Madonna's 'Billboard' Acceptance Speech Changed My Life Last Week

 Image:  Billboard

Image: Billboard

Happy Monday my beloved cat ladies and freaknasties! It's the start of a new week and the final turn of the 2016 corner as we get ready for the Holidays. 

Another weekend of change here at the Haus Kjaerlighet in Marietta, and whether I realized it or not in the moment, I think Madonna's acceptance speech for her 2016 Billboard Woman of the Year Award was the last catalyst of change in my life to end this year. 

You can read the entire speech here. It's blunt, haunting, and 100% true in any context. 

If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo.
— Madonna

I truly believe the universe lines you up to learn lessons and discover things in subtle ways. Before this speech happened, I had been having a bit of a 'Madonna Renaissance' if you will over the last couple of weeks. Like many of you, I grew up listening to Madonna. I was musing on Facebook the week before last that I wish she would rerelease anniversary editions of her past work like Erotica without all of the controversial fanfare attached to them at the time because the art was overlooked by things like burning crosses, nudity, and raunchy language about topics uncomfortable in the 80s and 90s. 

Now it's not uncomfortable to talk about any of those things, mostly because of her pushing the envelope as hard as she did. She'll never be credited for the social revolution she forged, which is beyond sexist and wrong, and that brings me back to her speech. 

I can't relate to Madonna's life in a literal sense, but we can all identify with what she puts out there. This speech, in particular, resonated with me because there are elements to her experience I can raise my hand and say, "Same." 

She opens her speech with, "I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean a female entertainer.," and goes on to describe the sexism she experienced in her 34-year career. 

Something clicked for me in that moment. YES. We, even those of us young gen-Xers who sang, "Express Yourself" because she was wearing a naughty cone bra, and not really listening to the lyrics have been conditioned to be doormats in one way or another. 

My earliest memory of this was in figure skating. Boys were few and far between in my particular discipline, especially boys tall enough to skate with me. Whenever one would come along, my mother would give me the, 'put up and shut up' speech. There were some true jackasses that came my way I partnered with in my fragile teen years, including my brothers. Boys with inflated egos and mean streaks because they were told how special and valuable they were from a very young age. They were the precious unicorns and needed. 

So as early as 12 years old I was conditioned that I was nothing without a man. Girls alone are failures and worthless. If you lose your partner, you have to rejoin the cattle call. 

It was jarring to realize this as I listened to Madonna's speech. Her 34 years wasn't all that far removed from my 34 years. Two months ago I did the best work of my entire career and consistently referred to as 'So and so's girl' or 'The office girl'. Nevermind I was carrying an entire business on my back and my boss barely got out of bed most days, I never was seen as an equal or a driving force behind turning around a directionless business. An educated 37-year-old woman revolutionizing an industry was 'just a girl.' And whenever I would stand up for myself, it became referred to with such adjectives as, "nasty, demanding, difficult," and my personal favorite, "crazy." This would happen whenever I would demand equal pay to my male counterparts who did less work and had even less accountability, or when I wanted to know why a male colleague who had been onboard half the amount of time I had been there with no experience only made $100 less than me. 

Just a girl. My job was to make the boys look good. And I accepted it. 

Madonna then gave the ultimate lesson in life. Write this down. Tape it to your mirror. 

"In life, there is no real safety except for self-belief."

For whatever reason, hearing that on Friday was a wake-up call and the push I needed. She goes on...

"If you're a girl, you have to play the game. You're allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that's out of line with the status quo."

That just summed up my 2016. I remember back in February of this year, my friend and I were speaking bluntly about something and expressing our opinions about how wrong it was and my fiance at the time admonished me and said, "Why can't you just be a nice girl." 

I also recalled my assistant trying to give me advice on how to soften my delivery to be more pleasing to the males in my industry. Basically be sweet, fluff their ego, and don't ever tell the truth to them in a direct way. Men cannot deal with reality. 

Eff that noise. Eff all of it. 

"Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified.."

Another bucket of cold water dumped on my head. 

"Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. They believe they have to back a man to get the job done. And there are some very good men worth backing, but not because they're men -- because they're worthy."

Oh. My. God. I looked over at the left side of my desk. There I was working on another man's dream instead of my own. I wasn't being recognized or held in high regard. I was a pretty little work horse once again, putting up, shutting up, and making him look good with little to nothing in return. 

Nope. Nope. Nope. 

When Madonna gave this speech, it basically exposed the bullshit we as women have been made to believe about ourselves. Not in just a general sense, but in a personal sense. Our value and self-worth are still mired in the wrong thing.

Why was I always hitching my wagon to a man's vision and dream instead of my own? Why was my value and self-worth always attached to my relationship status?

Then it hit me....my entire 2016 was lived for three men. Not myself. These were not worthy men worth backing. Not because they were terrible people, but because they didn't value me or give me the respect of an equal. They were bottomless pits of expectations. Be hot, work yourself to death, and don't dare call them on their bs.

In that moment I reflected on the skating career and the words of my mother that ultimately shaped this for me in my psyche. The narrative was wrong. I was never successful in skating until I turned 18 and went solo, skating from a place of love for the sport and doing things in a way that made me happy. I retired at 21 with more success in those 3 years than the 13 that preceeded them.

Whoa. I can do it. I did do it. It just got lost because sometimes narrative is king and evidence is the court jester.

So I spent the weekend purging this false narrative from my life. I got pissed at the guy who wouldn't step up and made me do the heavy lifting in support of his dream, not mine. No. No more. I'm a better bet. I have a track record of success. Their failures as people are not mine. That's the narrative. The evidence is that everything great they were, I created.

I can't even begin to tell you guys what a rebirth it was last night. I immediately became elated and ready to live my own destiny. 2017 is going to be about me. My dreams, my goals, my future, and not in a selfish way where I become some kind of flaming ego monster...but in a way that celebrates that self-belief Madonna spoke of. It really is the only sure thing.

Thank you, Madonna.  

Jennifer Gulbrandsen