Madonna Confronting Gender Roles

Both her Like a Virgin album and VMA performance exemplify how gender and sexuality were utilized by Madonna to increase her celebrity in the mid 1980s. The Like a Virgin album featured disco style beats with a single female vocalist singing over them, nothing new for the pop music industry. Yet, Like a Virgin was expected to sell a lot of copies due to the image of Madonna put out by her and the promotions team behind her record. As "Inside the Pop Sleeve" states, "no doubt this neo-con plastic disco doll will sell millions of records, and her picture sitting on a bed in her lacy underwear won't hurt." Madonna was using the imagery of the contemporary party girl, and the sexuality that followed with it, to make herself stand out and to reach her audience. Her VMA performance did much of the same; highlighting traditional images of gender, such as a white wedding dress, and putting them juxtapose to her raunchy, party-girl, image. One critic went as far as to say of her VMA act that she, "performed dreadfully in her underwear and a smile, both of which were as see-through as television will allow." Here is a great example of the critical views of Madonna taken by many at the time. She was clearly using her risque gender ideals and sexuality on stage as an image to hype up her celebrity, and thus sell her music.
The Like a Virgin album cover depicts her in a seductive manner while wearing a wedding dress. This is used to play off the idea of female purity before the wedding night. Here Madonna uses provocative imagery to sell her album without singing a word. She uses the symbolism of the wedding dress, as well as the name of the album, to imply to the consumer that listening to this will be pleasurable, hence the anticipation of the album selling a lot of copies.

Madonna once again puts two opposing gender ideals together with her wedding dress outfit. She has the "boy toy" 'logo' on her wedding dress, which clearly implies a sexual nature to her dress and demeanor. With a skimpy wedding dress adorned with a boy toy stamp Madonna clearly displays her idea of a femininity, which is that of a strong and independent woman. She was not going to live by others' standards and was not afraid to display her individual sexuality on stage. Regardless of why she chose to do this, her sexuality helped her to push the boundaries of contemporary gender roles, which helped her create a popular image that would sell records. Madonna uses this imagery with the title "Like a Virgin" to convey the message that any woman can feel independent, proud and pure regardless of status to her female listeners. While the provocative imagery on the cover would not hurt to boost sales of the record amongst male consumers.

This image portrays Madonna lying on a bed in her wedding dress. She is sprawled out and holding a bouquet of flowers portraying a bride on the wedding night. This obvious choice of imagery illustrates just how Madonna's image, as an independent and sexually charged woman, could be used to propel her to stardom. While Cyndi Lauper was singing that girl's just want to have fun, Madonna was showing everybody how she did so. Her individuality and sexuality combined to create the image of the modern "pop diva". This image, fueled by its sexual nature, helped Madonna's "Like a Virgin" become a very successful album as well as propel her towards stardom.

It is this sexuality embedded in her music, performances and imagery that causes social tension surround her contributions to popular culture. When children began to emulate celebrities such as Madonna it made their parents wonder what happened to the more positive role models of previous generations. Madonna is a great example of how popular music makes its way into popular culture as a whole. Her "gender idealization" of the independent and sexually empowered woman found its way into the worlds of fashion and film as well as influenced female pop-stars who followed in Madonna's footsteps. She is an excellent example of the "slob culture" that children of the MTV-Generation began to look up to in the 1980s.

Do you think that Madonna, both as a musician and overall celebrity, would have been as popular without portraying her image as an "independent sexual female"?
Do you think that this image put out by her helped to separate her from other female pop-stars of the 1980s? If so, what about her image did this?