By Jada M. Beltran
How to describe Madonna... woman, girl, cunt, bitch, lover, sex symbol, celebrity, fashion icon, musician, bad feminist?
But to me and twentieth-century women like me? Madonna is my sister.
Growing up in the ‘80s in inner-city Atlanta, music was everything. Exposure to different music was a daily experience: music from the black community, the rednecks, the hippies, the church-goers down the street but, above all, music from the punks.
The punks fascinated me the most. I loved the style—black leather jackets, ripped jeans, safety pins and crazy, wonderful hair. But that’s just the surface.
Rebellion. That's what I loved. I was six years old, and I knew I wanted to be a rebel, different. I wanted to be different because I was different. I wanted to be a rebellious woman in a culture ruled by men.
While Madonna is a pop star, she captured what I love about hardcore punks: that sense of rebellion. When she hit the scene, my girlfriends and I went batshit crazy.
Madonna spoke our language. She was our sister, a rebel and a sex maniac. She could wear whatever she wanted—or nothing at all. She seemed like she didn't care about the male-centric views of her. In our young eyes, she was our older sister showing us the path to self-expression.
Maybe Madonna was just as insecure as the rest of us. Maybe she did care what people thought of her. But in our young minds, none of these realities existed. To us she was the bravest woman around.
My father is an artist and a carpenter. I grew up at his studio and on job sites with him. He and I would listen to music all day—singing, dancing, making art together. He introduced me to so many great female musicians like Chrissie Hynde, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper and, of course, Madonna.
During the mid-eighties, he was commissioned to build and carve four 20-foot tall wood columns. I remember those tall columns lying flat in his studio, about three feet thick. I would listen to Madonna albums—her self-titled album, True Blue and Like a Virgin—with my leopard-print scarf tied in my hair, and dance up and down those columns pretending to have a microphone in my hand.
She made me feel powerful and capable. She was our art inspiration.
I was lucky to grow up during an age when kids went outside to play and made up games with each other. I grew up in a poor community. We didn’t have video games or VCRs. We had a TV that required you to get off your ass if you wanted to change the channel.
When my friends came over, we entertained ourselves with games and our imaginations. That’s how memories are created. Every kid should have the freedom to explore her outside world while using her imagination to entertain herself. One game we played: Madonna vs. Cyndi Lauper.
We would fight and fight over who would get to be Madonna. That’s how much we revered her. Making little girls fight—if you’ve ever been a little girl, you know that’s how they show love. She inspired us to act and make up stories after we saw her in Desperately Seeking Susan and Who’s That Girl, which, of course, we LOVED!
My love of Madonna didn’t just stop when I started growing up; it grew with me. As a preteen, she made me think about my spirituality with Like a Prayer when her rebellion became a religious statement. I fell in love with that album, music video and story.
I grew up in a family that didn’t prescribe to one idea of religion or spirituality. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t exploring that spiritual part of myself. Knowing that someone like Madonna, who grew up with a clear-cut religion (Catholicism), also was searching for and questioning her spirituality gave me confidence to continue that quest. In fact I’ve never stopped, and I doubt she has either.
As a teen, she made me think about my sexuality with Erotica and her book, SEX. I was a sex maniac and into anything sexual in art, media, music. It felt like she knew at every stage of my adolescence what I needed to explore within the recesses of my heart, soul and mind.
In the late ‘90s, she came out with Ray of Light, while I was in my twenties, back in Atlanta and hitting the party scene hard. I partied across the country to that album. I’ve done everything to that album: coke, pills, weed, shrooms, and above all, MDMA. Oh, and sex... lots of sex.
She’s been with me from the beginning, my rebel queen mom.
Does she know how much space she occupies in our memories? Does she realize the impact she’s had on the women of the world? I think she does and thinks about it every day.
Some people might say, “She’s not perfect. She’s insecure, and look at all the plastic surgery she’s had.”
Is that the behavior of a true rebel? Can you be a rebel and a pop star living in the most superficial culture on the planet? I think you can. Because no matter who you are, what your beliefs are, how superficial or deep you are, and even if you’re a giant fucking asshole, your art is what speaks if you’re an artist.
In my mind, and the minds of so many other women, she’s a rebel, a strong woman. That’s what matters. The memories are what matter. The feelings and inspirations that these women bring into life are not diminished by what kind of person they are in real life. I don’t care who they are in real life. That’s for them to care about.
In December 2016, Madonna gave a speech when she accepted the Woman of the Year award at Billboard’s Women in Music event.
If you thought she was down, you were wrong. She still inspires me to stand up and be my different self. She’s not just the woman of the year, she’s the woman of many years. In the speech she responds to years of double standards in the music industry and feminism: “Fuck it," she says. "I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.”
I identify with her so much. She can’t even fit into the feminist group, that’s how much of a rebel she is. The ultimate cunt. A cunt with a capital C. And fucking proud of it.
I’ve listened to her words and music from age six to 39, and she always knows just what I need to hear to make me think. To make me love. To make me love my cuntism. She is the fire. She is OUR sister… forever.
Jada M. Beltran is a lover of learning and observing and is non-discriminating in her pursuit of knowledge. She makes her living as an environmental scientist and spends her free time creating anything. Transplanted from Atlanta to Albuquerque, traveling is her passion. She’s lived in places all over the world and enjoys experiencing other cultures.