is madonna held to different standards because of her age?

The icon suffered a barrage of online abuse over her revealing outfit at The Met Gala. Is agism at play?

by Jake Hall
06 May 2016, 3:27pm

There are few fashion events more prestigious -- and more carefully-scrutinized -- than New York's annual Met Gala. In many ways, it's the battle royale of red-carpet events; designers clamor for the opportunity to dress a handful of the world's most famous women, and the column inches that come with it. This year's dress code was entitled Manus X Machina, a theme which spawned a plethora of shimmering metallic gowns, interactive outfits, and a headline-grabbing pair of robotic arms.

In the midst of this, it was Madonna's sheer Givenchy dress that provoked the night's biggest reaction, resulting in a slew of ageist jokes on Twitter and, predictably, Piers Morgan tweeting 'put it away.' It's hardly news that the entertainment industry labels women with a sell-by date, but the vitriol sparked by the star's 57-year-old buttocks highlights a few worrying truths about modern society.

It's not the first time that Madonna has been criticized for her refusal to dress and behave age-appropriately. A well-documented snog with Canadian rapper Drake last year saw her branded 'gross' and a 'grandma,' whereas her X-rated tour outfits led to a scathing Daily Mail article back in 2012 which labelled her 'undignified' and, basically, old enough to know better. To criticize these displays of sexuality is to miss the point entirely -- after all, this is the same woman that released a pornographic coffee table book and used to habitually masturbate with a crucifix on stage.

Although her Met Gala look may be less controversial than full-frontal photography and blatant blasphemy, the look seemed to kick up just as much of a fuss, and thus the star took to Instagram to fight her corner. Alongside a selfie, Madonna posted a lengthy caption which argued that "the fact that people actually believe a woman is not allowed to express her sexuality and be adventurous past a certain age is proof that we still live in an ageist and sexist society." She's right. Other celebrities left little to the imagination; Karlie Kloss' dress featured cut-outs that left it barely there, Beyoncé went full-length latex and Lady Gaga wore no trousers.

The stereotypical ideal of female beauty is still shockingly narrow, and women that aren't seen to meet these ideals are often crucified for daring to flaunt their sex appeal. 

The difference between them and Madonna is their age; young women in entertainment are allowed and often encouraged to flaunt their sexuality. Show business remains male-dominated, and mainstream media places female youth on a pedestal -- this same idealization of youth has resulted in a fashion industry that continues to hire underage models, a film industry that continues to write linear, shallow roles for women and a society that shames young women for their appearance. The stereotypical ideal of female beauty is still shockingly narrow, and women that aren't seen to meet these ideals are often crucified for daring to flaunt their sex appeal. If you're plus-size, too skinny, or older than the 'beautiful' average, it's likely you'll be slated regardless of what you wear.

The popularity of the term 'silver fox' is proof of the way that the aging process is viewed differently between men and women.The assumption is that as men grow older they gain wealth, experience and, therefore, overall desirability. Some of the most-wanted actors in Hollywood are older types such George Clooney -- for men, age is seen as an asset. Crucially their sex appeal stays in tact, with Buzzfeed, Glamour, PopSugar et al.publishing articles and lists which swoon over 'sexy silver foxes.' By contrast, women are seen to decrease in value as they grow older and are often cast in roles which strip them of sex appeal. Interestingly, our bias towards men is even ingrained in the English language -- a 50-year old single male is a 'bachelor,' whereas the female equivalent is a 'spinster.' Tellingly, there's no word for a man dating below his age bracket, yet women seeking toy boys are branded 'cougars,' a term laden with negative connotations.

Although it might seem a stretch to brand Madonna's Met Gala look a daring political statement, the extreme yet unsurprising reactions to her outfit highlight that there's still work to be done. We live in a society that tries to commodify young women and use their beauty to sell products and generate box office revenue. It's tragic that women like Madonna are branded 'too old' or 'try-hard' for still daring to flaunt their sexuality, and are seen to have passed an assumed expiry date often attributed to famous women. In a world which still affiliates youth with beauty, it's essential that women like Madonna keep flashing the flesh; she may have been savaged, but at least her famous rear end has managed to spark discussion once again.


Text Jake Hall
Image via Facebook

Met Gala