Hyping its broadcast for days is an odd way to ban an objectionable video. For those who didn’t see MTV’s much ballyhooed recent onetime airing of “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” Madonna—the easily offended should stop here—drives aggressively in muscle cars. She purposefully smashes into a carload of leering men. She ridicules male authority figures, shooting two police officers with a—cover your eyes—water pistol. She steals from the rich (a man) and gives to the poor (a female waitress). And finally, she crashes her Camaro into a telephone pole, as if to say she’s had enough of the patriarchal bullshit. Hubby and director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch Guy Ritchie shoots an attractive short film, riddled with tension and clever angles.
If you listen to “What It Feels Like for a Girl” on Music, the song opens with an excerpt of actress Charlotte Gainsbourg from the film The Cement Garden: “It’s OK for a girl to look like a boy, but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. Because you think being a girl is degrading.” It’s hard not to be impressed by Madonna’s lyrics or the plaintive emotions she sustains in delivering them over delicate synth swells. “Strong inside but you don’t know it/Good little girls, they never show it/When you’re trying hard to be your best/Could you be a little less?” It’s a song she wrote for daughter Lourdes, whose big brown eyes will sadly one day be opened to the fact that strong women risk intimidating an awful lot of men (and perhaps a few gun-shy Viacom executives). By the time the third chorus rolls around—”Do you know/what it feels like/for a girl/in this world?”—what once sounded sweet now breaks skin, even without changing pitch.
Unfortunately, Madonna proffers her visual wares to a fluffed-up trance mix, leaving the Gainsbourg sample and the chorus—now somewhat ambiguous without lyrical context—to stand alone. It’s as if Madonna fulfilled her own prophecy: Not too smart, honey, or you’ll disturb the big, happy party.
Still, it’s hard to believe MTV would single out this video as too disturbing to air. Madonna can’t suggest she’s killing herself in a car, but we can see Eminem—oops, I mean “Stan”—drive off a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk, every day after school on TRL? Perhaps if Mrs. Ciccone-Ritchie wants to make a provocative feminist statement in the future, she should wear a thong and have Jay-Z pour beer on her. Doubtless, that would make the censor’s cut.