5 Times Madonna smashed the patriarchy.

The Radical Notion‘s Tanya Parker wrote a very interesting article about Madonna’s fearlessness listing five moments proving that she is the OG (original gangster) of pop music. Check it out:

I remember listening to the True Blue album on my walkman so much that a tangled mess of tape would come out and I would fix it with a pencil. (If you’re in your thirties, you know what I’m talking about it. If you’re younger than that, you’re probably still stuck on “what’s a walkman?”) I never wore the classic Madonna outfit–the black half shirt, the fish net gloves, lace leggings, and mini skirt. I was a little young for that but I totally would have if my mother would have allowed it.

Madonna is known for being a boss. Her business skills are often described as “manipulative”, “relentless”, and “brilliant”. Some of those adjectives might not have been used if she were a man. Madonna is a shrewd businesswoman who worked hard for her successes. She knows her brand and she has marketed it well.

Aside from her business successes, she has indisputably had an effect on music and has opened the doors for female artists to express their sexuality and while some may not find that to be much of a feminist accomplishment, it speaks directly to the patriarchal concept of the virgin-whore dichotomy. Madonna fought for freedom of expression–yes, much of what she wanted to express was sexual in nature–but why shouldn’t women have equal opportunity to express whatever they want artistically?

So let’s recognize Madonna’s fearlessness with five times that Madonna proved that she’s the OG of pop music:

1. Like a Prayer & Papa Don’t Preach

When Like a Prayer came out, I remember my mother having an opinion on it which was rare. She didn’t often comment on pop culture. We weren’t a religious family. I remember going to church twice, once for Easter and the other time I was there because they were offering free family portraits. Nevertheless, my mother was absolutely horrified that Madonna was getting down in a church with a black man. Scandalous! I, however, thought that this was the greatest video ever made and I could listen to that song on repeat for days.

Like a Prayer really was pretty shocking. Madonna made a video in 1989 featuring a black man getting arrested for a white man’s crime, interracial sexual activity in a church, stigmata, and burning fucking crosses. Boom! That was hardcore for 1989.

This wasn’t the first time Madonna pissed everyone off with a video and it wouldn’t be the last time she would anger religious leaders. With Like a Prayer, Madonna shook things up even more than when she released the Papa Don’t Preach video in 1986 which elicited responses from everyone from Gloria Allred, the spokesperson for the National Organization for Women at the time, to Planned Parenthood, to Tipper Gore all for different reasons.  Papa Don’t Preach, a song about a pregnant teenager who decides to continue her pregnancy, was considered by many to be a ringing endorsement of teen pregnancy. It was a sign of the conservative Reagan era that people actually thought that Madonna’s video would cause otherwise “good girls” to go out and get themselves pregnant. How little faith they had in young women. Since we never did see that Papa Don’t Preachbaby boom nine months later, I’m assuming that Madonna didn’t turn teenagers into wanton hussies with bastard children. Madonna was also accused of fanning the flames of the abortion debate. Anti-Choice groups latched onto the song as being “pro-life”. They continue to list Papa Don’t Preach as a “pro-life” song but often use a disclaimer that Madonna isn’t “pro-life” but the song is.

If you haven’t seen Like a Prayer, what are you waiting for? Classic Madonna!

“Sex”, currently out of print. It is the most sought after out of print book on eBay and Amazon.

2. Sex, The book

In 1992, Madonna released a coffee table book of soft-core erotica images called Sex. I emphasize coffee table book because seriously, who would do such a thing in 1992? A coffee table book is just that. It’s sitting on your coffee table when your Aunt comes over for tea. No one had a book that needed to be relegated to the back of the closet when relatives came over in 1992. If the internet was a thing when Sex was released, Madonna would have broken it. Conservatives were nearly being overcome with the vapors over this. It was shocking and certainly contributing to the downfall of society and the demoralizing of America’s youth.

The book contained images, many of which were sadomasochistic, of Madonna alone and with models, some of which were women. They were all engaged in various sexual poses. This was one of the first times that Madonna addressed gay sexuality. She was later praised by LGBT groups for depicting lesbian sex openly and equally with the heterosexual pairings in the book. For an example, click here(obviously not safe for work. duh).

The release of the book was simultaneously a shit show and also fairly epic. It was banned in some countries including India and Japan. Bookstores were on the ready to deliver a speech about censorship and the role of book sellers to anyone who protested their selling the book. The Vatican publicly condemned the book. All the while, Madonna said that she did it to “liberate” America because we were all too Puritanical and then she went on being a boss.

Fun Fact: Vanilla Ice, who was unfortunately Madonna’s boyfriend at the time, said that seeing Madonna with other men in the book was the reason for their break up. If I were Madonna, I would be grateful every day that I published that book. That man is a tool.

Madonna ~ Human Nature (Official Music Video)

3. Human Nature

By the time Human Nature came out in 1994, I was no longer listening to pop music and was way more into the punk stuff. I couldn’t relinquish my punk cred by listening to Madonna but Human Nature was so fucking fantastic that I still secretly listened to it when my friends weren’t around. The lyrics are rather feministy:

“Human Nature”
Express yourself, don’t repress yourself

And I’m not sorry (I’m not sorry)
It’s human nature (it’s human nature)
And I’m not sorry (I’m not sorry)
I’m not your bitch don’t hang your shit on me (it’s human nature)

You wouldn’t let me say the words I longed to say
You didn’t want to see life through my eyes
(Express yourself, don’t repress yourself)
You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies
(Express yourself, don’t repress yourself)

Did I say something wrong?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex
(I musta been crazy)
Did I stay too long?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t speak my mind
(What was I thinking)

You punished me for telling you my fantasies
I’m breakin’ all the rules I didn’t make
(Express yourself, don’t repress yourself)
You took my words and made a trap for silly fools
You held me down and tried to make me break
(Express yourself, don’t repress yourself)

Did I say something true?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex
(I musta been crazy)
Did I have a point of view?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about you
(What was I thinking)

Express yourself, don’t repress yourself
Express yourself, don’t repress yourself

(I’m not apologizing)
(Would it sound better if I were a man?)
(You’re the one with the problem)
(Why don’t you just deal with it)

(Would you like me better if I was?)
(We all feel the same way)
(I have no regrets)
(Just look in the mirror)

(I don’t have to justify anything)
(I’m just like you)
(Why should I be?)
(Deal with it)

4. The Feminist Interview

Madonna did this interview in March.  It’s really a great read and if you’re interested in Madonna’s views about social justice, feminism, women, and sexuality, you should definitely read it. Madonna has this to say about the state of the world for women right now:

Well, I think that we still live in an incredibly sexist society, even though it seems like women have made a lot of strides. A woman is still put in a category, still put in boxes. You can be sexy, but you can’t be smart. You can be smart, but you can’t be sexy. You can be sexy, but you can’t be 50.”

So, we live in a very ageist society, which means we live in a sexist society because nobody ever gives men shit for how they behave, however old they are. There is no rulebook. As a man, you can date whoever you want. You can dress however you want. You can do whatever you want in any area that you want. But, if you’re a woman, there are rules, and there are boundaries. And, I feel like a lot of my biggest critics are women.

For another take on Madonna as a “feminist icon”, click here.

Madonna performing Vogue during the 2012 MDNA Tour. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

5. She’s a survivor

I would be remiss if I didn’t write about Madonna as a survivor. As a child, Madonna experienced the death of her mother to breast cancer which affected her deeply. She was raised in a religious family with strict gender roles and patriarchal influences. Despite all of that, she left her home and set about making herself into the best selling female artist of all time. While in New York, Madonna was raped at knife point but never reported the crime. She has since spoken out about how shame and fear about the reporting process kept her from reporting the rape. Madonna is a survivor who has worked damn hard to get where she is today. She said this about her new song with Nicki Minaj called Bitch I’m Madonna:  “I feel like I’ve earned the right to say, ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna. Don’t fuck with me.’ I’m allowed to do this now. I’ve earned my stripes.”  Fuck yeah, Madonna. You have.

Read more: The Radical Notion.