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Gender Roles Inversion: The Madonna Phenomenon Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 23rd, 2022


In the postmodern world, traditional gender roles seem intact in the western society. While their establishment seems clear since they are evident through mass media, celebrities like Madonna want to break free from some conservative roles. Can she be called the first woman at the forefront of gender social transformations? The profound changes in conventional sex roles were set up by modernized changes in cultural attitudes.

From historical perspective, it occurred due to a structural revolution in the characteristics of modern family institutions, educational opportunities for girls and women, and paid labor force. At the same time partial narrowing of the gender gap in the context of economic participation did not lead to the equality of men and women in the field of their occupations. Not only did women hold different jobs, they were distinguished in the status and possible rewards.

Such socially accepted rules raised questions about attitude toward the family and moral values, establishment of which is now assessed as long and tedious rather than fast and fruitful. For this reason, the phenomenon of Madonna as of a revolutionary presentation of the inverted gender roles is extremely interesting to investigate.

The concept of gender roles

There does not seem to be any difficulty in finding the topic to speak in the domain of gender roles. As a preliminary, it would be a nice idea to state the concept of gender role in terms of its peculiarities, in order to see later how Madonna tried to change it. Phenomenology of gender is in the fact that not only does it encompass biological state, but expands wider and includes social functions and roles that are typical of each sex and are imposed by the culture in which one lives.

Being built on the biological and physical peculiarities, general appearance and personality, life experience and general professionalism, education and career, sex and love affairs, gender becomes very individual. Gender experience influences the way people live, think about themselves and others, create the images of themselves for their own needs and for the sake of society.

Indeed, having a certain gender role means taking on the responsibility of having certain qualities and being able to do certain functions; thus, having a gender role means being a link in the chain of society. It is also necessary to mention that gender role goes hand to hand with the concept of self-estimation that is explained as understanding of one’s self in the social relations. Another vital item to be explained in this context is an efficacy of a person or one’s believes and motives for his or her further achievements.

Speaking generally, gender role, according to Dr Patterson, is a concept that should be regarded at a total of its five domains which are “the public, the domestic, the public or domestic, the global, and the intimate” (Lee, 34). Those domains deal with the family, economic, political, sexual, and social issues. By this it is meant, that the full overview of the issue of gender roles definition is inclined to refer to all the spheres of both male’s and female’s lives.

Moreover, the topic of gender inequality goes mainly to the process of understanding the causes and consequences of women’s social subordination. Those who resisted it, including Madonna, took part in the movement for gender equality, which got the name “feminism” and became the most powerful force transformation in the modern Western society. The main topic is the question of feminism itself. Simply put, feminism is the general belief in the equality of sexes: politically, socially and economically.

Feministic concepts of gender roles and Madonna

In terms of its importance in history, feminism is broken down into three waves of revolutionary movements. The first “feminism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries focused on the acquisition of a few basic political rights and liberties for women, such as the right of married women to own property and enter into contracts, the right of defendants to have women on juries and the crucial right to vote” (Vetterling-Braggin 1).

This was happening primarily in England, followed by the United States. The second wave of these movements came in the early 1960’s to the early 1980’s in the United States. However, this time, the revolution was not primarily focused on the political freedom of women but on the social confines of a mainly patriarchal society as well.

Some say the founder of the National Organization for Women, Betty Friedan, sparked the activity of women that realized the social restrictions they were bound to. She did so first with her influential book The Feminine Mystique. The second wave brought to the public’s attention that the harmful effects of gender roles not only confined women as homemakers but also restricted the men socially. These ideas were basic for the young Madonna, who learned them while forming her views on life.

The final feminist wave, beginning in the late 1980’s, saw the adverse reaction to the focus on middle-class white women in the second wave. It “embraces contradictions, conflict and irrationality and attempts to accommodate diversity and change” (Tong, 284). Other issues that the third wave deals with are postmodernity, obscurity of gender, social class and race. Conceivably, Madonna, whose appearance in show business coincided with the third wave, became the role model of the feministic movement of the time.

For many years Madonna occupies her position as one of the most talked about, liked, hated, and productive artists in the world. Humanity used to accept her as a role model for women in various cultures, she symbolizes independence both in the sphere of personal freedom and professional education.

She is associated with sexual liberation. However, the nature of her nickname ‘Bad Girl’ presupposes analyses of even the smallest details of this fabulous persona’s life and activity. In took her just eleven years, after she had released her record, to become a woman with a name of queen of the universe. Her name and birth, appearance and childhood, adolescence and career are all the elements of one puzzle, which is Madonna’s struggle against constrains of her family, society, and her own nature.

Rebellious infancy of Madonna

One can begin to strip this rebellious persona down by delving into Madonna’s childhood. According to the American sociologist Talcott Parsons’ 1955 model A: Total Role Segregation of nuclear families in America, it is the mother’s responsibility to care for her children physically as well as to teach social behaviors that her children should display (Wikipedia, “Gender Role”).

Considering Madonna’s perseverance in getting out on the net of gender roles, rules and norms, it becomes vivid that her character owed much her name. Madonna Louise Ciccone appeared to retain the magnificent, even magical nature of Virgin Mary who she was called after due to the religiousness of her family. It sounds like the destiny of the star has been defined long before her birth and the name given her by parents was a sign Madonna’s further segregation in her life and career.

Sigmund Freud would probably have a field day analyzing her [Madonna’s] predilection for the color symbolizing virginity. All her friends, family, and admirers know about her preference for white, and large vases of gardenias, white tuberoses, and white lilies – all her favourite flowers – fill the room (Ciccone, 11).

The theme of name possession she critically raised a bit later, during her “Confession” tour in Los Angeles in 2006. While performing a mock crucifixion in her song “Live to Tell”, the performer revealed her saint and sinner nature the public. The most probable reason for such appearing, after which Madonna was condemned for her insensitivity, was a message about love and respect towards each other. She seemed to cherish her possibility to speak to humans in the name of Jesus who praised the love to every human.

Definition of Madonna’s rebellious behavior and her rejection to comply with the traditions and norms of the society fully matches the one, mentioned in Rising Tide by Ronald Inglehart and Pipa Norris. The authors give their explanation of the reasons or factors of the movements against gender inequality.

Historical accounts of the women’s movement or of advances in women’s rights have often stressed that certain cultural or ideological shifts are sui generis (Inglehard, Norris, 150).

Assuming the conservative structure, the woman of nuclear family is also the birth mother of the children mentioned in Parsons’ model. However, due to the death of Madonna’s own mother at an early age, Madonna is deprived of this “education.” This impacted the performer in many ways. Furthermore, her father’s marriage to the family’s housekeeper increased the daughter’s resentment to him, and may very well be the central cause of her rebellious personality. She revealed her real nature early at school, never seeming to radiate serenity.

Far opposite, wishing to controvert every single rule she had been taught about, she probably demonstrated her ever lasting wish to get the maximum of attention in the family as well as later on, in her career.

… she was performing in an auditorium full of established actors and actresses, a group of people to which she didn’t really belong, who didn’t respect her as an actress but whose respect she desperately wanted to win (Ciccone, 5).

She appeared to have a reasonable chance of doing this, but the fact itself requires an instant background check. The reason of this doing her best is easily explained in Madonna’s own words.

Madonna just wanted to be a star. A driving, burning ambition to be famous seemed to be born within her, just a part of who she was at the core. When, in fact, she did realize her dream, one of her most celebrated remarks would be “I have the same goal I’ve had since I was a little girl. I want to rule the world” (Taraborrelli, 8).

Her personal understanding diverged from the traditional ideas of the family with intense religious devotion. Thus, becoming successful for Madonna meant to release from constrains of her family, which she perceived as an imminent danger. Protesting against the rules of no short haircuts, no make-up, and no silky tights, the girl manifested her self that was nothing to do with restrictions of any type.

She had already managed to outrage her father with a performance in a school talent show when she was 13, flashing the audience in a revealing body suit she wore under a trench coat. And she had already made her film debut in 1976 video made by one of her classmates in which an egg is shown “frying” on Madonna’s yet-to-be-famous belly button (Cross, 9).

Her suggestions of freedom she submitted by wearing everything she loved, dancing the way she enjoyed, and even playing in her classmates home made video. These events might as well being on her insatiable need for attention and adoration, intensifying a traditional role girls are instilled with during the upbringing; they are objects to be viewed.

From possible influence on Madonna’s rebelliousness one can define the time period in which she was born, during the second wave of the feminist movement.

As an eager teenager absorbing the many aspects of the major issues at that time, Madonna discovered its intense focus on a woman’s self-identity, society’s views of who they are, and criticism of those against trans-genders and transsexuals. Perhaps, Madonna read Feminine Mystique the book that sparked the questioning of how women was to define themselves homemakers in the 1950’s and later brought on the feminist-social revolution.

Friedan begins the book with an introduction to the general pattern of American women’s unhappiness and the simultaneous practice of girls pushed into becoming young housewives according to the media’s and society’s expectations.

Most women of this time are conditioned to fear that if they do not follow the road to who they should become, they would be cast as “unfeminine” or that something was inarguably wrong with them. Friedan then thinks back to who she thought were the true heroines, the early feminists that fought for their right to receive education, equality in career opportunities and suffrage.

These early feminists had become successful in whatever they chose to do, proving the fallacy that being homemakers was the right way for women. She then discusses the ridiculous “sex-directed educators” who taught the same women who became young homemakers to stick to the confining disciplines.

The women who had careers outside the home were accused of causing the emotional disorders that their husbands developed after returning from World War II because these women lacked focus on caring for their families. A special point to note here is that Madonna dropped out of college to pursue a career in dance.

Therefore, she could not be drilled with the same knowledge that the rest of the women in this time had suffered even if her college only had a slight inclination towards giving the same type of curriculum. Friedan also explains the immature nature of these housewives, their negative cycle of finding no self-identification in their roles and in turn, providing no benefit to the children’s needs to discover their own identity.

The next goes childhood that might have given the most vivid outlook on the performer’s initializing. Rebellion against her family, particularly his father who got married after her mother’s death and kept his family in the strict Catholic dogmas, the rules and norms of the family and school, obeying of which was undisputable.

Madonna hardly saw to eye with her stepmother while resisting her household chore, which was given to each of the children. She did not have any intention to give up all that in order to omit the constant keeping her down. Free she was in all her ideas and it appeared to be no power to structure her ambitions. Her rights in the family were not limited in accordance with any existing standard, but incapable of getting additional options.

Childhood transformations are defined in the book Life with My Sister Madonna where in a kind of verbose manner the early years of Madonna are portrayed by her brother Christopher.

From the very beginning of the book it becomes clear that now fabulous singer, but earlier a small girl who was born in a big family, obviously demonstrated her boredom of any socially accepted activity. She was free and demonstrated her frivolity and ability to release from whatever constrains any moment she could. Unstable and difficult to be predicted, she was born to impress the world.

Madonna gave herself a strict daily routine, as her brother Christopher Ciccone reveals in his book.

Schedule, in fact, is my sister’s middle name. Up at nine in the morning, in bed by eleven at night, with every hour in between planned by her as rigidly as military campaign. With her mania for making lists, for running her life according to a timetable, in another incarnation Madonna could easily have run a prison, directed airport traffic, or been a five-star general (2).

This shows that even though she has escaped the general construction of confined roles in terms of a career, Madonna is still influenced by and seeks the familiarity of the characteristics of the daily life of a housewife. Madonna displayed the advocacy of racial equality as well as social class of the third wave in many of her music videos.

For example, in her controversial music video “Like a Prayer” she kisses a black man accused of rape. Christopher attributed it to their parents, who chose to live in a community of Mexicans, blacks and caucasians. He wrote, “They hope[d] that living in such a multi-racial community will foster racial tolerance in all of [the] children…[and “Like a Prayer”] is one of the many proofs that they succeeded” (29).

To return to the main theme: There are many signs of rebellion in Madonna early in her life. The combination of the death of his mother and her uncanny resemblance to her made for a special place in her father’s heart. Christopher, Madonna’s younger brother, could not recall any scolding or disciplining of his sister.

While the six siblings took turns at household chores given to them by their stepmother, Madonna escaped these duties on the account of Joan’s fear of overworking her father’s special child. When she returned home late one night, Madonna finally received a slight physical punishment from Joan. Madonna replied back with a slap (37).

It turned out that a group of bikers drove up to the pit and started playing loud music. Everyone else was really annoyed, but only Madonna had the guts to go up and say something. So one of the biker chicks beat her up. Madonna shrugged the whole thing off her confidence and bravery intact (37).

She got black eyes and bleeding nose as an identification of her strong personality. She learned from the creed of her own philosophy and applied standards to the rest, her family, her friends, and just acquaintances.

At the age of fourteen she performed on the stage having the deep sense of her own sexuality. Having appeared in green and fluorescent pink paint, critically short top that more resembled stripe and shorts, Madonna seemed to be entirely naked as her father claimed her to be.

At that time small girl caught the attention of auditorium and made everyone unable to take their eyes off her figure. Knowing that her performance may have become a real scandal in that conservative society of her upbringing, she showed no respect to any of the remarks. That trick seemed to work while even her brother Christopher changed his mind of his sister. In his book he states,

“As for me, the night of the talent show marks the birth of my fascination with my sister Madonna. For on that night, I understand she isn’t like everyone else; she is profoundly different” (42).

It appears that throughout the whole strenuous life Madonna keeps her eye on her main chance. She stays her opportunity to be strong, sexually attractive and in good physical form in order to overcome any single challenge that could possibly appear on her way to success.

At the time of her teens she is charmed with the magnificent movements that seem so much promising and even buzzing from the side did not prevent her from doing her job the way she saw it.

She was lithe and agile and had the discipline and commitment to do well. Avowedly gay, Flynn took her out with him to the gay nightclubs in downtown, Detroit, where they often stole the show on the dance floor together, doing the latest dance steps. Dance lessons suddenly opened up a career path that Madonna was passionate about (Cross, 10).

The continuation of dancing career became a matter of will for Madonna who in the realm of her own determination became ready to let everybody’s jaws drop. The rebelliousness of this action may appear in the explanation that her meticulous performing activity at that time most probably was driven by a sense of disobedience.

Even being young, in her teens, she was not afraid to be misunderstood, misinterpreted or simply gagged at. Frequently she provoked the society to contemplate their own wishes and desires, not the rules imposed on them by someone else. She put on her shorts, this time not even a top, but a bra, dressed in black color, by all these making the observers bemused by what they see.

Bemused but not shocked with her pale complexion, blond hair, minimal dress, and red lipstick. This image of a fashion icon she guards up to now, sending new trends and bringing new details and so-called style improvements.

Madonna: thew roots of social rebelliousness

Concerning the social life and entrenched norms, Madonna understood them mostly as relics that should be changed. However, before any statements are made about the revolution caused by the star, it is to be mentioned that, although Madonna struggles to blur the lines that distinguish a man from a woman, one may observe that there is a paradox in her attempts as she seeks out her own identity.

In the book The Beauty Myth Naomi Wolf states, “The 70’s jolted women into positions of power” and “If women were going to have sexual freedom and a measure of worldly power, they’d better learn to fuck like men” (134).

Soon after, Madonna’s long lasting star power beginning in the 80’s showed her ability to portray the traits of both sexes. Wearing male costumes and demonstrating her male strength, did she have an intention to relish from her own singing and acting activities or simply tried hard to boost her chances of success? Are her actions a presentation of liberation for women or are they simply another ploy to seek attention by drawing people to the mysteriousness of androgyny?

The position of the girl who was in her father’s good book and never got told off could not be different from a feminine oriented. Madonna struggled for public space, encouraging in this way other activists who were eager to get their status in the society of no men-women division.

From her perspective, this movement would enable considerable changes in the social and moral values when the limits of effective participation and contribution were going to depend purely on a person and his or her will. Altering the traditional norms and rules of the society where female rights were of a limited if not occasional nature, the process was believed to shape broader ideas.

Meanwhile, Madonna’s rather stern character entirely corresponds with the idea of feminism that steered an animated discussion toward treating gender inequalities in the context of bipolar logic. Being understood correctly or not, the public image of Madonna fully matches the previously mentioned definition, moreover stated in the book.

In case of understanding Madonna in the light of postmodernism it appears that everything she does should have been “governed by pre-established rules, and may not be judged […] according to predefined categories” (Guilbert, 21).

In all likelihood, the situation with Madonna’s breaking all rules of conventional understanding of her role in the society is not as rosy as it may seem.

Madonna’s crucification on the cross in her Confession tour in 2006 generated a storm of controversy and Vatican’s condemnation. The issue of sexuality, in this case of a naked man from the cross, is raised throughout her career. She tends to provoke religious groups by her every concert or interview, however, little do we know about the real Madonna’s peculiarity, mentioned by her brother.

For although Madonna is notorious for her lack of inhibition, for posing nude for art students, modeling topless for Gaultier – in private, she is far from too shy and prudish to allow herself to be seen naked at close quarters by a stranger [her dresser] (Ciccone, 15).

This information may sound like delusional nonsense, considering her insatiable appetite for self revelation realized in Madonna’s frequent frivolities. They are far from innocent more appearing to be deliberate incidents of witchcraft. Madonna’s kissing with Britney Spears, made in public, was claimed by the church who did it down to be seduction.

Moreover it was settled for by publicity, believing it to be a kind of promotion via mass offence or “blatant insensitivity” as it was called. But good or bad as it is now said to be, the act itself was a claim of freedom made for the young generation who should be neither restricted, nor afraid.

Madonna tends to bring a lot to watch, moreover, she carries much to contemplate. It seems now that by her hanging she gave auditorium a fascinating view no matter believed or not to be immoral.

The representatives of the young generation were looked to express their disapproval while being given a chance to strike a balance between their wishes and duties. The main idea postulated by Madonna was to make people realize their deeds and confess about every single activity. She saw about this putting the question Have You Confessed? on the screen.

June Sochen in her book From Mae to Madonna states that Madonna in her career was predominantly teen oriented.

However, in contrast to Mae West, whose prime audience was energetic college men, Madonna appealed to teenyboppers, little eleven-and twelve-year-old girls who imitated her dress, exposed their belly buttons, and wore fingerless lace gloves (189).

This fact served as a kind of tantalizing remark for the singer. Her first tour helped to visualize that her auditorium was 60 percent female. She was understood as a feminist icon, a role model aimed at teens and young feministic oriented women. Madonna never called herself a feminist, but humanist, a woman who should be kept in mind for her devoted life of self sacrifice in the name of freedom, tolerating the rights of others and intimidating those who were paralyzed even at the idea of structure rebounding.

By enlisting Madonna in the rank of postmodern personalities Georges-Claude falls in with the remark that she is not a person whose image will ever wear away. He mentions that Madonna fits the definition of the postmodern star just because she “chooses the elements that suit her, but without worrying about the usual criteria of high and low culture” (Guilbert, 23). It speaks much in the context of her clips in sadomasochism style.

Madonna brought her sexual image to a new, more controversial plateau by casually throwing in quips relating to sadomasochism” (Taraborrelli, 178).

Such her behavior became a revelation and a treat. It unnerved those aggressively reacting on Madonna’s music activity and repeatedly raised a question of her morality. But it does not anyhow influence her popularity.

To prove his idea the author states in his book, “when she (Madonna) poses for a photographer, she knows that the pictures will rapidly be circulated all over the planet, from one magazine to another, from one press agency to another, sometimes pirated…when Madonna grants a press conference, hundreds of journalists publish the same questions and answers as if each of them were the authors” (Guilbert, 50). Is not it a fame that escorts her to the tops of the worlds’ charts?

For her pornographic session Madonna was severely criticized by church after millions of her fans picked up a trend of wearing Christian crosses as a jewelry that was officially said to offend many traditionalists’ believes and affront social values. Madonna openly declared that her main weapon in all the sexual wars was humor and her sexual attractiveness was her own form of her power. And the sensible approach to its usage gave her the ability to notch up the maximum success.

Perhaps she overstepped the boundaries because the controversy did not produce a blockbuster. Critics panned the book as prurient and in extreme bad taste. It is not known whether Madonna knew of Mae West’s 1926 play by the same mane that also received bad reviews, but it is clear that Madonna continues to search for ways to create and recreate her successful image and remain a star (Sochen, 192)

Astute marketer of her own persona as Madonna appears in the book Madonna’s Drowned World, she opposes the discrepancy of the life. ’Madonna phenomenon’ became a new name that rebounded after her life being put to tatters a couple of times before reaching a long awaited top. The author says,

“Representing an expansive sonic plane, her productions open up an important space for understanding the intricacies of identity at play” (Fouz-Hernandez, 3).

She speaks with her public by means of her songs the true secret of which is carried not in the production of sounds, but in the problems discussed in them. It speaks even more than Madonna’s own segregation from so-called legitimacy of staggeringly unbearable social norms.

The star discerns her life as the most precious thing with the help of which she manifests her ability to resist male sexual autonomy, mainly by highlighting her surfaced interaction with lesbianism. Publicly accused of being a lesbian after having been noticed in the bar with one of her female friends, Madonna took on a new threatening image of a ‘floozy’.

The performer as a socially unstable personality became in public consciousness her second skin that kept the world in rumors even speculating over her first birth giving. A woman with a nuclear family whose lesbian sexuality was another trick played at the male-ruling society, occurred to be an exceptional example of how easily one can establish his or her own image.

Madonna engaged herself with lesbian culture via political discourse. The same is to be mentioned about her publicly kissing Britney Spears. No way to mention any sweet feeling like love or passion. Perhaps wearing a man’s pin-striped suit indicates her manly personality.

She explained it simply quoting the reasons of becoming transvestites for both men and women. While the first are looking forward to getting new extraordinary experience of wearing women’s underclothes that brings erection and so sexual satisfaction, women demonstrate their cultural desire to be noticed in the male-dominating society. Moreover, it was typical of American filmmaking of the twentieth century to popularize the men’s clothing.

There was, in short, one more good case of Madonna’s rebellious behavior. Once releasing her book Sex, the performer developed her collection of highly impressive photos of Madonna’s kind of sexual affair with men and women. Amid those participating in a show were celebrities who as well as Madonna were stigmatized however, being worshiped by the fans who set up the adoration of her free sexuality.

There used to be an idea that pop culture can agree with the existence of the female singers of either of two types – a good girl and a bad girl, the latter as a rule never taken seriously. Everything is being all right except Madonna’s appearance in pop culture. Being well known of her image of a bad girl she broke the preliminary visions of who female singer was. In a trapping of a bad girl, Madonna did not ask for a serious reliance, but demanded it. Not a singer but charismatic actress as she originally was accepted, she appeared to be a real renovation, natural and talented singer, exceptionally vulnerable and coherent.

In stead of her voice sounding girlish, thin, and pinched her persona was aggressive, provocative, and sexy. Her video Erotica was believed to become one to liberate social libidos of contemporary Americans and to lighten their wallets, while whetting Madonna’s appetite for new experience and emotions.

She is even believed not only to obey sexuality, but to satirize sex in some of her explicit works. Madonna’s stated position is that she desperately wishes people to confront their long-obeyed believes about sexuality, race and gender. By means of libertine sexuality she helps them to deal with the repression as she believed it to be.

Moreover, Madonna tried to intervene in and influence the shape of mythology about her. And the initial popularity of the star amid teenage girls was explained simply, attributing it to fans’ identification with her power and independence. She deliberately offered them means of resisting the powerlessness and subordination especially to patriarchy.

Her popularity amid women is explained nearly the same as with teenagers due to the identification with Madonna’s figure who is a knot of power and desire. She dares to intrude into the situation of eternal tranquility and disturbs the status quo while not only being an outspoken and sexy woman, but socially and economically powerful person.

After thriving her heyday, Madonna’s power in cultural sphere and the controversial situations she appeared in became deeply rooted in perception of her personality which now was seen as strong or better to say powerful one. By her appearance in the culture Madonna challenged many spheres of so much habitual life and she the established positions of active feminism, fueling stereotypes.

Madonna’s denial of traditional values in her adult life and career

In the sphere of professional and personal stability Madonna is far from being called unchangeable. Leisa Barnet in her article Madonna’s Style Evolution called the style of the pop idol of the chameleon nature.

She burst onto the pop stage in the Eighties in thrift shop looks that defined a generation and, through Gaultier conical bras, religious epiphanies, touches of English rose-dom and a gym obsession (not to mention two marriages, two children and one traumatic adoption), Madonna’s chameleon sense of style has never failed to keep the fashion world on its toes.

This speaks for itself explaining the popularity of Madonna’s image and her impact on her listeners, who hold their breath at her never stable appearance and never tranquil life.

In the book Madonna as Postmodern Myth Georges-Claude Guilbert names Madonna a polyvalent artist who not only made am enormous impact on music, but penetrated collective consciousness of Americans. Millions of people all over the Globe believe her to perfectly match the definition of an affluent businesswoman, actress, producer, musician, writer, model, journalist, pop singer etc. The author explains his own vision of the term correctly associated with the pop star, naming Madonna a superstar and gives the precise quotation in his book. He writes,

In Warholian terms, a superstar was initially an unknown person who, in the groove of the sixties New York underground, bestowed the title upon herself or himself (Guilbert, 12).

Randy Taraborrelli in his book Madonna mentions the fact that explains Madonna’s devotion to her career. He cited the singer saying,

People don’t know how good I am yet … But they will soon. In a couple of years everyone will know…I plan on being one of this century’s biggest stars (Taraborrelli, xiii).

Because of her hard work, clarity of intentions, extraordinary self sacrifice and determination she is now a star she promised to become. This contemporary struggle for recognition was so much in need while it helped to gain access to the process of inclusion into social consciousness. Considering the fact of inequality, one means a strict division onto the dominant and subordinate groups the latter of which is usually characterized by the numerous constrains of the ways to articulate their interests.

At the University of Michigan, where Madonna continued her attempts to get education, she shared room with a Whitley Setrakian, a young and promising choreographer, and left an impression of “beautiful…very thin…spontaneous, driven and unafraid” personality (Taraborrelli, 30). Her behavior and feelings were expressed in a quite different way. Madonna never has never standed superiority of somebody else but not her.

Niki had a better voice than Madonna. Her voice is fully trained, and Madonna fights to keep her bay because Niki is fully capable of drowning her out and often does. When that happens, Madonna sometimes orders Niki’s mike to be switched off (Ciccone, 18).

This rebelliousness against someone else’s superiority may sound quite approved. Not caring too much about so-called moral legitimacy of her deeds which directly concerned her life Madonna kept her number one place on the stage she had been struggling for since the very beginning of her life. Such kind of protection from one’s intrusion is perceived as her self-appreciation that resulted in Madonna’s never exhausting energy in her moving forward.

She was raw, but we were all raw then. However, if one dancer got a lot of attention and she didn’t, that made her angry and she would talk to me about it. ‘What does she have that I don’t have?’ she would ask. She would think it was unjust that anyone got more recognition than she got. It drove hr crazy that others were as good, or better, as if there was a mad race to finish (Taraborrelli, 30).

Challenging her life before coming to the stage, Madonna radiated serenity while staying on it because of her fans, millions of who worshiped the image of their idol, even dressed in secondhand clothes. It became her cult (Taraborrelli, 62). And she, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, satisfied only with the best available of everything, became a person to inspire others with her life and activity.

There was a set of Madonna’s rules. She demonstrated obedience while following them and was looking forward or even much expected the same from the people who were near her.

Madonna insisting that everything has to be done her way, according to timetable and that life must be lived by her rules (Ciccone, 30).

By this it becomes clear that Madonna expected much from her surrounding, she applied standards, but at the same time she theatrically showed the way she neglected all the rules and barriers put in front of her.

In the final chapter of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan encourages women to view housework as a means to an end to find their own paths to achieve their completeness. It seems as though Madonna chose to follow the ideas of Friedan and then took her newfound psychological freedom to another level.

She went on to fuse her talent in dancing with the art of music. Her influence is hard to deny: ready to surprise with every activity or action, she seemed never to be lost for new ideas. That is more she elongates her omnipresent image reduplication in the consciousness of millions by her various occupations.

It is mentioned about Madonna’s success that it is achieved due to her “ability constantly stay fresh and new” (Fouz-Hernandez, 22). Is not it about her stardom that evoked her desire not to wear away with time? Madonna changes her appearance more frequently than one can suggest, never keeping up constant. Preliminarily in her album Like a Prayer and later in her successful career singer has performed her transformations that by current time take the status of the cultural pattern.

At her concerts she reappears in multiple variations of styles and images. She tends to mask herself at her concerts as it happened at “Open you Heart”. The singer appeared to change her image tree times being wearing a black haired wig at the beginning, her usual hair dress throughout and at the end she bore much resemblance to the man in his male suit and hat.

Madonna recalls it as a masquerade, visual misconception that prevents from being seen as you are. She changed her appearance but at the same time stayed exactly the same with her body gestures that appeared in various performances, and ideas of her life that continuously were striking the consciousness of listeners.

It is worth mentioning that Madonna and her peculiar style is on the tip of the tongues of those for who the term ‘fashion’ rings a bell and others far less acquainted with the necessity to redecorate the appearance that was given them by nature. Pop legend whose bra sexually empowered woman and made men subconsciously afraid of the breasts came forward as an icon of the style. Her devotion to the bra and body exposure were easily visualized even in her humble appearance at the 1995 VMAs. On the contrary, her leather-clad image caused confusion amid the teens who were desperately seeking for a leather bodysuit.

Madonna’s insatiable desire for globetrotting was fully realized in her appearance in the costumes, styles and colors that were multitraditional. By this it is meant, that Madonna’s Evita after appearing in red color infected the whole Globe with an idea of doing out in red. Then Indian style came about with its brunette hair and henna tattoos. Every time Madonna’s style takes breath away and stimulates to deeply analyze the reasons of her occasional preference of outfits.

A bit later in a new turn of vicious circle Madonna returned to her school pants-less tradition as it had been called. And finally, her award at the Rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame she got in a female tuxedo dress that seemed unnaturally humble if not to consider that it was completely sheer.

In dress or simply without cords, and even with the bunny ears that she was noticed possessing at Costume Gala red carpet she is going to be stated in sartorial history book. Moreover, every single detail of her dress tantalizes the followers of her style while jeopardizing their social predisposition.

She rebels even against the death that left her off her mother. She sets her own rules not caring too much about how stringent they may appear to the rest.

In the book The Rough Guide to Rock Peter Buckley states,

Her ability to impact public consciousness is matched only by her capacity to successfully reinvent herself – now she’s even writing children’s books. What can be said with certainty is that she’s unlikely to disappear. And for that, she should take a bow (Buckley, 628).

At the cost of leaving but in order to precipitate her being on the stage, Madonna re-arranged herself in the opposite new image of the ballad singer and in 1995 faced the world with her new collection Something to Remember. She set an example of how to protect the thing she valued.

Moreover, she did it in a manner when the words were needless. And then she left the world observe and speculate about the consequences of such encapsulating as she usually does. She takes over her destiny using the supplement sources such as the power of her voice, the beauty of her body and various means of criticizing social norms and believes.

Both singer and actress, though her own self-promotion and tranasgressive actions, Madonna inverted (or at least challenged) America’s notion of sex, gender and power. She publicized her appropriation of the unspoken and taboo areas of America’s moralist rhetoric and capitalized on it through the scandalization and titillation of the consumer (Smith-Shomade, 162).

In the book Madonna’s Drowned Worlds the author says,

Madonna, whether you like it or not, started a revolution amongst women in music. She made the female body seem more like a machine with cravings and less like Barbie doll. Her attitudes and opinions about sex, nudity, style and sexuality forced the public to sit up and take a notice (Fouz-Hernandez, 162).

It proves the fact that her attention towards her image on the stage was huge. Moreover, she keeps this idea in her mind since the very beginning of her career when standing on the stage she noticed remarkable looks from the audience. Women were no longer to be treated as some fragile creatures, but rather muscular figures, physically and mentally strong not only to overcome the changes but to stimulate them.

By all this, Madonna did not seem to deny the necessity of male strength. The rebelliousness was in her understanding and acceptance of the general concept of natural hierarchy of power but constant attacking the concept of female and gay exclusion as well as minority elimination. She understood that the key to preventing such stereotypical social system from existing was to show or to teach others how to distinguish obligations and ventures.

The doubters of adequacy of this movement called to get excited and energized.

Generally speaking, Madonna’s personality covered the great variety of spheres of major social interest among which one can recall subculture appropriation, rules and marvelous manner of representation, postmodernism and body modification. Madonna herself gained a fame of image, role, symbol that was an apple of the eye of social exploration of gender, race, sexuality, feminism, and consumer culture.

In the third chapter of his book Georges-Claude reckons,

Madonna strove to organize her own cult like those ancient goddesses who came down to earth to instruct humans (Guilbert, 62).

It can appear hilarious, but isn’t it an explanation for Madonna’s self realization in various spheres including her own Ed Hardy’s clothes designing line? It came as no surprise that in the end of the summer 2010 in Macy’s USA there appeared pop idol’s collection of T-shirts for teenagers and kids. She launched her collection called after her single Material Girl. Doing all this she not only enlarged the number of her own fans and extends the ranks of social statuses, but popularized her fame among the youngest, somehow instructing the humans.

Assessing the role of Madonna and the impact of her rebellious nature, it becomes clear that the influence of Madonna’s musical and cultural career can only be called profound. Her constant transformations became a focus of major attention as well as her personality. In addition, Madonna profoundly used video more than any other contemporary star in order to promote her music. What is more, Madonna’s singing was a soundtrack to her own persona and her sexual dare.

In fact, it seems that she is constant controversy. She is inspired by her navigating trough the canonical society tantalizing the publicity rather than jeopardizing it. In the light of Madonna’s definition of gender role it should be mentioned that in order to anticipate great success, Madonna seemed to manage another, new aspect of the contradiction between the notions of women social role and their potential success in the personal, professional and other spheres.

By her own example she proved that women could easily reach the top of the fame, realize themselves in any activity due to their will. To demonstrate her own potential in order to underline the ability do act, but not to wait and complain. It was her, Madonna’s, idea of how to reel from sluggish society slowed by their numerous bans and constrains.

The strategic implications of her activity occurred to be very powerful. Madonna with her every single activity presented the world with a new image that was a mix of oppositions such as suffering and survival, theatrical performance and ironic speculation, vulnerability and strength. It is a reflection of her inner warfare caused by the desire to articulate the identity in the struggle for mainstream, equality and admittance to the dominant culture.


Not only did she embody a postmodern sensibility, but took this sensibility into a domain of gender and sexual diversity. In the context of self-estimation and efficacy which were mentioned earlier Madonna appears to face the requirements of both. Her estimation of herself and her own personality corresponds with the social envisioning of an ideal woman free of any type of constrains.

Madonna’s interest in some other occupations with which she got involved with is explained by her unsuccessful expansion of her pop music empire and her longing for new experience. Is it not a matter of efficacy? Insatiable appetite and willingness to get the maximum of everything made her outstanding and remarkable persona even after thirty years of her conquering the stage.

She appeared as a fashion designer, a producer and filmmaker, as well as publisher and actress. It seems there isn’t any activity that she did not try. But it does not anyhow underline her superiority or fact of being extraordinary. It appears vice versa. A girl from the big family who managed to get over the death of her mother and poverty of her teenage years far from home promised to reach the top of the fame. She promised to herself to become a star and she did, gaining fame of postmodern Cinderella.

At a steady pace she moved forward reaching the aim, fighting her way as she recalls it. She kept her promise by her devoted life full of self-sacrifice. Is she an unusual woman after that? If only in the light of acting up stereotypical norms and giving birth to the culture that gradually takes over the whole globe even far from its own country.

Every time Madonna takes her place on the stage the main focus is made on how extraordinary she is while performing, stressing over and over her nickname that sounds like Bad Girl.

All these in the name of fame, in order not to fail meeting her personal requirements of nearly ideal individuality whose appearance is properly taken care of, who uses her life in order not to deprive herself of an opportunity to relish the process of attending to unbridgeable gap of gender and cultural issues. She was refreshingly honest in her admission that she had done all that with the goal to realize herself in her life.

She seems to never blight her form and power. She used her popularity to propagate the new concepts of life. Madonna set an example of how not to accept, but resist against the inequalities, unbearable gender roles, and gender stereotypes. By doing this she did not only inspire others, but persists in her hard work and personal efficacy. Rebellious as she has always been will she remain in the future.

Works Cited

Barnet, Leisa “Madonna’s Style Evolution” Web.

Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. London: Rough Guides, 2003.

Ciccone, Christopher. Life with my sister Madonna. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008.

Cross, Mary. Madonna: a biography. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Fouz-Hernandez, Santiago, Jarman-Ivens, Freya. Madonna’s Drowned World. New approaches to her cultural transformations, 1983-2003. NY: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.

Friedan, Betty. The feminine mystique. London: Norton, 2001.

Guilbert, George-Claude. Madonna as postmodern myth : how one star’s self-construction rewrites sex, gender, Hollywood and the American dream. NY: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002.

Inglehart, Ronald, Norris, Pipa. Rising Tide. Gender Equality and Cultural Change around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Lee, W Janice. Gender roles. NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2005.

Smith-Shomade, E Beretta. Shaded Lives: African-American women and television. NY: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Sochen, June. From Mae to Madonna: Women Entertainers in Twentieth-Century America. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Taraborrelli, J Randy. Madonna. NY: Simon & Schuster Rockefeller Center, 2001.

Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist thought. A more comprehensive introduction. NY: Westview Press, 2009.

Wolf, Naomi. The beauty myth: how images of beauty are used against women. NY: Perennial, 2002.

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IvyPanda. "Gender Roles Inversion: The Madonna Phenomenon." March 23, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/madonna-the-rebel/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Gender Roles Inversion: The Madonna Phenomenon." March 23, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/madonna-the-rebel/.


IvyPanda. (2022) 'Gender Roles Inversion: The Madonna Phenomenon'. 23 March.

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