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Boteach on Madonna

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2004-06-17

Madonna

Madonna

The recent passing of Ronald Reagan highlighted the death of Marxism and communism. But to the list of "isms" that met their end in the late 20th century, we must surely now add feminism.

Any rational evaluation of American culture would have to conclude that the movement that sought to have women taken seriously has failed. For every one positive female role model that uses her mind to advance her career – think Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton – there are hundreds more who are famous for exposing their bodies and catering to male lechery. Never in the history of the American republic have so many semi-naked women filled our magazines and television screens, and the growing defilement of America's women meets with barely a murmur of protest from those who claim to be feminist leaders.

Three weeks ago I strongly criticized the Kabbalah Center for allowing Madonna to be its poster girl. I made the simple point that a woman who became famous by simulating sex in front of teenagers and children on MTV, and who continues her vulgar displays by kissing Brittney Spears on stage and going completely naked in her films, cannot front a religious movement.

If Richard Gere, America's most high-profile Buddhist, began doing a nude review at the Crazy Horse Saloon, surely the Dalai Lama would distance himself. Fortunately for the Dalai Lama, Gere has shown that his adherence to Buddhism has ennobled his character and he no longer plays roles like American Gigolo. If only such change were visible in Madonna.

But Madonna's PR agent Liz Rosenberg attacked me, calling my comments frightening. She added, "Rabbi Boteach's vile attacks on Madonna's character and as an artist are staggering for someone who professes to be a religious person."

What is truly frightening, however, is that for more than two decades, Madonna has been allowed to destroy the female recording industry by erasing the line that separates music from pornography. Before Madonna, it was possible for women more famous for their voices than their cleavage, like the beautiful Ella Fitzgerald and the divinely talented Barbra Streisand, to emerge as music superstars. But in the post-Madonna universe, even highly original performers like Janet Jackson now feel the pressure to expose their bodies on TV in order to sell albums. This in turn has spawned the lascivious careers of copycats Brittney Spears and Christina Aguilera who, together with Madonna, comprise modern-day music's axis of evil.

Sixty years ago feminism rightly demanded that women cease being treated as a collection of body parts. It demanded that women be treated with dignity. But Madonna and her ilk have spawned a tragic world where, according to Time magazine, 40 percent of American teenage girls now wear thongs, many with the strap showing above their jeans, and thousands of college girls lift their shirts on Girls Gone Wild videos in exchange for a T-shirt.

In other words, even educated women have learned that to get ahead, they'd better get naked.

American television especially has become a sewer spewing misogyny. Some of the most recent hits include The Swan, wherein "17 average women who never believed they could compete in a beauty pageant are cut apart by plastic surgeons who transform them from ugly ducklings into swans."

It has become a crime in America for a woman to be "unattractive." Coming up in the fall, we can look forward to such edifying offerings as Desperate Housewives and Wife Swap, which the ABC television network promises will "tap into America's voyeuristic tendencies."

None of these programs are on the Playboy Channel or cable. All are on mainstream, commercial television, watched by millions of youngsters. The message that young boys take from these shows is that women are brainless bimbos and mindless nymphomaniacs, created by God for naught but male entertainment.

If Jews were continually portrayed on television as money-grubbers, or African-Americans as criminals, surely the leadership of the Jewish and African-American communities would howl in protest. So why won't feminist leaders speak out against the incessant portrayal of women on American reality TV as publicity-seeking prostitutes?

Why would an accomplished woman like Liz Rosenberg attack me, rather than Madonna, as vile? Because feminists mistakenly believe that a woman's right to simulate masturbation at a concert is empowering. It's all part of the women's rights movement, translated as a woman's right to do whatever she damn well pleases. But since when is behaving like a man's sex slave a form of empowerment?

While it is unbecoming for responsible feminist leaders to remain silent in the face of Madonna and her copycats' wholesale vulgarization of the female image, it would be downright scandalous for Jewish religious leaders not to object to Madonna's being promoted as the world's most recognizable practitioner of Jewish mysticism.

Kabbalah is a moral discipline that demands a striving for ethical excellence. Stripping on stage and calling oneself a Kabbalist are mutually exclusive.

Two weeks ago, on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling which desegregated America's schools, Bill Cosby – who brought to TV a highly successful show that broke the false, negative stereotypes of African-American families as poor and unstable – criticized those African-Americans who, he said, persist in reinforcing negative black stereotypes and who fail to take advantage of the civil rights reforms blacks fought so hard to achieve.

Said Cosby, "Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads! You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth! It's time for you to not accept this language that these people are speaking which will take them nowhere. What the hell good is Brown vs. the Board of Education if nobody wants it?"

Rather than Cosby's being mauled for his highly provocative comments, Alexis Scott, publisher of America's oldest daily black newspaper, said that the majority of African-Americans said, "Amen, Brother Cosby."

How tragic that America's women don't have a Bill Cosby figure to condemn those women who continue to get ahead by flashing their busts rather than using their brains. This would be the perfect battle for an intelligent and accomplished woman like Hillary Clinton. And it would have the added benefit of winning over her many detractors.