Madonna, apparently, conjures up many, many connotations and meanings depending on who you ask. But there are also some major themes that emerge when our feelings about the pop icon are on display. And when I say “our,” I mean women. When you dig in to the 39-essay book, Madonna and Me, edited by Laura Barcella, you find it broken up into sections that reflect these themes. There are the essays relating to Catholicism, some on feminism, others on sexuality and so on. And a lot of these essays are written by women who were quite young when Madonna came on the scene. Like, before an age that I can confidently say I have memories. This may be why I felt a bit lacking the deeper I got into the book. Madonna didn’t have a profound impact on me. Let me rephrase—she absolutely has had an impact on the life that I live as a woman, but when I was six, I was not aware of or surprised by her, the way some essayists describe.
For some, hearing Madonna for the first time was a huge freakin’ deal. Who did she think she was? But by the time I was old enough to register who Madonna was, many other women were also expressing themselves freely. And as a non-Catholic girl from the suburbs of a northeastern city, I have a hunch she wasn’t quite as shocking to my family as she was to some of the women in this book.
But what I learned from Madonna and Me is that Madonna had a truly profound impact on a lot of women, and was a beacon of hope, a role model, an icon and an inspiration, regardless of whether one agrees with everything she does.
In keeping with my recent posts, I have a writer-friend with an essay in this book. I had the pleasure of hearing her read it at a local bookstore, along with three other essayists. What the audience couldn’t stop commenting on afterwards, was how different the four essays were. My friend Erin Trahan‘s story was about growing up in the town where Madonna was born, being an outsider and eventually leaving that part of the country. I wish everyone who read this book also had the pleasure of hearing her hilarious side comments while she read aloud, but I think the personalities of these 39 ladies come through loud and clear throughout the book.
There are also some heavy moments. Madonna struck a chord with women who were not able to fully be themselves or who were unaccepted as kids because of their self expression. Over and over, writers describe the shock at Madonna’s seamless blending of Christianity and sexuality and the doors that opened with the realization that here was a woman acting without fear of consequences.
What I found most fun about reading these essays were the stories of childhood awe. Many essayists remembered so distinctly their first exposure to Madonna and their subsequent copycat outfits and dances which sometimes took place in front of disinterested parents, and other times behind closed doors with the volume turned low.
I don’t remember the first time I heard Madonna, but I do remember dancing to “Like a Prayer” with Erin Trahan as though I could be anyone I wanted.
Do you remember the first time you heard Madonna? What was it like?
Images from madonnaandmebook.com