Liz Smith: Madonna Holds Forth on Objectified Sexuality

And more from our Gossip Girl: the Material Girl talks “lovers,” teenage rebellion — and but of course, the Duchess of Windsor

“MY MOVIE, ‘W.E.’ is all about the cult of celebrity. We like to put people on a pedestal, give them one character trait, and if we step outside of that shrine-like area, then we punish them. Wallis Simpson became famous by default, by capturing the heart of a king. But it is obviously a subject I’m constantly on the inside of, and on the outside of.”

That’s Madonna herself in Harper’s Bazaar for November. She appears on the cover with one of the stars of “W.E.,” Andrea Riseborough, who portrays Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who shook the British Empire, enticed a king to abdicate his throne and became the wandering, bitter, Duchess of Windsor.

Madonna is profiled by writer Naomi Wolf. It’s a good piece. When Madonna lets her guard down and really talks, one always comes away with a fascinating article. I was amused, however, that Ms. Wolf was surprised to find the powerful, formidable Madonna, “open, even vulnerable.”   I’ll say! But I’ve been telling the word for 20 years that M is a much softer, more tentative, more insecure and nicer person than she usually cares to let on.

Madonna talks here about her “conditioning” as a young Catholic girl, raised in Michigan — how she rebelled and how she was “tortured” for her refusal to be like other girls. She says, “Straight men did not find me attractive. I think they were scared of me because I was different. I’ve always asked ‘Why? Why do I have to do that? Why do I have to look this way? Why do I have to dress this way? Why do I have to behave this way?’”

For Madonna, asking questions and defying convention worked — she remains an iconic and provoking figure on the world stage. (She’s got millions, too.) Her four children, her work, her inevitable maturity, and her choice of male companions continue to provoke — and often anger — those who dislike her. And even those who admire her. Everybody always thinks “they” know what is best for Madonna. (I’ve given her advice myself, which I always laugh about. Poor thing can’t get on without wise words from Liz Smith!)

Because she remains so attractive and still enjoys showing what she’s got, the subject of sex is never far off. Madonna says: “I think that the world is not comfortable with female sexuality. It’s always coming from a male point of view, and a woman is being objectified by a man — and even women are comfortable with that. But when a woman does it, ironically, women are uncomfortable with it — conditioning!”

Of her current man of the last two years, dancer Brahim Zaibat, who is somewhat younger, Madonna insists: “Well, it can also be more than just sexual, um appendages. I don’t necessarily like to use the word ‘lover’ because it sounds like they just come over and have sex with you. I aspire for more than that. I need more than that.” It should be noted that for all her racy reputation, Madonna has only married twice, to actor Sean Penn and then to director Guy Ritchie. She could not have been more in love or more serious about these relationships. And she was crushed when they didn’t work out. The break from Guy was especially painful. They had a child, Rocco, and were married seven years. When she says “I do,” she means it. (And unlike today’s “stars” there was no orgy of wedding photos, sold to the highest bidder. No photo has ever been published of her wedding to Mr. Ritchie.)

* * *

AN UNFINISHED version of a new Madonna song, “Give Me All Your Love,” was leaked — much to her fury — on the internet last week. It is from her coming, as-yet-untitled album. It’s fun and danceable. But, there are those who say Madonna, at 53, is simply “too old” to have fun and dance anymore. (Tell that to all those creaky male rockers and pop-stars, still grinding their hips on concert stages.)   Madonna shrugs the subject: “I find whenever someone writes anything about me, my age is right after my name. It’s like they’re saying, ‘Here she is, but remember she’s this age, so she’s not that relevant anymore. Or, ‘Let’s punish her by reminding her and everyone else.’”

But her film, “W.E.” still remains a top priority, though she is recording again, will tour next year and has had remarkable success with the clothing line launched with her gorgeous daughter, Lourdes (better known as Lola.)

Madonna is fascinated by Wallis Simpson — her compulsions and her fate. “She wasn’t conventionally pretty, she had the body of a teenage boy, she was divorced twice — and by the time she married the king she couldn’t have children. What did she have to offer? She’s not pretty, fertile, or a virgin, so she’s useless. I was actually told once by a Japanese woman that there’s a phrase for women who are past the marrying age: ‘stale cake.’”

“W.E.” is now slated for a February release, and Madonna has a firm grip on her film. Indeed, she has final cut and will not relinquish that — ever. (I’ve seen “W.E.”  She knows her stuff. She is a remarkably gifted director.)

But no matter the fate of “W.E.,” no matter how much dance music she makes — to the distress of those who want her to calm down and become a ballad-crooning, Dietrich-style chanteuse. And no matter who her man of choice is, Madonna will never ever be “stale cake.”

She’s still fresh and the icing remains delicious.


15 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    Well, one can always make trifle out of stale cake.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      What did the Duke see in the Duchess? The Duchess of Windsor was sort of like the Duke’s private geisha girl. Or geisha boy according to some.  Maybe that was too racy for Madonna?

      As for her comment about “stale cake,” well, that’s typical Madonna.  After all the whatever she’s had done and she’s apparently had a lot done, she’s “stale cake” as well according to her own defnition.  As is everyone else who isn’t pretty, fertile or a virgin.  Or past the marrying age although she doesn’t say what it is. Maybe because she doesn’t believe she is past it.  Someone should have told Madonna that insulting the subject of your film doesn’t make others real interested in bothering to go see it.  It also makes one wonder how much you really know about the Duchess.


      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Baby…

        Madonna is quite sympathetic to Wallis in her film–she does not consider her the uncaring, Nazi–loving,  sexual mastermind of myth. But Madonna describes Wallis as she was perceived at the time, and often as women are still perceived, today.   Do you think Madonna  is not aware  of the ugly adjectives used to describe her, as a person and also her physical appearance? 

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          Madonna is quite sympathetic to Wallis in her film–she does not consider her the uncaring, Nazi–loving,  sexual mastermind of myth. 

          Of myth? Oy. I guess I was at different dinner tables than you and Madonna. I was never at a dinner table with the Duchess of Windsor. But was at dinner tables with people who had been. And none of them ever doubted the “myth” about both of them.  Beneath the vacuousness was a raw sexual energy at work. And views which were held by many at the time. The press didn’t write about such things. But people still talked about them. And they were at many dinner tables as well. In a way they were the first “rent-a-royals.”

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Baby…

            I’ve been at dinner tables where I was told Wallis was frigid and she and the Duke never had sex…that she was a lesbian and he was gay…that she was a hermaprodite…that by the time they married neither cared for the other at all, but it was too late to backtrack.  Each tale had excellent credentials. As in–“I’m telling you this, darling. You know me.  I know everybody.  I know this.”

            The assumption was that because Wallis was indeed so plain, so thin, so unsexy, that she had to have all sorts of crazy tricks up her sleeve to keep the Duke fascinated.  So far as I know, nobody ever came forward to say they were in bed with the pair, or under the bed.  So it is all “myth.” 

            I find it to be a very unhappy tale.  Not at all glamorous.  Pretty grim, actually. 

  2. avatar nick nicodemo says:

    Sounds like Baby Snooks should have been the director of W.E. instead of Madonna.

  3. avatar cheresad says:

    Reading comprehension 101: Perhaps Madonna sees herself in the Duchess. One has to read the article to see how Madonna was stereotyped and misunderstood her entire life. What she’s saying about the Duchess is “conventionally.” The Duchess wasn’t “conventionally” pretty. From the outside looking in, the Duchess didn’t have anything to offer the King, yet she stole his heart. The “stale cake” is just a stereotypical reference. The “useless” point is society’s way of looking at a woman who didn’t have any of the more prized qualities.
    Madonna is “conventionally” any of those things either, but she continues to fascinate us. Why? She goes against the grain, and has been doing so for decades. We’re intimidated by her because we couldn’t imagine doing what she does – at any age. So stop bashing Madonna for having the vaginal fortitude to embrace her true self.
     Way to go Madonna! You’re my heroine!

  4. avatar Rho says:

    As for me, no comment.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rho…

      Not true.   You’ve had a comment.  It’s right here.  It says, really:  “I don’t want to say, but I WANT you to know I don’t want to say.” 

      Translation:   I want to say. 

      So say it. 

      You’re here among friends. 

      XXXMr. W

  5. avatar sandra b says:

    More reading comprehension 101: She said she was told once by a Japanese woman that women past marrying were referred to as “stale cake.” That’s not her term or her attitude.

    Women are still objectified in the media and society. For once I’d like to read an interview where the actress/celebrity is not described as gorgeous – whatever she’s wearing “and not a stitch of makeup.” Oh please as that is so more important than what they have to say. What is that all about?

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    O, well, Madonna. My objections to her certainly have nothing to do with her age (which is either the same as mine, or a year to either side). I am also one of those who finds it screamingly ludicrous that women still swoon over the likes of Mick Jagger, or Steve Tyler (at least Tyler has a sense of humor…and has given up on stage antics after freely admitting he’s long pat it)…and who felt a bit like vomiting in my mouth a bit when The Who took the stage looking like a swollen, glaze-eyed toad (Daltry) and everyone’s favorite pedophile uncle (Townsend) in a lifeless, sort of corpsey performance at the Superbowl. Were the promoters appealing to the zombie-pron crowd?

    I never cared for her music with the exception of “Material Girl” (her one bit of self-deprecating good humor), and “Like a Prayer” with it’s irresistible mixed images of submission, religious worship, and fellatio. Everything else? No. Her image I’ve always thought fabricated…because Madonna, in her interviews, in her real life as exposed in public by herself, her ex-partners, her occasional slips…does not come across as what she tries so hard to project through her stage, video, interview and musical presence. She does not *feel* sensuous to me, or alive, or sexual, or capable of taking…and giving. Her voice and language are dry as dust, and I do not see any vulnerability that is not deliberate and calculated. I will give her this: she is the ultimate masterpiece of successful marketing.

    I was precisely the sort of girl she was in school. I am still precisely that sort of woman. Poorly understood, reviled, unable to get a date for prom (o, boohoo…I doubt I would have gone because I found the whole process of Homecoming and Prom sexist, ludicrous and eminently forgettable…in 1978-1977), dating boys who drove muscle cars…but only if I could drive, wearing Goth before “Goth” was invented.

    I never had to ask Madonna’s questions: “‘Why? Why do I have to do that? Why do I have to look this way? Why do I have to dress this way? Why do I have to behave this way?’” Never. I knew the answers.

    As for this whole issue of Madonna’s “advanced age”, she drives quite a bit of that herself, I think. It seems that it always manages to be brought up (rather like a hairball) even if her interviewer seems to have not included it on the agenda. Her last tour and CD wasn’t awful because of her age…but “Hard Candy”? Really? In my own, admittedly minority (on this site) opinion, she looked very sinewy, ropey and stringy (not healthy and fit), and debauched in her photo shoots and on stage. It isn’t a look that goes with either sensuous…or raw sexuality. It looked mildly depraved, and as if she might be ill. A lot of style (all those Swarovski Crystals and bright colors and fawning dancers) over very little substance.

    Yes, I know millions turned out to see her, she made millions, she’s the most successful female recording artist, etc.. But I’ve found her invalid and incapable of significant output for decades. I look up what she’s doing when, inevitably, she turns up on WoW. I never find anything to impress me. No, I’m not jealous, I wouldn’t want her money, her fame or any of it. Trust me, with my seriously introverted (in the clinically psychological sense, not the colloquial) personality, and my attitude toward invasions of my privacy, no thank you.

    If she ever decided to do an “Unplugged” recording of some real music, I’d at least give her kudos for trying. But she likes her glitz, and so do her fans.