Transcription by Magali C. Calise
Seriously, it’s better this way. I always feels better with something hard between my leg.
Thank you for aknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in a face of blatant misogyny , sexism, constant bullying and relateness abuse.
When I started, there was no internet. So people had to say it to my face. They were very few people I have to clap back because life was simple then.
When I first move to New York, I was a teenager. It was 1979 and NY was a very scary place. In the first year, I was held and raped on a roof top with a knife digging into my throat. And I had my appartment broken and robbed so many times that I just stopped locking the door. In the years to follow, I lost almost every friend I had because of AIDS, or drugs or gunshot. As you can imagine, all these unexpected events not only helped me become the dearing woman that stands before you, it also reminded me that I’m vulnerable. And in life, there is no real safety except self-belief and understanding that I, I’m not the owner of my talents. I’m not the owner of anything. Everything I have is a gift from God. And even the fucking things that happened to me, that still happen to me, are also gifts to teach me lessons and make me stronger.
I’m receiveing an award for being woman of the year. So I asked myself : what can I say about being a woman in music business ? What can I say about being a woman ? When I first started writing songs, I didn’t think in a gender specific way. I didn’t think about feminism. I just wanna to be an artist. I was of course inspired by Debbie Harry, by Chrissie Hynde, Aretha Franklyn but my real muse was David Bowie. He embodied male and female spirit, that was just fine. He maybe thinks there were no rules. But I was wrong : there are no rules if you’re a boy. If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. What is that game ? You are allowed to be pretty, and cute, and sexy, but don’t act too smart, don’t have an opinion, don’t have an opinion that it’s out of line with the standards at least. You’re allowed to be objectified by men and dressed like a slut but don’t hold your sluttyness and do not – I repeat – do not share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel confortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age because to age is a sin. You’d be critized, you’d be vilified and you would definitely not be played on the radio.
When I first became famous, there were new photos of me in Playboy and Penthouse magazine, photos that were taken from art schools that I posed to make money. They weren’t sexy, in fact I looked quite bored and I was. But I was expected to feel ashamed when these photos came out, and I was not, and this puzzled people. Enventually I was left alone because I married Sean Penn and not only he would busted your ass but I was taken off the market. So for a while, I was not considered a crap. Years later, divorced and single – sorry Sean – I made my Erotica album and my self purpose to be released. I remembered being the headlines of every newspaper and magazine. And everything I read about myself was damning. I was called a whore and a witch. One headline compared me to satan. I said, wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnet and high heels and lipstick with its butt hanging on ? Yes, he was but he was a man.
This is the first time I truly understood that women really didn’t have the same freedom than men. I remember feeling paralyzed. It took me a while to put myself together and get on with my creative life, to get on with my life. I took confort in the poetry of Maya Angelou, in the writings of James Baldwin and in the music of Nina Simone. I remember wishing that I had a female peer that I could look to for support.
Camille Paglia, the famous feminist writer, said that I set women back by objectifying myself sexually. Oh, I thought, so if you’re feminist you don’t have sexuality, you deny it. So I said : fuck it, I’m a different kind of feminist, I’m a bad feminist.
People say that I’m so controversial but I think the most controversial thing I’ve ever done is to stick around. What I would like to say to all the women here today is this. Women have been so oppressed for so long that they believe what men say about them. And they believe they have to back a man to get the job done. And there are some very good men that worth of backing, but not because they’re men but because they’re worthy. As women we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other worth. Seek out strong women to be friend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to be inspired by, to collaborate with, to support, to be enlightened by.
As I said before, it’s not so much about receiving this award as it is having this opportunity to stand before you and really say thank you as a woman, as an artist, as a human. Not only to the people who have loved and supported me along the way – and so many of you are sitting in front of me right now – you have no idea, no, how much that support means. But to the doubters, to the sayers, to everyone who gave me hell and said that I could not, that I would not, that I must not : your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today, made me the woman that I’m today. So thank you.