"In life there is no real safety except for self-belief."
Madonna's emotional speech at Billboard's Women in Music event was powerful, honest and heart wrenching.
The iconic singer was being honored for her thirty plus years in the industry as one of music's most influential pop stars both on and off the charts.
In true Madonna form, she began her speech with a crude joke to break the ice.
"I always feel better with something hard between my legs" Madonna said, straddling the microphone stand, Billboard reports.
"I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer," Madonna continued. "Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse."
Her speech recanted dark beginnings.
"People were dying of AIDS everywhere. It wasn’t safe to be gay, it wasn’t cool to be associated with the gay community," Madonna recalled. "It was 1979 and New York was a very scary place. In the first year I was held at gunpoint, raped on a rooftop with a knife digging into my throat and I had my apartment broken into and robbed so many times I stopped locking the door. In the years that followed, I lost almost every friend I had to AIDS or drugs or gunshots."
She told the audience: "In life there is no real safety except for self-belief."
Madonna is a prime example of perseverance, and she did so through musical inspirations from the greats.
"I was of course inspired by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Aretha Franklin, but my real muse was David Bowie. He embodied male and female and that suited me just fine. He made me think there are no rules.... But that was wrong. There are no rules if you're a boy. There are rules if you're a girl," Madonna said.
One of those rules: "Don’t be too smart. Don’t have an opinion that's out of line with the status quo…You are allowed to dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness… Be what men want you to be and be what women feel comfortable with you being around their men. And do not, repeat do not, age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio."
What it Feels Like For A Girl! 💁😎👑 ! BillBoard Awards Here I Come! 🎉💘😂🍾 pic.twitter.com/eWa3UlSzGj
— Madonna (@Madonna) December 9, 2016
Madonna began to get teary-eyed when she admitted to feeling "like the most hated person on the planet."
"Eventually I was left alone because I married Sean Penn and he would bust a cap in your ass. For a while I was not considered a threat. But years later, divorced and single -- sorry Sean -- I made my Erotica album and my Sex book was released. I remember being the headline of every newspaper. Everything I read about myself was damning. I was called a whore and a witch. One headline compared me to Satan. I thought, 'Wait a minute, isn't Prince running around with fishnets and high heels and lipstick with his butt hanging out?'"
"This was when I understood women do not have the same freedom as men," she said.
"I remember wishing I had a female hero I could look to for support. Camille Paglia, the famous feminist writer, said I set women back by objectifying women. So I thought, 'oh, if you're a feminist, you don't have sexuality?' So I said 'fuck it. I'm a different kind of feminist. I'm a bad feminist.'"
Madonna finished her speech with a thank you to the haters and offered advice to her musical peers.
"I'm not here so much because I care about awards," Madonna said. "I'm here because I want to say thank you. To all the doubters and naysayers and everyone who gave me hell and said I could not or would not or must not, your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am. It made me the woman that I am today. So thank you."
"What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. They believe they have to back a man to get the job done…. As women, we have to start appreciating our own and each other's worth. Seek out strong women to befriend to align yourself with and to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by and enlightened by. True solidarity amongst women is a power on its own."