The latest Madonna antic to inspire global rage comes from the stage of her Rebel Heart tour in Brisbane, Australia, where she pulled down the top of an unsuspecting fan to reveal a naked breast. Naked breasts, obviously, are not to be seen publicly, unless by Official Decree of The Special Order of Men’s Interests (which I believe is the next Harry Potter book). So naturally, this got everyone very pissed off—even more so because the fan in question is only 17-years-old, which one year “underage” in the majority of American states, but also one year over the age of consent in Australia. Before tugging on the young woman’s top, Madonna said, "She's the kinda girl you just wanna slap on the ass," at which point she pulled down the strapless top to reveal a breast—which appeared to be totally accidental, by the way—and said, "Oh shit, I'm sorry, sexual harassment!"
The media immediately rose to attention, with Piers Morgan, old man who shakes Twitter at cloud, characteristically giving his two cents on how women should conduct themselves in public, calling Madonna’s actions “sexual abuse,” and labeling her a “dirty old woman.” Morgan continued on a sexist tirade for the Daily Mail (LOL), including the predictable jabs at Madonna’s motherhood and age, writing “you have five children, not one. Oh, and to make it even more excruciating, you're 57 and old enough to be this girl's grandparent.” (No news yet on whether Piers Morgan thinks old men groping/marrying/starring alongside younger women is disgusting or not). He went on to compare Madonna’s actions to what would happen if a man did the same, asking (and answering for himself because MAN) “Now imagine if you were a male celebrity in that position? What do you think would happen to you? First, there would be universal revulsion. Second, there would be global media fury. Third, you would almost certainly face arrest for lewd conduct and/or sexual abuse.” Well no, actually, Piers. That’s a completely false assumption. There are vast archives of concert footage, easily searchable on YouTube, of male performers routinely doing similar, and sometimes even more invasive things—and being celebrated for it. And none of them are the subject of “media fury” or legal action.
Let’s start by dispelling the idea that Madonna took part in non-consensual behavior. While the teen in question, Josephine Georgiou, likely didn’t know her breast would be exposed, she later told Queensland newspaper, The Courier Mail, "Only I get to decide if I'm humiliated or not, why would people assume I am humiliated by my own breast, nipple or body? Seriously, why would I sue Madonna for the best moment of my life? It was the best night… She was calling me a Victoria's Secret model the whole time I was on stage, which is so flattering." The objectification of women is something that’s a rampant problem in society, and Madonna certainly doesn’t help her cause by sexualizing Georgiou on stage. But this is something male performers, despite Morgan’s protestations, do nearly constantly and with impunity. So why do we reserve our collective horror for Madonna when she’s not done anything different that someone we’d call a “self respecting” male pop star?
Men carry on in much more sexually aggressive and invasive ways on stage and we’re expected—and indeed, do—swoon at their unbridled dream-boatiness. When a woman is made to feel sexy and adored by a male performer through him complimenting her body, or touching her provocatively, it’s supposed to be a transcendent experience for the woman. Robbie Williams invented kissing female fans on stage for our generation. Usher takes fans, some reluctant and some incredibly enthusiastic, onto the stage and simulates graphic sex, physically grinding his penis into various parts of the women’s bodies (see below). Chris Brown does the same thing. Justin Bieber brings fans onstage to make out with them (keeping in mind that Bieber concerts are largely populated by teenage girls). Drake gropes his fan’s bottoms and breasts, while kissing their bodies onstage. Enrique Iglesias kisses besotted fans during performances. The list goes on. In all of these cases the women go willingly—but Georgiou went willingly with Madonna, too. For the women molested onstage by men, it’s a rite of passage, something for them to take pride in. So why isn’t it the same for Georgiou? And more importantly, if we’re so mad about what Madonna did, why aren’t we mad about what Williams, Usher, Bieber, Brown, Drake, and Iglesias have done, and continue to do regularly?
Usher gets his grind on
Bieber lays one on a fan
It’s not just men we excuse. Female pop stars like Rihanna and Britney Spears commonly lapdance for male audience members on stage too. And you don’t see Morgan and the crusty old man brigade taking issue with that. Where sexuality exists to serve male desire—for instance, when a conventionally beautiful, youthful woman grinds on a man the way he might pay a stripper to do—it’s allowed. Because female sexuality, first and foremost, exists for male pleasure, and when it’s hijacked by an “undesirable” older woman, it fucks with the status quo in a way that’s too foreign for the male erection to comprehend. Therefore, it’s rejected. The same thing happened to Madonna when she kissed Drake on stage—if she had’ve been another woman, one accepted as universally sexy by the male peanut gallery, the act wouldn’t have been received with such disdain.
The kind of disgust being displayed by Piers Morgan and his peers here seems to be very selective. It’s a disapproval that’s inherently tailored to Madonna and an action that seems to threaten the heteronormativity of desire. It tells us that men are not interested in women adoring women, or women seeking sexual approval from other women. Men like Piers Morgan would like to remind us they alone are the arbiters of what is “legitimately” sexy, and Madonna praising Georgiou the way a man might simply doesn’t not conform to that. Basically, no one invited Madonna to cast her vote. When Madonna is vilified for doing the exact same things that are celebrated when they’re performed by and for men, it’s evidence that female sexual autonomy is still a mythological concept we’re chasing. Madonna, Georgiou, all of us—we’re all fettered by the dictates of male desire in a world where the performance of sexuality has little to do with what the performer thinks is sexy, and everything to do with what the boys like.
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