Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review: Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop

I confess, I was never a wannabe of Madonna's growing up. I came way too late for her early stuff ('86 baby!) and I was too into the Spice Girls to fully appreciate her later stuff. My father had The Immaculate Collection when I was a teen and I tried to understand how her songs and videos were so risque, especially in light of the stuff we have now. Her appropriation of other cultures aside, she was a trailblazer, whether you loved or hated her. And you get the spectrum in this new anthology, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop, which is chock full of some of the best writers today, including Kate Harding, Jessica Valenti, Wendy Shanker, Shawna Kenney, and Susan Shapiro.

The majority of the writers profess their love and ironic devotion, given Madonna's prolific use of religious imagery. They talk about her awakening them to feminism, to feeling that being a girl was okay and especially that being a sexual creature, and a female sexual creature at that was very much okay. In Soniah Kamal's essay, Into the Wilderness, the author reconciles her love of Madonna with her family's strict Muslim upbringing and how sin isn't necessarily a bad thing. Author Stacey May Fowles describes how watching Madonna's videos helped her embrace her submissive desires and explore them safely with her partners. And in Shawna Kenney's essay, she learns that mixing punk with Madonna-esque fashion can have some unintended results, leaving her to wonder "Did God care about what I looked like?".

The later half of the anthology talks about those less infatuated with her Madgestry, including Kate Harding's piece, "Conversations I Will Never Have With Madonna", in which she raises some very interesting questions that I would like to know the answers to, including one that had me chuckling loudly out loud (Honey, what is going on with your face? Is it reversible?) I loved Wendy Shanker's essay, "Mad Mensch" because it was completely outlandish but still very endearing, the idea of setting up Madonna, like a young Jewish matchmaker. But one of my favorite essays is "Count Madonnicula" by Lisa Crystal Carver. Trailblazer as Madonna may be, she still stole a lot. I remember watching the video for Vogue and feeling uncomfortable, not because of the dancing, but because she used people as props. Apparently, that feeling runs much deeper for Carver, who states:
              "Whether it’s adopting gay men’s vogueing, adopting an Africanchild (I mean, geez—that baby had a dad!), or adopting an accent, she sneaks up on lesser-known people (which means everyone, for her), snatches the surface of their lives, and fashions a show or a children’s book or a life decision from it."

Madonna is in a place of incredible privilege and I don't believe she's ever really handled it all that well.

The anthology was a treat to read however. Since I came of age after the Golden Age of Madonna in the '80's, I never paid her much mind. I did enjoy bopping to her songs when they came on the radio, but had never really stopped to think about how much she is embedded in our culture. These writers delivered and much more in this new anthology.

(Photo credit: (I received a review copy of this book, but all opinions are my own.)


  1. I'm a Madonna fan, (and an 80s' baby) so I may be biased reading this review, but the line, "Madonna is in a place of incredible privilege and I don't believe she's ever really handled it all that well" doesn't make sense to me.

    She has went to Malawi to donate money and time to helping orphans. She has reinvented ideas and made them mainstream. I highly doubt Voguing would have ever been known if she didn't do a music video about it.

    She's in a place of incredible privilege because she worked for it and she has done so much by pushing feminism to the limits by being sexual AND powerful.

    If adopting a kid is a trend, then is a pretty good one, because not everyone does that. And the dad couldn't take care of the kid, it's not like she snatched some kid away from someone who didn't want to give their child away.

    There wouldn't be a Spice Girls and especially Geri Hawlliwell if it weren't for Madonna. Madonna was the main trendsetter for all female pop artists to come. Like how Michael Jackson is an inspiration for almost every male singer after him.

    Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, all of the female pop singers today and tomorrow are forever different because Madonna pushed musical art to the limit in views of what women could do with their sexuality, power and awakening people to what's happening in the world.

    1. I completely agree that she paved the way for many female singers and artists, but she is a white female and thus she has white privilege that she hasn't really addressed.

      I agree that doing aid work is important, but there has been a long legacy of white women taking black babies away from their families, especially during slavery. Voguing was known, in the communities that started it and she just copied the style without really ever giving much credit to the people who invented the art form.

      Madonna is a very complicated figure and one that deserves more evaluation.

  2. Hi Jillian,
    I thought you might be interested in an interview I am doing with the books editor tonight at 8pm. (But it will be archived also in case this doesn't get to you by then. You can find me at: