In a revealing interview Mama Madonna talks about single parenthood, ‘trainable’ men and her uncertainty about the future. by Jonathan Alter
Madonna is repeatedly depicted as cocky, shameless and curt, especially, when challenged. But recently, on the eve of the birth of her two biggest projects to date – her daughter, Lourdes, and her movie Evita, opening Christmas Day in New York and L.A. and nationwide in January – I found none of these to be true. She was emotional about motherhood, impassioned about playing Eva Peron and surprisingly uncertain about what the future holds. In place of her legendary self-confidence, Madonna seemed unusually vulnerable, not in the contrived coquettishness of one of her earliest acts, but as an expectant mother truly unsettled by the prospect of a child. She made it clear she intends to resume her career, but she was unsure about how she would balance it with motherhood. She was outspoken and brash, per her reputation, but her patented exhibitionism had been replaced by a more traditional concern for privacy. And when she learned midway through our conversation that I had written critically about the poor example she has set by becoming a single mother, she was angry but did not cut the interview short. Instead we kept talking – sometimes heatedly – for more than an hour beyond the allotted time.
As we sat in her Los Angeles home, brimming with baby presents, Madonna struck two main notes. first, her pride in Evita, which she considers her best movie by far. And second, her unwillingness to assume responsibility as a “Material Girl” role model for her young fans. But she insisted on the importance of fathers – including her baby’s father Carlos Leon – in raising children. And she stressed it is up to parents to make sure their young children don’t watch inappropriate TV: “It’s not my videos per se. There are lots of things on television children shouldn’t be allowed to watch.” Excerpts:
Q: Shouldn’t people like you who have tremendous influence try to use it to help save the American family?
Madonna: I cannot be this crusader for the rest of the world. The only thing I can do is in my own small way be as true and honest as possible. That’s the only way I know how to be a good role model.
Q: Couldn’t the late ’90s be the time for the “Material Girl”? In other words, to make it cool to respect the family?
Madonna: I don’t want to be the Maternal Girl. I don’t want that ridiculous moniker any more than I wanted to be called the material girl. If a bunch of us decided to get married, we would not save the family in America. My responsibility is to my child, not everyone else’s children.
Q: Are you saying you don’t want to tell 9-year-olds they shouldn’t watch MTV ?
Madonna: I’m not talking to 9-year-olds. I don’t have a dialogue with 9-year-old I don’t know. The only dialogue with children I should ever have is a dialogue with children I know. My message isn’t for children. My message is for…
Q: Parents ?
Madonna: Parents. It’s for adults. It’s the parents’ responsibility. It’s the adults around them… Too many people just sit their kids in front of TVs to baby-sit them.
Q: Presumably, the values you pass on to your child will be different than if you had had a baby when you were a lot younger?
Madonna: Yes. It’s much better that I waited. I am much more centred and sure of myself, and I think I’ll be a much better parent than I would have, perhaps, if I’d had a child, say, when I was married. (Madonna divorced actor Sean Penn in 1989 after four tumultuous years of marriage.)
Q: You really understand men –
Madonna: I’ve certainly tried to reform my share of men. You have your standards. I feel like I have definitely gotten involved in a fair share of men who turned out to be incredibly narrow-minded, and I have made it a task for myself to get them to look at life in a different way. i haven’t always been successful, but the thing that makes me different is a lot of women settle for things, OK? Maybe that is why people have looked at me and said, oh, I’m heartless, I’m cruel, I don’t need men, I’m a man-eater.
Actually, I’m a very good role model, because I say, ‘Look, these are my standards.’… If the man I’m involved with can’t grasp those things, I don’t want to have anything to do with him. Which isn’t to say that as soon as you see it, you run in the other direction. I mean, there are some people who are trainable. (laughs)
I can’t tell you how many women I know who take back men who’ve abused them, who’ve abused their children. It’s wretched. it’s disgusting.
Q: You’re almost saying there should be more divorce – if women stood up to themselves.
Madonna: Absolutely. Absolutely… The amount of people that are married and happy is extremely small.
Q: But a lot of times, their kids are happy. Right?
Madonna: I do not believe that. I do not believe that.
Q: Have people been making a lot of peculiar demands on you?
Madonna: Yeah. These strange requests are indicative of how sick this society is.
Q: What do you mean by “sick” ?
Madonna: This bizarre interest and fascination with… you would think I was the first celebrity that wasn’t married that got pregnant. It’s just so absurd, the amount of attention and how it’s skewed. Like it’s so unusual, what I’m doing.
Q: Is one of the drawbacks with all this that you don’t have somebody all the time lying next to you to share your anxieties with?
Madonna: I believe you’re asking me to define my relationship in a roundabout way, and I’m not answering that question. How do you know I don’t have someone lying next to all the time?
Q: What do you think a father’s role is in raising children, in general?
Madonna: I think it’s just as important as the mother’s. But I won’t tell you specifically that I think it’s a man’s job to do this or woman’s job to do that. They both have nurturing roles they play.
Q: But what, ideally, works best? Is it best to have a mother and father in home?
Madonna: I think that’s the ideal. I grew up without a mother, and I did all right.
Q: i told a woman from the Bronx sitting next to me on the plane…
Madonna: You told her you were coming to interview me?
Q: Yeah, I like to know what the folks want to know. Don’t you?
Q: Anyway, the kinds of things people want to know are basic. For instance: Are you going to breast-feed?
Madonna: I don’t think that’s anybody’s business. It’s absurd. And of course, everyone wants to give you advice and everyone’s a know-it-all and lectures you on how you have to breast-feed…
Madonna: Oh, please. I assume everyone gets that, but I get it on a global scale.
Q: With all these people talking to you, who do you listen to?
Madonna: Friends and family members who have children. But a lot of it goes in one ear and out the other.
Q: The Rosie O’Donnells of the world, and people like that?
Madonna: To a certain extent, Rosie, yeah. Roosie adopted a baby, so there’s little bit of information (about being pregnant) I can’t get from her. But yeah, friends of mine that have children. My sister is a wealth of information; she has a 5-year-old, and that really comes in handy.
Q: Also, you had a lot to do with raising of five younger siblings. So, you’ve changed a lot of diapers?
Madonna: Yes, I have. (laughs)
Q: And at this stage of your life, you’re prepared to have somebody else change the diapers?
Madonna: I’m prepared to have somebody help me. I certainly don’t want to not be involved with those kinds of things as well, but I have a job – I have many jobs – which means i’m not going to be around changing diapers 24 hours a day.
Q: You once said, “I was a motherless child” – because you were so young (age 6) when your mother died. How involved do you have to be so the connection is really there? Where do you strike that balance?
Madonna: I don’t have rules for myself. I want to be a good mother, and I want to be very involved in my child’s life, but other than that, I can’t give you details. I think I’m going to learn a lot as I go. I’ll strike that balance when I get to it.
Q: After the publicity tour for Evita, are you going to take it easy, be more with your child?
Madonna: I don’t have any plans. I’m reading scripts from other movies, but I haven’t seen anything I love. Plus, I don’t know what it’s going to be like to have a baby, so I can’t answer.
Q: There was a quote from you: “I think I help a lot of people, and it’s my responsibility to do that.” That you think of yoirself as someone…
Madonna: I have been a role model sort of inadvertently for people who want speak their mind. At the same time, though, it’s certainly not my job to think about every one of my actions and think about how it’s going to affect people. I’m an artist first and foremost. It’s absolutely nobody’s business how I choose to raise my child. It is my life.
And the other thing is people don’t know what my relationship with the father of my child is, and because they don’t know, they’re making an enormous amount of assumptions. If I were a man, they wouldn’t be asking me all the time. “Define your relationship. tell us how you’re going to raise your child and what you’re going to do.” I can think of a lot of celebrity couples who aren’t married that have children.
Q: Well, I criticized them in my article.
Madonna: Well, you actually have no right to criticize them. You really don’t.
Q: What about marriage? Doesn’t the marriage contract itself create a reciprocal responsibility, the same way record and movie contracts do?
Madonna: They’re created out of mistrust. Contracts are based on business contracts, and I refuse to look at the union of two people as a business contract.
Q: Well, it’s not a business transaction. It was a transaction created many generations ago for the purpose of raising children.
Madonna: I think our society is more comfortable with the idea of someone marrying and getting a divorce. We live in a country which refuse same-sex marriages. If two people are in love, it doesn’t matter what sex they are.
Q: In many communities, more than half of children are born out of wedlock. Many of these kids turn out great, but overall they have far worse odds of success. Doesn’t that worry you?
Madonna: You can’t just look at it and go, “Oh, it’s because the father’s not there.” There are a million other things that come into play. I can show you a billion families with a mother and father, and you’ve never seen such a dysfunctional and abuse and deceit in your life. So it’s got nothing to do with two people. Very often these single-parent situations are women who are trying to survive, and you cannot say, “You’re a bad parent because you did not try and make your marriage work.”
Q: I wrote an article: “There’s no reason Madonna should get married if she doesn’t want to, but it would be wonderful if she could become a spokesperson for marriage.”
Madonna: I don’t want to be a spokesperson for marriage, OK? I should be able to choose the things I want to be spokesperson for. Why can’t I be for the freedom of expression and for practicing safe sex and those kinds of things? That is freedom of expression – to say I don’t feel like I have to get married to have a good relationship and raise children in a healthy way.
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