Madonna experience, The

madonna experience, The

Lugo-Lugo, Carmen R

A U.S. Icon Awakens a Puerto Rican Adolescent’s Feminist Consciousness

I’m often accused of “going too far,” but I recognize that behind my desire to shock is an even stronger desire to evade the “feminine” stereotype: “You say women are afraid of mice? I’ll show you! I’ll eat the mouse!”

Anne Beatts

“I wanna conquer the world,” stated Madonna Louise Veronica Cicconne in a Behind the Music performance. “See, I get what I want…. I do what I want with my life…. Absolutely no regrets…. I’m really good at provoking…. I’m really good at getting people’s attention.” When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, where the word “feminism” had to struggle for a place in the national lexicon, Madonna was an icon of teenage female rebellion, providing alternatives to the traditional, established definitions of womanhood and femininity. Through this subversion of cultural norms Madonna gave my generation a slap in the face and made most of us stop and rethink the traditional roles we were expected to perform in society, pushing us beyond the conventional rebellion that many teenage girls go through. This Madonna-inspired rebellion meant much more than merely challenging adults and other authority figures. This rebellion was about questioning traditional roles and beliefs in a society where traditional roles and beliefs were set in stone. This article explores a political aspect of the Madonna phenomenon in Puerto Rico by looking at her and her status as a public figure, and by looking at how such status wielded some influence over a group of teenage girls in Puerto Rico. I also explore the possibility of looking at Madonna as a liberating icon and as a symbol for Puerto Rican young women’s empowerment during the 1980s.

“LA ISLA BONITA”: PUERTO RICO, ECONOMIC CONTEXT, AND GENDER RELATIONS

Madonna’s music reached Puerto Rico in the 1980s, a time when women were struggling for a place in that society’s public sphere. At the same time, Puerto Rico was emerging slowly but definitely from being the industrial society it had become between 1940 to 1970 to become a service economy in a postindustrial society. The changes in the economic base were producing changes in other dimensions of the social structure as well. For instance, in the domestic unit, a service economy meant that women had to be educated in order to work outside the home and help their families subsist in the new economic order. Before, from the 1940s to the 1970s, women had worked mostly in textile factories and related industries, which required little, if any, education or training at all. The need for skilled and educated workers in the new service economy gave women incentive to pursue higher education. As a result, more women began a college education in the 1980s than ever before, and by the last decade more than 50 percent of the college population was comprised of women, although most educated women were funneled into specific careers such as nursing, teaching, and secretarial work.1 More women in general were entering the workforce than ever before. In addition, more women were running for electioned office (though they were still a small minority) and were otherwise more politically active. Because women were stepping into the public sphere, the “double shift” became a much more common experience in women’s lives. Women worked a double shift when they became a more visible part of the public sphere but continued to be responsible for fulfilling traditional roles. In essence, they were still responsible not only for the traditional household chores, and for the safety and nurturing of the family members, but also for nurturing members of the extended family such as parents, grandparents, and siblings. As Edna Acosta-Bern pointed out in 1986, “The Puerto Rican woman still continues to be the center of the home and family and her essentially domestic role still prevails.”2

When I was in grade school in the 1970s, I remember my mother getting up at 5 A.M., waking my little sister and me at 6 A.M., taking my little sister to day care, and finally going to a textile factory where she worked from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M. She would then come home, dean, and cook. At 6 P.M. the entire family would go to my maternal grandparents’ house where she would tidy up while visiting with them. Unlike other men I knew, my father was very helpful. He looked after my sister and me when my mother was busy, did his chores in the yard, often cooked, and even did the dishes every now and then, but there was a limit to his helpfulness. There was a whole array of household chores that he would not even think about doing, including laundry, scrubbing the floors, and dusting. My mother, who is only sixteen years older than I am, was a member of the generation who actually began to struggle with the double shift. My generation first witnessed the effects the double shift had on our mothers. (Sometimes the double shift became a triple shift when women such as my mother cared for relatives living in separate households.) We were also the ones who decided to rebel against the idea of a double or triple shift. We admired our mothers, and had no idea how they managed to do all that they did day after day, but we did not want to go through that ordeal ourselves. We thought what was expected from us because we were women was ludicrous.

I remember talking to Ivelisse, my neighbor and best friend, about wanting to have a family, but also wanting shared responsibilities in my household. I did not want to be stuck with particular chores for the rest of my life because I was a woman. She usually agreed with me. We also agreed that we would not turn our backs on our extended family, but we were not going to allow our brothers to turn their backs either. As much as we loved them, our parents and grandparents were not going to be exclusively our responsibility because we happened to be girls. We also agreed that even though we were going to work outside the household and thus needed education (for we did not want to be only housewives), we would not be overworked like our mothers were (my friend’s mother also worked in a factory) in jobs where we would have no opportunity for personal and professional development. While we had such conversations we listened to Madonna singing “Holiday,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Hanky Panky,” and “Cherish” on the radio and flipped through magazines with the latest pictures of Madonna.

From a sociological and anthropological perspective, the structural changes that took place within the household after the island’s industrialization and later during the 1980s were far-reaching yet somewhat predictable. First, as with any process involving social change, this transformation was filled with resistance. In Puerto Rico, the resistance came in the shape of men wanting to keep their status as main or sole providers of the household when, in fact, women were contributing as much, if not more, to the household’s income. These changes were devastating for some men who had been socialized to be the head of the family and the sole provider of the house. Men also resisted women spending so many hours out of the house, for women were supposed to be creatures of the house.3 This dissociation between expectations and reality brought conflict within the domestic unit. In fact, some researchers have associated the increasing rate of reported cases of domestic abuse and rising rates of divorce with the structural changes the island and its institutions were going through.4 Men were not adjusting, were resisting, and felt threatened with the increasing participation of women in the public sphere. Although women were beginning to play new roles in the public sphere, they were still expected to be “good wives” and “good mothers” in the traditional sense.

This situation also contributed to a contradiction in expectations, a double bind for the women of my generation. On the one hand, the new economy made it necessary for women to get an education so they could work outside the household; on the other, they were still expected to perform traditional roles in the domestic realm. Beyond the impossibility of being in two places at once, these expectations were often a contradiction in terms, for among the traditional roles that women were also expected to perform was the responsibility to stay at home with children and to cook three meals a day. Bern-Acosta suggests that this disparity between needs and expectations has provoked a shift in the structure of the family as a social institution and alternative types of family arrangements have emerged.5

Young women in the 1980s were thus beginning to feel the need for a redefinition and renegotiation of what was expected from them in both the private and public arenas. We took it upon ourselves to reinterpret and to reconceptualize gender roles. As a result, notions such as passivity, virginity, and servility were being questioned, reconstrued, and ultimately even discarded from the young, female social conscience. The lines between good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable were being blurred. We, the teenage girls, the next generation of women, determined to undress our minds of the traditional standards society had set for us and to step into the public sphere unencumbered, with nothing to hold us back. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Madonna’s work was such an incredible success among teenagers in Puerto Rico during that time; maybe it was more than a coincidence and a part of the structural process of what was happening to the nation. However, because it happened to coincide with the turbulence of this particular time, and because of its influence on some of the teenage girls of my generation, I contend that the Madonna phenomenon in Puerto Rico deserves serious analysis.

“OPEN YOUR HEART”: MADONNA AND PUERTO RICAN ADOLESCENTS

Hundreds of teenagers became enchanted by the power that Madonna radiated on TV during the 1980s, and I was one of them. In fact, when Madonna was singing “Like a Virgin,” I was crossing the threshold between my innocent childhood and my soon-to-be difficult adolescence. She struck a chord with me: I loved her “don’t mess with me or else” attitude; I wanted to appropriate that attitude for myself. She embodied all I wanted to be – a strong, assertive, smart, and self-sufficient woman. Needless to say, I dressed like her (following the rationale that if I wanted to be like her I needed to look like her, within the physical possibilities allowed, of course). I also chewed gum like she did and imitated her attitude of arrogant disdain.

I was not alone in the quest for becoming a strong-willed, Madonna-like woman, of course. Almost every girl in my junior high school was similarly enthralled. There were Madonnas everywhere I went: the streets, the mall, and at beach parties. Many of us fell into that romanticized and (up to that point) somewhat distant idea of a woman in control of her surroundings, her life, and, most important, her destiny. As Madonna said one time in an interview: “I may dress like a bimbo, whatever, but I’m in charge.” That was the kind of statement that won our hearts. We believed that clothing was part of her “being in charge,” so we appropriated her multiple styles, hoping they would help us to be in charge, too. A typical costume for a junior-high dance would consist of a short (very short) black skirt, a transparent black tank top short enough to show our belly buttons, a black jacket barely longer than the tank tops, hair needing a thorough combing, a fingerless glove in one hand, lots of chains (with at least one crucifix big enough to cover most of our stomachs), hard-core makeup, and, most important, an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude (although most of us did give a damn about many things). For the mall or other general daytime outing this attire was (1) not necessarily black, and (2) involved less makeup. School attire was a little trickier because we were required to wear a uniform; however, we usually found ways to adjust our uniforms and accessorize them a la Madonna.6

To understand the influence of Madonna on Puerto Rican teenage girls, the long-standing colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States needs to be taken into consideration. The island had been a Spanish colony for more than four hundred years before it fell into the hands of Americans over one hundred years ago. Although to some extent U.S. political, economic, and cultural domination in Puerto Rico has been subtle, it has nevertheless been systemic. For instance, English is the only foreign language taught and required in public schools,7 Congress has the power to determine the political status of the island, the U.S. government regulates and controls all systems of communication, federal laws apply in the island, and there is a constant military presence on the island. As in any colonial relationship, U.S. political and economic domination in Puerto Rico has been accompanied by cultural and social influences. During the 1980s, for example, the return to the idea of traditional family values espoused by the Reagan administration surfaced in Puerto Rico, where the administrations blamed crime, alcoholism, and even economic dependency on a supposed lack of family values and family structure. Puerto Rico’s political and economic subordination to the United States has also shaped gender roles, paternalism, patriarchy, and machismo. In other words, women have had to deal not only with gender systems that promote and perpetuate inequality between men and women, but also with a broader political structure that promotes and also perpetuates inequality among its people generally.

Despite the reach of U.S. imperialist practices in Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans have managed to keep their own social and cultural identity over the years. A case in point involves the use of English language. English has been taught in schools since the early part of the century but has never spread beyond the classroom or become a part of the daily lives of Puerto Ricans, the literature, or practically any other form of cultural expression. And even though there are other sources of strain between Puerto Rico and the United States, language has been one of the most decisive clashes between the two cultures. Spanish is a language Puerto Ricans have spoken for five centuries and are not willing to give up easily. Because of the fundamental difference in power, because of the cultural difference between the colony and the mainland (including language), and in spite (or maybe because) of the colonial status per se and its paternalistic connotations, Madonna provoked an uproar of a magnitude never before experienced by Puerto Ricans. The question remains, why Madonna? And why during the 1980s?

As I mentioned above, economic changes on the island played an important role in the way young women and men reconstructed gender systems. In retrospect, I am convinced that it was precisely this process of reconstruction that allowed Madonna into our “teen culture” and into our “teen uprising.” At the same time, cultural imperialism, which characterizes the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, and the island’s process of “modernization” facilitated access to Madonna’s music on the island. FM radio stations broadcasting the latest hits of rock and roll coming from the United States and Europe exploded during the 1980s. Puerto Rican television also increased its programming of shows that either imitated those shown in the United States or were American shows translated into Spanish. Cable television, including MTV programming, also arrived in the mid-1980s. Because of these sociopolitical circumstances of the period, Madonna’s music received heavy play on radio and television in Puerto Rico.

“CRAZY FOR YOU”: PUERTO RICAN GIRLS FALL IN LOVE WITH THE “MATERIAL GIRL”

How did Madonna get to be such a powerful influence for Puerto Rican female adolescents, even though she was American, white, and her music was in English? Madonna became a pop-culture icon in the United States in a relatively short time. For many people she was an icon of contestation in a fundamentally patriarchal society, at least at the beginning of her career. She portrayed herself as a strong woman, a fighter, a rebel with a cause. This was a fundamental difference between her and other young American women artists at the time, such as Cindi Lauper and Belinda Carlyle. Lauper seemed to be a rebel without a cause; her orange hair looked “cool,” but there was not much of a message beyond her appearance. In the case of Carlyle, she was just a pretty girl with apparently nothing to rebel about or against. Madonna’s cause was to demonstrate her worth as a female pop artist, a space highly dominated by men. She wanted to conquer that world and did so with “absolutely no regrets.” She did not take no for an answer because she “gets what she wants.” Her attitude got exported along with her music and her videos, and she was an instant success among the women of my generation. Puerto Rican adolescents needed her attitude and sometimes her music to accommodate themselves to the contradictions of an emerging postindustrial society that clung to outdated and traditional standards and expectations for women. The way I see it, Puerto Rican teenage girls needed to identify with a symbol of struggle and a source of empowerment.

Of course, there were many strong women in Puerto Rico, and some of them were also influential public figures like Madonna. The difference between these women and Madonna is that Madonna spoke to the youth, offering through her attitude and music a way to resist. Madonna provided a means of addressing the contradictions that young women were facing in society, for Madonna was a load of contradictions herself. Her name, Madonna, meaning “virgin,” represents the ultimate image of the Catholic, devoted, submissive, and nurturing woman, an image that we knew too well from our upbringing and culture. Yet Madonna’s demeanor gave other meanings to the image of the Madonna brokered to us by the Catholic Church. Madonna was a contradiction, and that helped us come to terms with our own contradictory reality. She was also ambiguous and unpredictable in her statements and in her public life. Such ambiguity helped me and many of my friends learn about, accept, and understand often useless dichotomies such as “good” and “bad.”

Some people see Madonna as a form of narcotic for adolescence, her performances and pronouncements as ways of escaping rather than confronting reality. I prefer to look at her from a different perspective. As I see her, Madonna was a tool for us; our wanting to be Madonna-like wasn’t about wanting to be American, white, rich, or famous, nor was it about wanting to be public figures or wanting to be on television (well, not for all of us, anyway). It was not about forgetting who we were and where we came from. We were not escaping our realities – quite the contrary. We were working on our realities, trying to modify them and custom-make them to our liking, to our image. The Madonna phenomenon helped Puerto Rican teenage girls work through genuine issues affecting our lives. We wanted to feel in control of our lives, as she seemed to be. We wanted to be assertive without the pressure of being a genius or a prodigy of some sort, which was practically the only way women could be recognized and valued in the public arena in the patriarchal society of Puerto Rico. We wanted the power to be free of the restraints of society, like she was (or seemed to be). We wanted not to give a damn what others thought about us, just like her. We wanted to stand up for ourselves and say, “We are here, and we are here to stay.” We wanted to define our identities, our sexualities, and ourselves as she did so many times. We were longing for a change and a restructuring of the rules determining who and what was decent and worthy of value. Decency, traditionally the highest value ascribed to women, is measured according to the number of boyfriends or husbands a woman has had, and there is a limit to the number of partners a woman can have before she is considered an “unworthy” woman. As one of the legacies of a well-known and often-cited demon inherited from the Spanish conquistadors more than five hundred years ago, machismo promotes the idea that women are property, and men prefer “unused property.” Of course, there was no such “measure” for men. Madonna helped many of us place the dichotomy of good girl/bad girl in perspective.

Although fascinated with Madonna, we were never blind to her oftentimes senseless or downright “wrong” behavior. For instance, when I was in college, Madonna gave her first (and so far only) concert on the island. She got to the island with her dancers and other members of her staff a couple of days before the concert. They stayed in an exclusive hotel in San Juan, and each day there was something on the news about Madonna’s childish behavior. The instance I remember the best, possibly because it was the silliest, was about Madonna throwing a fit because nobody could find her a Dr. Pepper. Hotel employees were sent on a quest throughout the island for a Dr. Pepper, for which Puerto Ricans had not developed a taste. It was then – and later during the concert when she thoroughly scrubbed our national flag around her intimate parts, back and front – that many of us said, “Hey, girl, that’s enough!” I could not go to the concert because I was working, but friends who did go told me that Madonna was booed when she “played” with our flag. As I recall one of them telling me, “I was willing to forgive all her stupid behavior of the past days, acting like a little spoiled princess and all, but when it comes to the flag of my country, not even Madonna is allowed to disrespect it.” Not even Madonna. Her statement seemed fair to us, as we all nodded, sharing in her disappointment.

Of course, we were also naive. We did not realize at the time that Madonna had enormous wealth to insulate her from consequences and justify her power and her attitude, the two features about her that we admired the most. Neither did we realize that our “political behavior” was her material profit. If political engagement invariably involves tradeoffs, the liberating effect Madonna had on teenage Puerto Ricans girls to fight a social system that dictated norms and expectations was – for me – worth the price of admission.

“LIKE A PRAYER”: RELIGION, RACE, AND GENDER IN MADONNA’S VIDEO AND IN PUERTO RICO

The revolutionary symbol embedded in Madonna and the rhetoric of her lyrics were a constant presence during the turmoil of my adolescence. For instance, a few years after I rebelled against the dogmas of the Catholic Church and against my grandparents’ prejudices and racism, Madonna was singing “Like a Prayer” and kissing a black saint in one of her videos. When I was twelve years old, I decided I did not want to go through the third sacrament — confirmation. I thought it was a waste of my time, for, even though I believed in God at the time, I did not believe in the precepts of the Catholic Church. My mother tried to convince me for years that my decision was a mistake; it didn’t work. I never did take the third sacrament. My father backed me up and told my mother that nobody should force me to do what I did not want to do. The rest of my family was appalled that I was so adamant about not going through the ritual and that my parents were being so “lenient” with me. As a result, I am considered a heretic among my family. When people began accusing Madonna of the same “sin” a couple of years later, I took it as a sign that she and I were on the same page: We both were being regarded as “sacrilegious” for questioning the traditional canons of religion.

When the video of “Like a Prayer” came out, I made my great-grandmother’s life miserable for a while, telling her I was going to marry a black man like the one in the video. Although institutional racism on the island ended with the abolition of slavery in 1873, and Puerto Rico never segregated its people by law based on race or any other characteristic, racism remains a part of Puerto Rican society and culture. For my great-grandparents, it was ludicrous that I, a light-skinned girl, would even joke about marrying a black man. Madonna’s video, showing her kissing a black saint, arrived at a moment in my life when I needed help fighting the racial prejudices of the elders in my family. It also helped me understand the contradictions of our societies Madonna’s and mine – that claimed equal treatment for all races yet rejected interracial expressions of affection.

“LIVE TO TELL”: MADONNA, AND (MY) FEMINISM

There was something about Madonna that made me think critically for the first time about the difficulties and double standards faced by Puerto Rican women. For instance, I began thinking about the fact that men were allowed (sometimes even encouraged by male relatives and male friends) to have affairs if they were married, while women were considered outcasts if they did so. I began looking around and finding more instances where women were disadvantaged by their roles in society. For better or worse, my wanting to be a liberated woman like Madonna, to some extent, helped me develop a feminist consciousness, to the point that I began to care about inequality and sexism. It was also Madonna, leading her own sexual revolution, who made me realize that sex was not a sin, nor was it a bad thing, in spite of what the Catholic Church and my family thought. Even though I did not call myself a feminist until I got to graduate school, I did profess the ideal of women’s liberation and the idea of equality generally that were sparked by Madonna’s work. Other strong-willed women – most of them Puerto Rican – nurtured my feminist ideas in different ways during my years as a college student, but these women arrived later, after feminism and the quest for justice had been had been ignited in me.

Madonna did not turn me into a feminist. That would be an overstatement. For that matter, Madonna might not profess herself a feminist, and no doubt some feminists would be outraged if she did. What I am speaking of, however, is my “Madonna experience,” which actually lasted for about a decade and opened my mind to possibilities other than that of being a good girl, of growing up to be a good wife and a good mother – the epitome of womanhood in any patriarchal society. The fact that I liked that woman not so much for her music as for her attitude and demeanor (as bell hooks once said, “I was into her presence”8) made me think that there was much more to life than what was being offered to me as a woman. Back then, when I was still practically a girl, I wasn’t sure what more there was to being a woman. Later I discovered the 11 unimaginable” notion that women could claim as theirs the very public arena that men have monopolized for so long, accompanied by the realization that women were not meant only for breeding human replacements and keeping the house.

Of course, feminism in Puerto Rico meant much more than “Madonna,” even for the women of my generation. From an historical perspective, feminism has had a relatively long and complicated existence on the island. Its history was intertwined with labor struggles and nationalist struggles at the beginning of the twentieth century, including at times community and religious dimensions. This paper offers only a look through a small, and rather personal, window to contemporary struggles of women in Puerto Rico.9 That struggle goes on. Madonna did not change sex/gender relations in the Puerto Rican society of the 1980s and 1990s. Yet, her influence in the young popular consciousness, with all it entailed, still lingers among women of my generation. Sex /gender relations are still in the process of changing and adjusting to a new and a more emancipated notion of what a woman should be, and Puerto Rican society is still in the process of renegotiating the roles women should play (or not) in society. However, many of the women of my generation, who are still going through the painful process of renegotiating their own social identities, have something in common with one another: At some point we sang “Celebrate” while doing our homework; thanked our “Lucky Star” because our parents did not catch us doing something “wrong”; looked at ourselves in the mirror and asked out loud “Who’s that Girl?”; were proud of our “Isla Bonita,” because we thought it could change and provide a haven for all of us; and “Expressed Ourselves” in ways that challenged traditional expectations for female teenagers.

After reading an earlier version of this paper, a friend of mine asked me how the impact of Madonna among adolescents in Puerto Rico is different from that in other countries. I think her question deserves reflection. While I am not sure what impact Madonna had on women in countries other than the United States and Puerto Rico, I think the experience of Puerto Rican teenagers during the 1980s was, and remains today, unique because of the colonial relationship between the two countries. It helped young women defy traditional ideas and expectations, and it gave those women a political edge to use in their personal and collective struggles. According to Kelner Douglas, Madonna had the most impact in the United States on the social construction of identity, fashion, and sexuality.10 Although that can be said about Madonna in Puerto Rico as well, I think such social construction was accompanied with battles that were fought in different social and political spaces. Douglas does not mention race in his book chapter; nevertheless, it seems obvious that he is talking about Madonna’s influence on U.S. Anglo adolescents.

“MATERIAL GIRL?”: SOCIAL CLASS AND MADONNA IN PUERTO RICO

First of all, social issues do not occur in a vacuum. In addition to the matters of gender and race relations already discussed, Madonna’s “virtual” and actual presence on the island took place within economic relations conducive for some groups of adolescents to experience the Madonna phenomenon while leaving other groups out of the experience. When I say that many Puerto Rican adolescent girls were caught up in the Madonna experience, I am basically talking about lower-middle-class (were I come from), middle-class, and upper-class adolescents. Together, they comprise the majority, but it is important to acknowledge that there was a sector of the adolescent population in Puerto Rico that did not have the means (or perhaps the intention) to be part of such experience. In order to keep up with Madonna, one had to have access to the material aspects of the experience such as records/cassettes/CDs, radio, television/cable, and magazines, among others consumer products. These are all part of particular lifestyles, but not easily accessible to girls from lower social classes.

As noted before, behaving like Madonna was a political statement for most of us. However, such statements – we believed – needed to be expressed with appropriate clothing. This quest for Madonna-ness, almost down to the bones, provoked a consumerist desire in most of us, prompting periodic excursions to the mall to update our wardrobes to keep up with the ever-changing fashion statements of Madonna. Only those with means could engage in such consumerist practices. Although consumerism provoked by the Madonna experience can be understood as backlash, it may also can be considered a necessary part of the process of empowerment that liberated adolescent women from traditional gender values. It would also be unfair to characterize adolescents as puppets of Madonna and the fashion industry, for many of us recognized when Madonna “went too far” in her fashion statements; we knew when to stop.

“TAKE A BOW”: FINAL THOUGHTS

Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone is now in her forties; she is also a mother. The icon of my rebellious adolescence projects a new, calmer demeanor. However, I still remember (and always will) the woman who performed outrageously to gain the attention of those who did not want to listen. I remember, with lasting amazement, the woman who simulated masturbation in front of an auditorium full of people in the Blonde Ambition Tour. I also remember the woman who published a book with her own definition of sex in pictures, the woman who wore a belt buckle with the antifeminist yet outrageous claim “boy toy” on it, the woman who now, at forty-two, hates the fact that she will forever be called the “Material Girl.” That woman is different; so am 1. I am not the impressionable adolescent I used to be. I do not seek to make a point with my clothes. I comb my hair now. Even though I still wear makeup, it is definitely not as pronounced as it was ten to fifteen years ago. Also, I no longer live on the island. I am now a graduate student and an instructor of Women’s Studies in the Pacific Northwest, trying to teach my students about women’s issues, women’s struggles. Looking back at my adolescence, I cannot help but wonder what would have happened to me had I not gone through that rebellious stage, had I not had my personal “Lucky Star.”

I no longer follow Madonna’s career, at least not as closely as I used to, but I still have a soft spot for Madonna. In fact, Madonna, who has been called the most famous woman in the world,11 and who has been distinguished as the most successful female performer by the Guinness Book of World Records, is still an American symbol of women’s struggle for recognition, women’s will, and women’s empowerment.

NOTES

I would like to thank Madonna, of course, for being such a cool woman way back when. My indebted thanks also go to Yolanda Flores-Neimann, Marta Maldonado, Noel Sturgeon, Valerie Jenness, and Kendal Broad, who offered so many insightful comments and oft-needed words of encouragement on earlier versions of this paper. I thank the anonymous reader, whose helpful comments contributed to shape this most recent version of the paper. To all, my most sincere gratitude.

1. Edna Acosta-Bern, ed., The Puerto Rican Woman: Perspectives on Culture, History, and Society (New York: Prager Publishers, 1986), 19.

2. Acosta-Belen, The Puerto Rican Woman, 15.

3. One distinction people make in Puerto Rico between a “good” woman and a “bad” woman is to call the former “una mujer de su casa” (a woman of her house) and the latter “una mujer de la calle” (a woman of the streets).

4. Marya Munoz-Vazquez, “The Effects of Role Expectations on the Marital Status of Urgan Puerto Rican Women,” in The Puerto Rican Woman: Perspectives on Culture, History and Society (New York: Praeger, 1986).

5. Acosta-Bern, The Puerto Rican Woman, 22.

6. In Puerto Rico all schools, including public schools, require their students to be uniformed.

7. There was a period in Puerto Rico during the 1920S when the U.S. government tried to impose English as the only language used to teach all subjects in school. The practice proved unsuccessful and was discontinued after several years.

8. bell hooks, “Power to the Pussy: We Don’t Wannabe Dicks in Drag,” in Madonnarama: Essays on Sex and Popular Culture, ed. Lisa Frank and Paul Smith (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1993), 66.

9. For historical and cultural readings about the feminist movement on the island, and about women in Puerto Rico, I recommend Acosta-Bern, The Puerto Rican Woman; and Yamila Azize-Vargas, La Mujer en Puerto Rico: Essayos de Investigacion (Rio Piedras: Ediciones Huracan, 1987).

10. Kelner Douglas, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern (New York: Routledge, 1995), 263-64.

11. Mary Lambert, Behind the Music, vHi, August 16, 1998.

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo earned a B.A. in sociology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus, in 1993. She also holds an M.A. in sociology from Washington State University, where she is working on her Ph.D. in American Studies. Her dissertation will explore feminist literature in Puerto Rico. She also teaches for the Department of Women’s Studies at WSU.

Copyright University of Nebraska Press 2001

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