I know you guys are just dying to hear what I have to say on the subject of last week’s VMAs. I didn’t watch the VMAs because I’m not twelve and MTV sucks now anyway. (Remember when it used to be a music channel? Like 20 years ago.) But I quickly became aware of the performance that had everyone rushing to sandpaper their eyeballs. There’s been a lot of discussion online about Miley’s performance. Some people are outraged by the sexual nature of it, others are outraged at those people’s “slut-shaming” of her, and still others noticed a racist minstrelsy in the performance. Here’s my two cents.
I saw yet another female celebrity who feels the need to sexualize her performance in order to be successful in the entertainment industry. And I ask myself, why is this a pattern in our culture? Why are we still teaching our girls, from a very young age, that physical beauty and sexuality are their most valuable assets?
From Barbie dolls to Toddlers in Tiaras, our girls are sexualized at younger and younger ages and I believe it is extremely detrimental to them. Girlhood should be spent in play and academic learning. It should be a time when girls are encouraged to learn sports, do science experiments and read books that challenge them. Instead, they are taught how to fix their hair and makeup and that “you’re so pretty” is the highest compliment they can receive. It’s not always intentional. Most parents don’t explicitly teach their girls these things, it’s just that that’s the message we get when we grow up in this society, and if you don’t want your daughter to buy into it, you must actively fight against it. One year, when I was taking dance, my instructor picked out recital costumes for our jazz class that had side cutouts. When my mom saw the intended costume, she complained to my instructor that they were too revealing and my teacher picked more modest costumes. The other girls in my class hated me because my mom ruined our chance to wear those really cool costumes (by cool, of course, I mean sexy). And I was so mad at mom for it. Why did she have to be such a prude? But looking back, my mom was right. And if I’m ever a mom, I would react the same way. Those were inappropriate costumes for 12 year old girls to be wearing. Not because there’s anything shameful about the human body or sexuality, but because 12 year olds should not be sexualized. You’ll notice that as children, we instinctively knew that sexy clothes were “cool” but we didn’t have a complete grasp on the implications of wearing them.
So what’s wrong with Miley doing what she did if she’s an adult? And this is where I disagree with some feminists. Some feminists are arguing that criticizing Miley is a form “slut shaming.” “Slut shaming” is being critical of women who behave the same way as men in terms of sex. It’s a term that came out of the double standard that men who sleep around are studs and women who sleep around are sluts. While I agree with the basic concept that there is a double standard that needs to be addressed, I don’t think criticizing Miley’s performance is “slut-shaming.” If something is inappropriate, it is inappropriate, regardless of the sex of the offender. And that performance was inappropriate. Mostly it made me sad because it means Miley has no concept of self beyond that she is a sexual being and she equates that with power. More to the point, she equates it with adulthood. She is just another in a long line of child stars who exert their “adulthood” through overt sexuality. They pose for Maxim or Playboy or dry hump Robin Thicke onstage, rather than demonstrate adulthood through personal responsibility, financial independence and well-articulated opinions on current events. And that speaks volumes about how our society views adulthood. (Which might be a post for some other time.)
The majority of female pop stars sexualize their performances. Because it sells. People will buy records from ugly male performers (Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, every heavy metal band ever, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, John Mayer, ad infinitum), but there aren’t any ugly women singers who’ve sold millions of records. There are a handful who don’t resort to skimpy outfits and suggestive dancing, like Adele, but they’re still good looking. Don’t think girls don’t notice this as they’re growing up. Hilary Clinton might be smart and admirable, but she’s not raking in the dough that Katy Perry and Beyonce are. You can’t really blame Miley for turning out the way she did. She’s just following in the footsteps of Madonna who very shrewdly understood what she needed to do to become the reigning pop queen and wildly financially successful. And Madonna, I’m sure, understood this from the time she was a girl. After all, even though Marilyn Monroe was actually pretty well-read and a champion of civil rights (she was responsible for Ella Fitzgerald playing the Mocambo, a club that didn’t allow blacks to perform), it’s her sex pot image that brought her fame and that she’s remembered for.
(I would also encourage you to read some good essays on how Miley’s lack of sense of self and desire to sell records also led to her racist appropriation of other cultures. http://groupthink.jezebel.com/solidarity-is-for-miley-cyrus-1203666732 )
Even though Robin Thicke’s generally gotten a free pass for his part in the VMA debacle, I’m not letting him off that easily. He was just as much a part of that performance as Miley was. In some ways he’s more responsible because he’s older and married and should have had some sort of inner voice warning him ‘hey, this is maybe not appropriate.’ Furthermore, his song “Blurred Lines,” and the video that accompanies it, is disgustingly misogynistic and contributes to rape culture. Let’s dissect some of the lyrics, shall we? Perhaps the most discussed lyric is “you know you want it.” This along with the title lyric, that there are “blurred lines” when it comes to sex, has been called out by numerous feminist sites as being “rapey” in nature. It does seem to suggest that some girls “are asking for it” and that no might not mean no. Other lyrics that bother me include:
“tried to domesticate you but you’re an animal.” Women aren’t wild horses that need to be broken; they are people.
“you the hottest bitch in this place.” Gee, how romantic. Trust me, you haven’t seen bitch yet.
“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” Both in the lyrics and in messages that pop up in the video, Robin insists that he has a huge dick (or “thicke” dick. Very clever. I see what you did there, Robin). One, if you did, you wouldn’t feel the need to brag about it. Two, it doesn’t mean you use it well. Three, you probably have herpes. Four, this lyric is all about the male’s sexual pleasure at the cost of the female, his machismo at being big enough to literally damage the object (and he does view the woman as an object) of his lust. Because I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most women who engage in anal sex don’t actually want their ass torn in two.
“I always wanted a good girl.” He’s singing this as though it’s part of a check list. Redhead? Check. Double D? Check. Asian? Check. Amputee? Check. Good girl? Ooh, yeah, I always wanted a good girl, read: virgin to deflower.
“I feel so lucky, you wanna hug me/ what rhymes with hug me?” I’m not sure if he’s dancing around the near rhyme of ‘f*ck me or if he really wants some help with this one. Here are some ideas. “You really bug me.” “You’re kind of ugly.” “Please don’t slug me.” “I don’t play rugby.”
Couple these lyrics with the video, which features several naked women prancing around a fully clothed Robin with various props. It’s the hit of summer ’13. People are buying this. Both literally buying the album and figuratively buying that this is an acceptable way to treat women. So whenever I see some idiot online say that we don’t need feminism anymore, I wish I had the number of a psychotherapist who could help put them in touch with reality. Because wouldn’t it be great if the messages our children got from our culture looked more like:
· Females are as smart and capable as males.
· Women are more than objects for men’s sexual gratification.
· Men should treat women with respect.
· No means no, and only yes means yes (short skirts don’t mean yes, being drunk or unconscious doesn’t mean yes, previous sexual history doesn’t mean yes, being in a relationship doesn’t mean yes, etc.)
· Sexuality is a good and sacred thing, not a commodity. Don’t use it to get power or money, or to try to fill an emotional void.
And wouldn’t it be great if the next generation of Mileys performed fully clothed without writhing on someone, secure in their talent as musicians and the next generation of Robins sang “you the smartest one in this place.” or “you the kindest one in this place" because those are considered bigger compliments?