Miley Cyrus Deserves Better Than Our Slut-Shaming And So Do Our Daughters

Credit: Wire

Credit: The Wire

Miley Cyrus Deserves Better Than Our Slut-Shaming

And So Do Our Daughters

by

Kirsten Clodfelter

Whether or not you tuned in to Sunday night’s VMAs, it was impossible to miss the outrage over Miley Cyrus’s performance that took the Internet by storm the following day. Beyond making the expected, extensive rounds on social media, plenty of broadcast news stations also prominently featured what is clearly this year’s most important story. CNN successfully stayed on top of such hard-hitting, award-winning journalism by posting a piece about the “shocking” performance on their site’s main page first thing Monday morning, which makes perfect sense, because Miley Cyrus twerking in a flesh-tone bikini is unquestionably more important than the deaths of Syrian children by sarin gas.

Let’s be clear: There’s plenty to criticize about the pop star’s VMA performance, most significantly her continued misappropriation of black “ratchet” culture, actions that, while probably not done with malicious intent, are still extremely important to address. But as far as shock-value alone is concerned, Cyrus is in good company.

Artistic merit? Race issues? Yawn. Why waste our time on that kind of discourse when we can demand that Cyrus put on a pair of pants and find this kind of deep, thought-provoking analysis about that slut-bag in the NY Daily News:

Lewdly thrusting out her tongue and nastily stroking her crotch, this one-time teen star worked hard to bag the sleaze award of the night. To cement the title, she stripped down to a flesh-colored bikini during a duet with Thicke on his smash hit “Blurred Lines.”

Note, shockingly, that married father Robin Thicke, who joined the star for the second song of her performance, receives not a single word of criticism here for his willing participation in grinding on stage with a girl nearly half his age.

Of course, even though it was Thicke who sang America’s chart-topping summer rape anthem, there was no shortage of reports accusing Cyrus of “raping” Thicke during the show. E! Online was quick to tweet that they felt “personally victimized” by Cyrus’s act. I’m sure actual victims of sexual assault were equally appalled by those giant, dancing teddy bears. How dare she?

Cyrus’s three-song medley garnered a record-breaking 360,000 tweets, even more than Beyoncé’s recent Super Bowl performance. The racy halftime show also inspired every human with a television and an opinion to jump online and share their disapproval about such an egregious display of slut culture spoiling America’s wholesome pastime.

Not wanting to miss any of the finger-wagging action (or those ratings!), Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski came out fiercely against Cyrus’s performance, offering smart, poignant commentary like this: “That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed” and insisting that Cyrus (and her cohorts) should “be ashamed of themselves.” Brzezinski added that Cyrus is a “mess” and “needs someone to take care of her.” Luckily Brzezinski is here to help this lost little kitten with all of her problems, especially the fact that the starlet “probably has an eating disorder.” Because nothing sends a better pro-woman message than Brzezinski calling a popular female entertainer a disturbed, shameful mess on a morning news segment and then accusing her, with absolutely zero evidence, of having an eating disorder. Congrats, Mika! You’re a real champion of the cause.

Glenn Beck, my other favorite feminist, was very concerned on Monday with whether or not Miley was making her father proud. And why else would the entertainer be doing anything if not for her dad? Certainly she’s not her own autonomous person or anything—let’s not get crazy. Poor, poor Billy Ray. He probably wishes his daughter was never born.

Naturally, Rush Limbaugh wasted no time weighing in either, reminding his listeners, “Miley Cyrus, who is known primarily as Hannah Montana, who was clean and pure as the wind-driven snow… was a Disney character. Hannah Montana has now become Miley Cyrus.” Hold onto your Pendleton hats, folks! Hannah Montana is actually Miley Cyrus! Though the series finale of the beloved Disney show aired back in January of 2011, it has apparently taken Limbaugh more than two and a half years to determine that Miley Cyrus is an actual human beyond the character the then-child star once played on TV.

“All kinds of sexuality and sex is being stimulated on stage,” Limbaugh complained. Sexuality? On stage?! Limbaugh appears to find female sexuality anywhere inappropriate, but it’s the general public who really seems to love an opportunity to engage in the voyeurism of shaming a celebrity when they supposedly fall from grace, which mostly amounts to making any mistake ever or leaving the house without first putting on a cardigan. Weirdly, it actually isn’t newsworthy that a female artist got up in front of other people and represented herself as a person who has sex or—holy shit, call the FCC!—as someone who enjoys it.

And since it’s a really slow news month and nothing else more worthy of our attention is happening in the world, this epic scandal even found its way to Australia’s popular morning show, Sunrise, where child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg hysterically warned that the famous artist was leading girls to a dangerous place. An obvious international threat to kids everywhere, let’s call this what it is: Miley Cyrus is practically a terrorist.

“We’re trying to get away from this early adultification and sexualisation of young people,” Carr-Gregg says, “There’s clear research to prove this… she’s actually doing harm.” Which is true, I suppose, if parents made the decision to watch the VMAs with their six year olds or are incapable of having meaningful discussions with their children. But like Limbaugh, Carr-Gregg seems to have a hard time remembering that it’s the year 2013, that Miley Cyrus is a couple of years removed from her cutesy Disney alter ego, and that she is an adult now.

None of that is really important, of course. Because it’s much more satisfying and brings in a boatload of viewers when Carr-Gregg and others like him lead the global charge of offended parents with insightful, pithy remarks such as this: “The simulated sex acts, the flesh-coloured underwear… she’s won the race to the bottom of the sleaze barrel.”

It’s no wonder, then, that writers like Wendy Tuohy took to their blogs and ordered Cyrus to “keep your twerking out of my [nine-year-old] daughter’s face,” despite the fact that the awards show is rated as not appropriate for teens younger than 14. I’m also dying to know if Tuohy allows her daughter to blast Robin Thicke songs from her iPad without complaint. Other fired-up moms awesomely elected to threaten and bully their own daughters over the issue instead.

Since MTV is obviously vying to be the next Nickelodeon, I can understand why so many people have expressed outrage that Cyrus is single-handedly destroying today’s youth. Nevermind the fact that Lady GaGa also performed at this year’s VMAs wearing nothing more than two clam-shell nipple covers and a seashell G-string or that Chris Brown was given a platform to perform at the 2012 Grammy’s just a few short years after beating then-girlfriend Rihanna so severely that she was hospitalized. I recognize, of course, that this is a much less outrageous incident than Cyrus’s creative uses of a foam finger, especially because of how much skin was safely covered by a a positive role model and all around stand-up gentleman such as Brown.

The reality is that Cyrus didn’t wake up a few weeks ago, still donning pigtails and wearing her Hannah Montana pajamas, and suddenly decide it was time to rebrand herself. Her evolution and growth beyond the childhood role that kick-started her fame has not been immediate. “I think the best thing I could have done was take those two years off [after Hannah Montana] to really live,” explained Cyrus back in March, “because now people don’t think of me as who I was on the TV show.” She gave the prude parents who have eagerly been waiting to sound the alarms plenty of time to prepare.

And, as a mother, this is my biggest gripe with the shaming of Miley Cyrus for acting like such a little slut in her VMA performance Sunday night. Having spent 4 years under contract to entertain tweens as the fun and wacky Hannah Montana does not obligate Cyrus to maintain that image forever. Cyrus is 20, not 12. If she hadn’t been busy this year making a new album and working on two movies, she’d likely be a sophomore in college, probably engaging in casual sex and experimenting with drugs, discovering what her limits and boundaries are like most people in her age group. Or maybe not, considering the 20-year-old star has seriously dated (and is now tentatively engaged to) actor Liam Hemsworth for the past three years.

Either way, Cyrus happens to have a throng of fans and a horde of paparazzi hungry to broadcast every step she takes toward this self-discovery, and while I do believe that being famous and in the spotlight charges people with a different type of ethical responsibility regarding their actions, no part of me feels that Cyrus’s display of sexuality was unethical. No matter how awkward this may make things for the very youngest fans leftover from the heyday of Hannah Montana, that isn’t Cyrus’s responsibility to navigate. It’s ours.

There’s a chance that Cyrus’s display of sexual freedom has been carefully, painstakingly manufactured—maybe by her powerful manager Larry Rudolph (who also helped rebrand Britney Spears more than a decade ago during her own scandalous VMA performance) or maybe by the entertainment industry or society in general. It’s possible that Cyrus feels pressured into rebranding herself as a hypersexual siren in order to keep up with pop-star favorites like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha or even that this so-called misguided attempt to be edgy and push boundaries may have been spoon-fed to her under the guise of female empowerment. If that’s the case, though, then we need to start having a very different conversation, and it’s one in which comments like, “That girl is so disgusting,” do not belong.

Before we rush to victimize Cyrus on her own behalf, though, it’s worth noting that Adele also sells a whole hell of a lot of albums, and I’ve yet to see her gyrate on stage. I can’t speak for how Cyrus actually feels, but my guess is that she’s up there doing exactly what she wants to be doing, and it is simply ridiculous for so many people to allow themselves to believe that her choices are an attack on the moral fiber of our culture.

Earlier this week, CNN put out a call for reader responses to the performance, and there was no shortage of scathing opinions: “Miley wrongly represents the way girls should act today,” said Steve, who has a 12-year-old granddaughter who will hopefully remain a virgin until marriage or forever. “The way they dress, act, not caring about how other people may respond…” Steve added, “is an oversexualization of young girls/young women.” It’s a good thing, then, that Cyrus’s job is to make whatever music she wants, in whatever way she wants, and that she hasn’t been tasked with babysitting Steve’s granddaughter.

CNN commenter Eric Solomon remarked that he was “embarrassed” by the performance and, thankfully, took the opportunity to reinforce to his two teenage sons that Cyrus’s actions were “not appropriate” and were not the behavior of “your normal woman.” In the spirit of that very narrow lens of female sexuality, John Rodrigues claimed that Cyrus’s behavior “sets 50 to 60 years of women’s forward progress back a long way.”

But it definitely isn’t Cyrus who’s setting back the women’s movement. “Shame on Miley,” is not an appropriate reaction to the pop star sticking out her tongue and twerking on stage in her underwear. And if parents are feeling genuine concern regarding the impact this adult performer is having on their young children, well, that’s for those moms and dads to deal with.

Parents need to roll up their sleeves and get comfortable with the fact that the world is an awkward, interesting place, and not everyone acts in exactly the way we feel our kids are ready to see, understand, or process in an age-appropriate way.

We have a choice—instead of demeaning Cyrus for her attire or her sexuality in front of our children—to educate our daughters about body positivity. To explain that they should never feel forced to dress or dance or act a certain way to impress a love interest or an audience or to keep up with their peers. To make clear that if they love their bodies and themselves first, whatever actions that follow are their own choices to make, and they will not be loved any less for them. To reinforce the idea that the types of clothes a woman wears or how many sexual partners she’s had is fucking irrelevant to how smart or talented or driven or capable she is.

Most importantly, we should choose to engage in conversation with both our daughters and our sons in which we explain that “normal” looks very different to everyone and that, independent of what each individual feels is personally appropriate for themselves, even if our kids or our celebrities or our students or our neighbors or our daughters walk into a club wearing the skimpiest, barely-there piece of sparkly spandex they can find, hop up on stage or on top of the bar with a drink in their hand, and raunchily grind all over someone else’s body for all to see, they have done absolutely nothing that devalues them as a human being or makes them any less deserving of our respect.

***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Iowa Review, Brevity, and Narrative Magazine, among others. Winner of a Dan Rudy prize, her work has also been awarded an honorable mention from Glimmer Train and 2nd place in Narrative Magazine’s 30-Below contest. Her first chapbook, Casualties, first runner-up of the RopeWalk Editor’s Prize, is forthcoming this fall. She writes and teaches in Southern Indiana, where she lives with her incredible partner and their amazing, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com

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21 Responses to Miley Cyrus Deserves Better Than Our Slut-Shaming And So Do Our Daughters

  1. RYM says:

    you kick ass Kristen.

  2. nelly says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with Miley. I understand that she’s trying to break out of the Hannah Montana shell and doing as so many others did before her. I even like some of her songs. I like her Rihanna-esque style. I also get that she’s behaving as most late teens/early 20 year olds are. With all that being said, I feel as though her recent foray into music has more to do with doing what she feels is cool/hip than out of a place of her own truth. I have issues with her being the new non-person of color to attempt to represent “the ratchet” lifestyle. However, like you said, that’s been discussed ad nauseum.

    While I agree with you that slut shaming is wrong and detrimental to people everywhere, I do believe that she should be held accountable for her performance. She’s grown. She can do whatever she wants to do. If she wants to walk around wearing almost nothing as she did (or nude, period), that’s her prerogative. As a performer, she should have done better.

    Yes, Lady Gaga wore mostly nothing during her time at the VMAs, but she had an interesting performance, as did Britney Spears, when she appeared in the nude body suit years ago. Miley, on the other hand, had a sloppy performance that relied solely on her backup dancers and her trying to twerk as she lip-synced. Snooze.

    Scrolling through my Twitter timeline, I did see some slut shaming, but the biggest issues were how bad the performance was and what her performance illustrated about her view of African Americans, from the hair style to the backup dancers as props. I found little coverage of either subject in the mainstream news, aside from blogs geared towards people of color. My point? There were other ways to spin this story about her performance without calling her a slut.

    Sex, her family, her being a bad role model for children, and even Robin Thicke and his family shouldn’t even been a factor in this conversation by bloggers/commentators/etc. Yet, it happens every year. Someone gets naked or has a crazy performance. Social media goes crazy and articles are written, taking small things way out of context. Women will get slut shamed, no matter what.

    Miley Cyrus is not a slut. She is a young woman, living her life, twerking all the day long. Is she the next Adele or even Janet? Hell no. Is she representative of how young women are today? Perhaps. Is the bigger issue why women have to fit a standard of beauty to be successful within the industry and on a larger scale have to behave in a certain way to be considered a “lady”? Of course.

  3. Gemini Gemma says:

    Miley is awesome! I do not care much about her performance, but I fully support her. Because she as an individual is worthy of such respect, and after all she got what she wanted: attention, fame and more money. More power to her.

  4. m.e. says:

    Of course some would praise Miley Cyrus for her performance at MTV awards. Like her, they have no talent in their professions, use african-slang words such as ‘twerking’ because they cannot think of real words (for the illiterate, twerking means sticking your tongue out and wiggling your posterior like a dog in heat), and they just want to advance the proliferation of shockingly-grotesque behavior. Miley was terrible at what she foolishly thought was ‘dancing’, and her stage show could easily qualify her as Poster-Girl for birth control. She looked like a cheap floozy in all her outfits, and her singing demonstrated her weak talent. If all it takes to generate praise from some in the audience is to rub your stinky rump and stick it up in someones face, then talent and artistic creativity must be dead at MTV. You can see the same kind of behavior in the monkey cage at the local Zoo (it is not female sexuality; it is dog-with-itchy-rectum behavior).

    She is a hussy, and her mother praising her lude behavior reflects that this rotten apple must not have fallen far from the tree. I guess her one-hit wonder (loser !) father must have told her, that when you have no talent, just be shocking instead and the audience will not notice. Miley obviously hired equally-untalented black co-gyrators, and was auditioning for a chance to star in low-cost porn0graphic movies (no chance for success, since she is so ugly). Robin Thicke (does anyone really remember him that night?), is just as much at fault for facilitating the behavior of this trollop. I guess he and Cyrus are both starving for attention, and feel this scene was interesting (for the few that do not have higher-quality entertainment). MTV should be punished for allowing this, just to boost their sagging ratings. Why don’t the advertisers cancel their ads, and the consumers boycott their products?

    • kirstensara says:

      Hey! Good job contributing to this discourse in a really meaningful, intelligent, productive way. It in no way reflects poorly on you that in commenting on this you made a disingenuous assumption about the talents or abilities of anyone who would praise Cyrus’s show or collective body of work, said something incredibly racist about the use of non-white, non-“American” language, said multiple disparaging things about women, and judged everyone in that performance on how wholesomely they acted by your subjective standard, as well as (and here’s my favorite part) how attractive you found them.

      Nice use of the word “trollop,” though.

    • Heidi says:

      M.e.,
      Woah, for the illiterate?? How about for those who don’t care to follow the new slang words that seem to come out daily? Being a best selling author, I didn’t even understand what twerking was until this incident, which is just a blip on my radar because I have a life.
      So, why don’t you do me a favor with your superiority complex, and stuff it.

      • kirstensara says:

        You don’t have to feel ashamed about your illiteracy, Heidi. Apparently “twerking” is just one of those African-slang words; it’s something white people don’t even need to be bothered with. We’ll leave it for the sluts and hussies (and maybe those depraved clowns at MTV) to worry about. But remember: If you praise (or defend?) Miley Cyrus, your best-selling author status is immediately revoked, and you’ll be exposed for the talentless hack and heathen you really are.

  5. casey says:

    I very much agree with Nelly, and also with you too, Kirsten, though slut-shaming is a difficult subject for me. While I agree that women shouldn’t be subject to a double standard regarding their performance/behavior or dress in comparison to men, the fact remains that there are people out there who will judge you for such superficial things, and part of being an adult female is understanding the consequences of your behavior, even if the judgments aren’t fair. I’m not exactly saying she’s asking for it, but more so that she should be (and probably is) aware of the backlash that comes from that kind of shock-value performance. In my estimation, it was a very calculated plan on the part of Miley and her agents/managers, etc. She’s been in show business long enough to know that generally speaking, any publicity is good publicity. Kesha, nee, Ke$ha, got a 1500 on her SATs. She writes her own horrific fluff music (my opinion) because she wants to get rich and she realizes what sells. Capitalizing on the moral deterioration of music culture seems like a legit way to cash in. Robin Thicke is a talented singer. But I can guarantee that he makes more money writing depraved rape songs than singing soulful church ballads that show off his range. So sad that money and distraction is the name of the game.

    I agree that the focus should really be on the race issue if we’re talking about this at all, but really, honestly, WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THIS??? like you mention, Kirsten, why is it that parents can’t have a conversation with their children about what appropriate and self-respectful behavior is? For news outlets, i get it that this generates buzz and ratings, but WHAT ABOUT SYRIA? what about starving children, government waste, economics, world affairs? If you ask most anyone not living in a box, they know about Miley’s performance. I doubt that even half of them would know that the US is considering military involvement in Syria. Its a blight that we have to talk about entertainment distractions instead of actual news.

    • kirstensara says:

      It is definitely depressing that this became news. But of course it did, because our culture loves shame and scandal. Once that started, it became important to talk about the implications that the resulting commentary had, which has taken even more time away from the other important issues going on in the world.

  6. Ceara says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I watched the performance the day after it happened because I was curious as to what all the fuss was about. When I watched it, I thought it was a bad performance, but I didn’t see what everyone was getting their panties in a bunch over. I’ve seen the lead singer of LMFAO walk around in a speedo and shake his junk in peoples’ faces, and that was more disturbing than what Cyrus did. I still don’t understand what the fuss is about. Not sure I ever will understand.

  7. Pomona says:

    Why does it have to be about defending her, and painting everybody who says that she has acted immorally as a woman hater/prude?? I don’t care if she wants to express herself, her performance was offensive and wrong. I’m not saying that she is the only one to blame, but I am saying that she definitely deserves quite a bit of it!

    • kirstensara says:

      There are lots of contradictions here, Pamona. For example, you do seem to care if she expresses herself, since it appears that she did it in a way that you found wrong, offensive, and immoral. So it sounds like it’s okay for her to express herself only if she does it in a way that you specifically deem appropriate. That line of thinking feels troubling to me. There’s no blame here, because she did nothing wrong. If you disagree, than it has to be about defending her — there seem to be no alternatives.

  8. Pissant says:

    Wow, a woman who was born into a celebrity household is making a career move that is designed to “shock” and “awe” so that she can increase the sales of her image to people who have lost any sense of culture or artistic awakening beyond the Hollywood garbage that’s force fed down our gullets so it can rot in our bellies. This is nothing new. This is not important. Her image is not what makes her a slut, it’s what she does to our culture in the name of sales that makes her a whore. And you are the Johns.

    • kirstensara says:

      We agree, for sure, that her performance was neither important nor noteworthy. It did become that thing, though, when the media circus blew up as everyone scrambled to point out how scandalous and morally reprehensible her performance was. I’m waiting eagerly for the day when Miley Cyrus or any other young female celebrity (or person, period) dancing a particular way in a particular outfit with particular props is not news. But until that glorious day, I’ll continue to argue against the slut-shaming that goes along with it.

  9. bookmole says:

    Whatever else, Miley has pipes. She has a voice and she uses it. Really, what does the rest matter?

  10. Susan McFarland says:

    “…To reinforce the idea that the types of clothes a woman wears or how many sexual partners she’s had is fucking irrelevant to how smart or talented or driven or capable she is.”

    Interesting comment coming from a nationally known journalist. You see, it doesn’t take a mental giant to know that wearing certain clothes makes a person look really stupid and having a plethora of sexual partners in today’s world of rampant sexual diseases is equally stupid doesn’t speak well for your intelligence.

  11. Natalia Valencia says:

    Agree 100000000%

  12. Some Random Dude says:

    She performed poorly and looked the fool…in my opinion. I don’t really care about the rest.

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