Madonna: I Was Raped at Knifepoint When I First Moved to New York

Illustration for article titled Madonna: I Was Raped at Knifepoint When I First Moved to New York

Madonna's on the November cover of Bazaar, and inside, there's an essay she's written about herself, as she looks back on a 30-year career, starting with the years before she became famous.

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Of her high school days, Madonna writes:

…Growing up in a suburb in the Midwest was all I needed to understand that the world was divided into two categories: people who followed the status quo and played it safe, and people who threw convention out the window and danced to the beat of a different drum. I hurled myself into the second category, and soon discovered that being a rebel and not conforming doesn't make you very popular. In fact, it does the opposite. You are viewed as a suspicious character. A troublemaker. Someone dangerous.

When you're 15, this can feel a little uncomfortable. Teenagers want to fit in on one hand and be rebellious on the other. Drinking beer and smoking weed in the parking lot of my high school was not my idea of being rebellious, because that's what everybody did. And I never wanted to do what everybody did. I thought it was cooler to not shave my legs or under my arms. I mean, why did God give us hair there anyways? Why didn't guys have to shave there? Why was it accepted in Europe but not in America? No one could answer my questions in a satisfactory manner, so I pushed the envelope even further. I refused to wear makeup and tied scarves around my head like a Russian peasant. I did the opposite of what all the other girls were doing, and I turned myself into a real man repeller. I dared people to like me and my nonconformity.

Since she was marching to the beat of her own drummer, in the late '70s, she moved to New York, where she felt she could "become a REAL artist," and express herself in a "city of nonconformists." It was a rough, rude awakening:

New York wasn't everything I thought it would be. It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time.

Horrifying. Still, she found fuel, energy, the drive to move forward:

And all the homeless people on the street. This wasn't anything I prepared for in Rochester, Michigan. Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked. Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal. I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going. Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoe box of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall, watching the pigeons shit on my windowsill. And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself together and look at a postcard of Frida Kahlo taped to my wall, and the sight of her mustache consoled me. Because she was an artist who didn't care what people thought. I admired her. She was daring. People gave her a hard time. Life gave her a hard time. If she could do it, then so could I.

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The 55-year-old also touches on her marriages, her adoptions and Kabbalah; the entire piece is worth your while.

[Bazaar via Radar]

DISCUSSION

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I will join the group not comfortable with dismissing her account out of hand. From what actually seems to be the first mention of the rape in the media (NME 12-2-1995). I say this because Madonna claims in the interview that she has never mentioned it before.

“Exactly. In my photograph it’s obviously completely consensual. Everybody wants to do it. I have a smile on my face because I am having a good tone, I suppose it’s not really a rape fantasy if the woman wants to do it. It’s just a case of pretending not to be interested when you really are.”

I didn’t know that you’d been raped.

“You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”

Was it a date rape situation, someone you knew?

“No… a complete stranger.”

Did you get help afterwards?

“No. I was very young and I didn’t know anybody. I’d just moved to New York and… It was a very educational experience.”

Madonna grimaces and falls silent.

Would you rather stop talking about this?

“I don’t want to talk about it only in that…” she pauses, choosing her words carefully, “I don’t want to get into this Oprah Winfrey/Sinead O’Connor thing of, ‘Oh, everybody, all these horrible things have happened to me!’ I don’t want to make it an issue. I think that I’ve had what a lot of people would consider to be horrific experiences in my life. But I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I don’t.

“It happened a long time ago so over the years I’ve come to terms with it. In a way it was a real eye-openning experience. I’d only lived in Now York for a year and I was very young, very trusting of people. I came from the mid-West and I was walking around New York City like everyone was my friend. That experience completely turned me round in terms of becoming much more street smart and much more savvy. It’s that old expression, y’know, everything than doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I was very disturbed about it afterwards but I knew that I couldn’t go back home. There was just no way that I was going back home.”

How could you bear to turn that experience into art? Surely touched a nerve in you?

“No, because in the photograph it isn’t me being raped. As I said, it was something I wanted. I’m playing the coquette, the virgin or whatever, and they are the bad boys. They take me but only because I give them the opportunity to.”

Madonna stares at me pointedly to nuke sure that I understand and then prepares to close the subject.

“The thing about what happened to me is that.. although it was devastating at the time, I know that is made me a much stronger person in retrospect. It forced me to be a survivor. That’s all there is to it”

Such is the dehumanisation of Madonna that some people may deduce she is capable of using even this experience as a means to produce more column inches. Not that she cares, she’s more than used to it.

“Some people out there think everything I do is a publicity stunt,” she points out, wearily, “they think when I go to the bathroom it’s a publicity stunt.”