The recent release of Miley Cyrus’s new CD, Bangerz, continued to perpetuate the memory of her performance at the VMA Awards this past August. While reactions have been abundant, it is safe to say that morality has arguably been one of the underlying themes since most opinions have tapped into the implied moralistic rights and wrongs of her performance as well as its implications and consequences at a larger social context. Many are those who have worried about Miley’s ‘improper’ behavior and her overall wellbeing even.
The worry, however, is not a one-shot deal but rather multidimensional as it involves many layers in the conversation such as feminism, sexuality, celebrity attitudes and on it goes. To simplify it to morality and a right and wrong outlook is to miss out on a very important factor – namely, social reactions to young women claiming their sexuality. This is why I feel that if I decide to worry about what’s right and wrong I will do so about all the young girls and women who are forcibly entering prostitution right in this country. That said I find it both bizarre and hypocritical that a lot of people feel indignation at Miley Cyrus for twerking.
The problem here is not Miley or anyone who has and will continue to walk in her shoes of celebrity. If anything, Miley is but a mirror of our collective construct of the celebrity bubble. Part of the problem lays in the fact that the public cannot accept how the power bestowed on celebrities can in turn betray one day when the latter try to reclaim themselves in whatever shape or form, i.e., pee themselves, go on a rant of racial slurs at police officers, decide not to wear panties, or just indulge in twerking.
In fact, Miley Cyrus twerking around the VMAs stage with her little devilish horns doesn’t bother me. What does instead is the unrealistic expectation of people asking her to be a more responsible role model for young girls everywhere. This makes me wonder: when did parents give up their parenting job? When did they start trusting celebrities to babysit their children? Haven’t we engraved it in our heads that there is a clear distinction between celebrity reality and everyday life?
That is why I don’t worry about Miley because her artistic persona is to some extent another entity of herself. And even if it wasn’t, how she comes to explore her own sexuality and what image she chooses to create for herself, or offer to the public, is her right to do so. How we try to crucify celebrities that have no business being called role models in the first place concerns me a lot. So does Miley’s arrogance when replying to an endearing open letter from a now much wiser and tamed Sinead O’Connor, but that’s another conversation altogether.
Miley’s case, however, taps into the larger social issue of how young women come to claim their sexuality in the social domain. Being a twenty-year-old is a tricky business and although commercialization of sexuality has forced our youth to be exposed to it since an early age, which has significantly shortened the childhood time span, one can only start to wrap their mind around it somewhere around Miley’s age. In fact, it is widely acknowledged that many cultures in the world consider the age of twenty to be part of the late teenage years. This is when we start to navigate the sometimes-unclear waters of sexuality. I say unclear waters precisely because of the fact that coming to explore one’s sexuality as a young girl or boy is an opus grande of sorts, which unavoidably comes with its own insecurities.
Who doesn’t remember being Miley’s age and walking around trying to be fierce when in fact they were scared, or acted loud when in reality they felt voiceless? Those are the years when young girls and boys alike want to claim their place in the scheme of things but they just don’t know how. They enter life with relatively little knowledge about its workings and yet with a strong desire to live it all—at once. It is no surprise then that a twenty-year-old Miley claims her sexuality and body in the way that she does. To argue about the right of doing so is a bit of a lost battle as not only does she have the right, in fact it shouldn’t even be up for discussion.
But, here is when an important element of self-discovery enters the process: the difference of using sexuality as both a personal and social constructive tool versus as a weapon.
This last concept is exactly what postmodernist and poststructuralist feminists employed in their work of deconstructing the meaning of historically held societal beliefs of gendered hierarchy where men are always seen in advantageous positions when compared to women. By the way, did Robin Thicke catch as much flack as Miley did about the VH1 performance? Or was he her ‘victim’?
My point here is that liking or disliking Miley’s performance is one thing, but failing to recognize that as a young woman she has the right to decide about the economy of her own body is another.
In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, feminist thinkers like Julia Kristeva, Helen Cixous and others, tapped into the concept of economy of the body in a very skillful way by showing that the imagery of the body offers a well of potential in exploring how a woman can use it to undo the socio-political constraints put upon her. In other words, they saw the body as a tool (not a weapon) that could be used to reclaim what had historically been confiscated from them: ownership of sexuality that no longer thrived on a gilt-ridden existence.
At the same time, artistic creation has historically used the human body as a great medium of expression. It makes one wonder then if the message that we are giving to our young women is that we find it acceptable to admire the stories of Renaissance masters told in their masterpiece paintings of nude hairless women blankly starring at us in museums, but today, in year 2013, we no longer care for young women who write stories with their own body?
That is why worrying about Miley’s performance at a larger social context is quite more complicated than looking at the shame or guilt-inducing approach most opinions offer. And what is morality anyway? Who decides that Robin Thicke is an innocent bystander and Miley the crazy young woman?
It is almost unnerving to think that still today we need to show our young women that owning your body and the agency that comes with it is not shameful but rather empowering. And also remind them that it takes one a lifetime to learn how to handle the socio-political construct of gender where women – young and old – are promptly put under the microscope of morality time and again.
In a world that still holds women’s “best” image against that of Barbie, glorifies being a size 2 and bombards us with the ubiquitous model of commercialized sexuality, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to remind us all that some things in life need to be taken with a grain of salt. Or just remind our young women that despite of how events such as Miley’s performance come to be translated in the social life, their choice of owning the economy of the body should remain intact. One may say that this goes without saying and I agree, but would also argue that such social discussions, slowly but surely, alter the social psyche and signal that it is not okay to use one’s body as a social tool of discovery.
Whatever our young women’s choices, they should not forget that they come from a long line of Eves, Liliths and Durgas and the path is full of self-defining moments that would not have happened had any grand woman in the course of history chosen to be silent with their heads down.