Momma don't preach: 'material girl' hardly a role

Jonah Goldberg

8/27/2001 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
The Aug. 27 issue of People magazine contains a long story on the plight of America's favorite working mom. Headlined "Balancing Act," the People story declares, "Like many working mothers - even those who have an assistant and at least one nanny on hand, as she does - her life is 'exhausting.'" The exhausted Mom in question? The only multimillionaire woman who "erotically" rides an electric bull in front of thousands of people a couple times a week: Madonna. "There isn't a second in my day that isn't taken up looking after my family or thinking" about work, she explains. As the 43-year-old pop star continues her "Drowned World Tour" with her kids in tow, newspapers all over the country are lavishing praise on her for her "balancing act." "Material Mom Puts Family First This Tour" was the headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I have no doubt that Madonna's balancing act - on an off that bull - is exhausting, but why the press consistently likens the so-called "Material Mom" to "many working mothers" is a mystery to me. It's not just the fact that Madonna has a private plane or that she has a personal entourage of 400 people that separates her from "many" working moms. Madonna's luxury transcends all of that material girl stuff. She has the luxury of never facing the consequences of her own advice. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, Madonna was America's leading sexual adventurer. In her 1991 documentary "Truth or Dare," she taught young girls how to do things best left to the Starr Report. In her more recent film "The Next Best Thing," she ridiculed the idea of having a husband before you have child. And, of course, there were her songs and videos in which she dabbled with everything from Catholic Church-bashing to a dozen flavors of erotica. It's because of these antics that all sorts of silly people think she is a glorious role model. When Madonna's tour arrived in Michigan this week, the chair of the sociology department at University of Detroit Mercy told The Detroit News, "Because of her, women gained a greater sense of autonomy, of how they could act." The Detroit News also spoke with Pamela Harnick, another Madonna fan and a clinical psychologist and counselor at Eastern Michigan University's Counseling Services. "I think certainly Madonna has challenged views of female sexuality as being shameful," Harnick says. "The fact that there has been backlash against her, especially early in her career, indicates that she raises things people are uncomfortable with." Golly, it makes you wonder why Madonna hasn't gotten a Nobel Prize or Profiles in Courage award. According to Madonna and her admirers, she encouraged a whole generation of teen-age girls to become more in touch with their sexuality, to question bourgeois and religious values and to go with the "if it feels good, do it" school of personal morality. While I am certainly no member of the Chastity Brigade, it seems to me you don't have to be a Church Lady to recognize that such advice can have dire consequences. Unplanned pregnancy, AIDS and even the low-self-esteem that comes with sleeping with pushy teen-age boys too soon are just a few of the unfortunate side-effects of telling young girls to abandon their "hang-ups" and get jiggy with it whenever the urge arrives. In a March 2000 People cover story, Madonna explained, "I've gone through all my sexual rebellion and don't need to do it anymore. I worked it out of my system, it's pretty safe to say." Good for her, but after she went through the gauntlet of (public) sexual adventure she came out the other side as the most fawned-over celebrity in the world with an $11 million townhouse in London and back-up homes all over the place. This is hardly the same prize many working moms get when they've had two babies out of wedlock and slept with untold hordes of relatively anonymous people. It's easy to write songs like "Poppa Don't Preach" when you can afford to bypass all of the hardships that "preaching" is aimed at preventing. Madonna may well be a settled and devoted parent today. But she got off easy. She has the financial and social resources to avoid the hardships and regrets that normally come with the behavior she advocates. For example, Madonna recently told the British Sunday Mirror, "I don't have any problems with (diapers), because I have never changed one." Again, good for her, but spare us the tripe that her "balancing act" is the same as that of other "working moms." They're the ones who have the right to complain about being exhausted.