Madonna and Hillary Clinton, trailblazers. Image Amplified
Madonna and Hillary Clinton, trailblazers.

“But to the doubters and naysayers and everyone who gave me hell and said I could not, that I would not or I must not–your resistance made me stronger”

When Madonna delivered her acceptance speech at Billboard’s Women in Music 2016 awards event, she drew the spotlight to the immense challenges she’s faced as a woman working to succeed in the male-dominated music industry. She spoke of being bullied, held at gunpoint, raped, robbed, losing friends to AIDS, being criticized for being too smart, for being too sexy, for being too opinionated, for being a feminist, for not being enough of a feminist, and for aging. In other words, her message was exactly what was expected, needed — or at least, hoped for — for an occasion celebrating the achievements of women. After describing her difficult rise to the top, Madonna addressed the need for women to appreciate their own worth.

As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by.

Madonna thanked both her supporters and her haters.

“It’s not so much about receiving this award as it is having this opportunity to stand before you and say thank you,” Madonna said, closing out her speech. “Not only to the people who have loved and supported me along the way, you have no idea…you have no idea how much your support means,” she said, tearing up for the second time. “But to the doubters and naysayers and everyone who gave me hell and said I could not, that I would not or I must not — your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. It made me the woman that I am today. So thank you.”

As seen in the video below, Madonna cast her win in the light of Hillary Clinton’s surprise electoral defeat in this year’s divisive, tainted presidential election. To most (Hillary won the popular vote by nearly 3 million) Hillary’s loss felt like devastating blow. In turn, Madonna heard that call that we need all our cultural heroes standing up and defending their worth. It’s not an easy task, but trailblazing heroes aren’t ones to take the easy path.

“Trailblazing is a Solitary Game”

Picking up this thread, the New York Times has published a conversation between political correspondent Patrick Healy and pop music editor Caryn Ganz, in which they explore the distinct but sometimes converging trailblazing paths of Madonna and Hillary Clinton. Both have risen to prominence, and gained power in male-dominated arenas. Both have survived decades of criticism by maintaining  an unequaled work ethic and meticulous standards. However, the comparing of Madonna and Hillary is recent.

CARYN GANZ: Mrs. Clinton is so buttoned up and Madonna is so, well, unbuttoned, that I think many people have been hesitant to make this connection. And because Madonna has used sexual expressiveness as code for all kinds of liberation, she hasn’t been courted as a political ally. But now that both of them have reached a certain age, the sexism they’ve faced for decades has become something more insidious, paired with ageism.

To be sure, Madonna and Hillary have arrived by different paths, yet find themselves fighting similar perceptions and prejudices.

Knowing that as a woman, her appearance would be a talking point, Madonna co-opted this scrutiny as a weapon from the beginning of her career, forcing everyone to talk about what she looked like by evolving — it was a conversation she essentially started herself. But as she has gotten older, the commentary about her work is almost entirely centered on how she looks rather than how she sounds, and whether what she is wearing or saying is “appropriate for a woman her age” — a question that musicians like Mick Jagger, who is 15 years older than Madonna, have never had to answer. And certainly no other candidate was the subject of stories about what he wore to the debate and what his clothes meant. (Continuing investigations into Mr. Trump’s hair aside.)

The conversation between Ganz and Healy draws comparisons between Madonna, who is purposefully polarizing, and Hillary, who has always walked a very controlled line. Their approaches, nevertheless, have been shaped by the struggle to succeed.

GANZ: But Madonna and Mrs. Clinton have had their perfectionism interpreted as a pathology. As women cutting a path no woman had traveled before, they had no choice but to be as precise and detail-oriented as possible, knowing the slightest failure would invite a deluge of criticism. Madonna is known to control every aspect of rooms in which she will appear, down to the color of the lampshades. While Mr. Trump was making brash statements, Mrs. Clinton was tweeting point-by-point policy plans and rigorously preparing for the debates.

The conversation makes for an interesting read, with its honest look at two women we admire immensely. Ganz states,

Trailblazing is a solitary game. They’re both lonely warriors who reached a critical moment this year: the time when they had to speak up for their achievements and call out their haters.

For that, we owe them both gratitude, for being our warriors, as well as our loyalty to make their battles a little less lonely.

Showing a Way Forward

Madonna and Hillary have certainly made our own battles less lonely. As Anderson Cooper pointed out when introducing Madonna at Billboard’s Woman of the Year,

“Madonna is Billboard’s Woman of the Year, but as far as I’m concerned in terms of music and impact and culture, she’s been the Woman of the Year every year since she released her first single ‘Everybody’ in 1982.”

“As a gay teenager growing up… Her music and outspokenness showed me as a teenager a way forward. Through her music, she told me and millions of teenagers — gay and straight — that we are not alone. We are connected to each other.”

Read the full New York Times article here.

Read more about Madonna’s speech at Billboard’s Woman of the Year 2016 here.

W MAGAZINE: Barbra Streisand by Steven Meisel