WOMEN: Madonna: Siren or Symbol?


This article originally appeared in Issue# 34

"It's all about flirting." There is no need to question further. Madonna tells us herself at the end of the video cassette, "Madonna on Tour." It is all so simple, so innocent, so deliciously wicked, so ambiguous. Just like flirting.

Is she teasing? Or is she serious? Is she "Like a Virgin?" Or like a...a a a a what? Is she trying to convey a "religious" message with her overt use of religious symbolism — from her name — Madonna — to the dangling crosses on her ears, rosary-bead necklaces and sequined symbols on her costumes?

Or is she ridiculing the very meaning of those symbols? Is she a sweet innocent ingénue or a siren luring our youth into modern Lotus Land, as she dances and sings her ode to fun, "Material Girl" in a material world?

Or has Madonna caught us up in our own ambiguities? About the meaning of life, of women, of religion, of success? Has she ascended the high altar of rock ritual to preach a homily that our youth, at least our white middle class youth, immediately recognize, celebrate and imitate with a fervor that can only make religious preachers jealous.

Madonna does make some of us uncomfortable and, I believe, with good cause. Her sheer celebration of consumerism and hedonistic sexuality flies in the face of the religious values we think we teach in our synagogues and churches. But the values that live in our consumer-driven, success-oriented world speak with greater eloquence and appeal to our society and our youth as well as ourselves.

Her playing the role of virgin, sex kitten, siren and Daddy's little girl all in the same performance bespeaks the conflicting images of women our culture and our religious traditions present. All the work and efforts of the feminist movement have not touched the deep cultural and religious mystique of woman as both Eve and Mary.

What Madonna reveals to us — a truth our children immediately recognize — are the dualism and contradictions that shape our lives. You know, "Do as I say, not as I do" Puritanism or the Sexual Revolution, asceticism or hedonism, we have failed to discover and to make utterly irresistible a humanness that is whole, holy and joyous, that celebrates the mystery of life in ourselves, each other and the whole of creation. Yes, it is all about flirting, our own flirting with what life is all about.

Author Bio: 

Maria Riley, OP is coordinator of the Women's Project, Center of Concern, Washington, D.C.