a way forward,” he said, according to Billboard. “Through her music, she told me and millions of teenagers — gay and straight — that we are not alone. We are connected to each other.”

That audaciousness, Madonna said in her speech, is what she found herself clinging to when famed feminist writer Camille Paglia said that the singer’s sexual objectification of herself set women back.

“So I thought, ‘Oh, if you’re a feminist, you don’t have sexuality, you deny it,’” she said. “So I said ‘[forget] it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.’”

And though she has been deemed controversial over her 30-year career “the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around,” she said.


“Michael [Jackson] is gone. Tupac [Shakur] is gone. Prince is gone. Whitney [Houston] is gone. Amy Winehouse is gone. David Bowie is gone. But I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones, and every day I count my blessings.”

Ending her speech, she gave a message to all “the doubters and naysayers” of her career: “Your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. It made me the woman that I am today. So thank you.”

A portion of the speech can be seen in the video below. Billboard’s Women In Music event will air Dec. 12 on Lifetime.


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