Why? Why are we still talking about Miley Cyrus? Why am I talking about Miley Cyrus. Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the VMAs, and I haven’t checked out any of the videos online. (I confess that I did look up a “twerking” video because I was tired of not knowing what twerking was.) I’ve also never seen Hannah Montana, or heard Miley sing more than three notes, ever.
My square, nerdy persona is not offended by the clothing she wore. If she wore that flesh-coloured shiny thing on the beach she probably would have been on In Touch magazine’s “Hottest Bikini Bods” list. And I love, love, loved her cute little punk haircut (and was already sporting one that was almost identical myself when she did her dramatic reveal.)
I remember being a teenaged girl, and how hard it was to figure out who you wanted to be. Trying on all those different personas until you found one that fit. And trying to distill the million messages coming from friends, parents, peers, magazines, movies, into something that wasn’t confusing and totally contradictory. Having to stumble through adolescence with the paparazzi watching must be an absolute fucking nightmare.
As a mother of a little girl, I question how to explain pop culture to my sweet little person. The whole Miley-debacle has made headlines in every corner of the internet, and it troubles me. There are so many different discussions being had, about racism, sexism, appropriate of black culture, slut-shaming, and the general rotting of the entertainment scene in North America. There are two things in particular that stick in my craw.
1) Why isn’t Robin Thicke weathering the same shitstorm as Miley?
Fair question. I believe that as a man, Mr. Thicke (which would make a great porn name – coincidence?) is implicitly safer than Miley will ever be.
This little bit of truth pisses me off. I had one of those conversations with my husband recently, that caused a little *ping* lightbulb to click on in my brain. He was asking me for directions to a movie theatre that was located in a local shopping mall, and the converation went something like this:
Hubs: “Where is the theatre? What stores is it near?”
Me: “It is at the end near the Toys R Us, I think. Make sure you park at the entrance closest to the theatre doors, because the mall closes at nine so you’ll have to walk outside in the parking lot at night.”
Hubs: Blank stare.
Me: “You know – because the mall is closed so you can’t walk through it and that parking lot is probably a bit rape-y after dark. When I went the security guard escorted me through the mall but they might not do that anymore.”
Me: *ping* “I guess you don’t really worry about that kind of thing.”
Hubs: “Not really.”
Even subconsciously, I operate on a rape schedule. I would imagine that a lot of other women do as well. The lessons are stuck, hard and fast, in my memory.
Don`t walk alone at night.
Get a whistle.
Cover up or you`ll attract creepers.
Don`t talk to strangers.
Hold your keys between two fingers so you can use them as a weapon if you are attacked.
I`m not the attacker, but I have been taught for as long as I remember that I am responsible for preventing attacks. To be a woman is to be unsafe. By drawing attention to herself, Miley has made herself a target. In a way that Robin Thicke will never be. And it pisses me off.
If the experiences of girls like Amanda Todd or Rehteah Parsons have taught us anything, it is that the tiniest “mistake” (getting drunk, showing your body, or – God forbid – trusting the people around you not to act like lawless animals) can cost a girl their power, their dignity, and even their life.
2) I can’t help but think that Miley’s performance was not for herself, but for the benefit of millions of consumers looking for their next consumable.
When I was in my early twenties, I went to a party where I knew only two or three people. The hostesses were lovely, bubbly, friendly women. I spent most of my time sitting on a couch talking to the people I already knew (because introvert). Slowly people trickled into other rooms, until all that was left were myself and my friend, two guys I hadn’t met, and two girls dancing.
And suddenly the girls were making out. Grinding against each other. The voice in my head said “you’ve seen two women kiss before, what’s the problem?” But I felt in my gut that they were not kissing because they wanted to please each other. They were kissing because they had an audience. The two guys were watching intently, licking their lips and leering. Cut to my skin crawling.
I struggle to process experiences like this. My feminist education tells me that women should be free to express their sexuality in whatever way they choose, without criticism or judgement.
But it also tells me that women are expected to display themselves and perform for the benefit of the male gaze. And the line between expressing oneself and putting on a show for others is so fine that I can barely see it.
I want to see it. That line matters so much. Because that is the line where power is either retained or given away. Retained, when women feel secure and comfortable to choose how to express their sexuality, if at all. Or given away, because we are channeling our energy into making someone else think we are sexy, and letting someone else define what kind of expression is “acceptable.”
Women are expected to give so much away, to give until we are empty. It hurts my heart to think that someone as young as Miley has already learned to give away her power.