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Miley Cyrus and Young Women: Too This and Too That

August 28, 2013

Even if you are not a teen or fan of pop music, you have most definitely heard about popstar Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday Night.

If you didn’t actually watch the show or see the clip of her performance, then you will probably be confused when you hear me say that I believe that Miley Cyrus does not deserve the criticism she has since garnered for what was certainly a memorable (and infamous) VMA set, because you will have read all the reviews of the show and they’re basically all bad.

If you did watch the show or see the clip, you’re still probably confused that I am defending a barely-out-of-her-teens former Disney star who paraded around in a tacky bear-print bathing suit and then a nude lingerie set, rubbing her nether-parts with a big foam hand (like the ones people use at football stadiums). What on earth can possibly be defended about her antics?

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performing at the 2013 MTV VMAs, sourced from

Lastly, you’re probably also wondering what Miley Cyrus and the VMAs have to do with international affairs or human rights or my favorite topic, feminism. What was so important about her dancing around a stage like a club-goer hopped up on Molly (the strangely popular drug-yes, real drug-which seems to have infiltrated popular culture in an accepted way that no other hard drug has gone before, but that is a discussion for another time)? And how was it related to feminism?

The Onion produced a satire piece on Ms. Cyrus’ sexy set, with another Meredith (Artley, of CNN) explaining why an after-article of Miley made it into the coveted “Big News Item” part of CNN’s website: “It was an attempt to get you to click on so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.” This is probably, unlike most Onion pieces, 100% true. Advertising helps make the world go round because people are so desperate to earn money that other people will pay them to put their ads on their (TV channel, radio station, bus side etc.). The sheer number of articles/reports on Cyrus indicates also that a) Americans have nothing better to talk about (like Syrian chemical warfare), because they don’t care about anything serious and b) that female sexuality is still seen as a sign from the devil.

After intensive reading up on Muslim women, whom some super-conservative/fundamentalist Muslims view as seductresses eager to bring men into hell (and thus should be avoided), I think it is-maybe?- safe to say in the wake of Mileys twerk-fest that, even in the Western world where a national news station like MTV allows its stars to sing and dance about in next to nothing, that female sexuality is still a weird sort of taboo. Indeed, let’s look at that sentence again: MTV allows its female stars to perform in sexually suggestive outfits and dance seductively, in the assumption/assurance that viewers will appreciate the look, and while viewers may critique these women until the cows come home, they certainly, I might add, expect the women to be dressed as such.

This is a problem all women face, whether you are an overexposed celebrity like Cyrus or an average woman, like an engineer. I bring up engineers because of a recent article on Europe 1 in French which reported that female engineers who posted a photo of themselves on their LinkedIn profiles were being discriminated against for being…too beautiful. Quoi? Apparently French technological company Toptal had sent out a recruitment campaign that featured real ingénieures who, apparently, LinkedIn felt were too pretty to possibly be engineers and, deeming the campaign an ad for something else (say, prostitution) they blocked the ads. Again, I say: quoi????

As women, we are either too pretty, apparently, or too ugly. We never can win in the beauty game. A woman who is an engineer (and, presumedly thus smart) cannot possibly, in our minds, actually be attractive. She must be a troll, manly-looking, since she likes math and science! If we’re too pretty, we’re considered stupid, dumb, flaky…but we will probably get you to hold the door for us, or carry our groceries to the car. If we are pretty we are overlooked, not chosen for the administration position in the all-boys firm, told we need to lose some weight or dress differently. Where is the happy medium?

Female celebrities are obviously hit most hard with the looks rate-o-meter, and again it doesn’t make sense. LAdy Gaga, who has recently been swanning around in burqas of all types and odd headgear, has been criticized for her attire. Sure, most of the critique is based on the fact that the burqa is seen as a religious symbol of Islam (ha!) but nevertheless: if she had put on the robes sans head/face covering we would have heard it said that she was becoming too conservative. But yet if she strips down to a mermaid-shell bikini, like she did at the same VMA’s Miley Cyrus earned her place in infamy at, her body is up for grabs-at least metaphorically, anyways. The host, who I found absolutely disgusting, kept mentioning Gaga’s ass and how he wanted her “yams”…yams, as though she was food, a piece of meat (no comment on her former MTV meat outfit) and not a human being.

If Miley had danced in a long-sleeve t-shirt and jeans, we probably would have yawned with boredom (there were similiar critiques of artist Rihanna’s tank-and-jeans VMA outfit, wondering if she was sick or something because of the casuality of the ensemble) and demanded something else. If she had sat in one place crooning a la Bruno Mars, one of the night’s male performers, we probably would have also yawned. But because she is female, young and attractive, we expect her to dance, even though she’s no Britney Spears (you have to admit, Britney was a good dancer back in the day). Speaking of Britney-she has performed in similiar risque outfits, and sure, people have talked afterwards, but it was not half as extreme as it has been with Miley, despite the fact that she was a former Disney star too. The problem with Miley is that she was a Disney star, wholesome and innocent, until not too long ago…

I was not shocked by Miley’s performance. Her outfits, Robin Thicke’s outfit, the dancing bears-they were all ugly and tacky, but none of this surprised me. Pop stars have never been notorious for dressing elegantly, and while I sure as hell would never have rocked that weird knob hair-do on her head, she surely had the right to rock it. Do I bemoan what today’s artists dress/act like? I certainly could, but then critiquing the next generation (even if you are roughly the same age as them) is something that each consecutive generation has done (certainly my idols, the Spice Girls, were queens of tackiness most of the time).

As for her twerking and dancing? I think twerking is gross, but it is not disimiliar to the bump-and-grinding that was popular when I was an undergraduate. I think it was tasteless, lewd and crude, but again, I am not surprised nor shocked. I do think she could have done without the imaginary crotch-grabbing, as well as touching herself “down there” with the foam hand. But, to be fair, if a guy had done all that, would anybody still be talking about it? They might think it lewd [at the time], but it sure as hell isn’t going to be news two-three-plus days later.

So while her whole act was not my taste, I will defend Miley Cyrus because she is a young girl who was having fun. Was anybody hurt (besides, perhaps psychologically, her tween fans)? No. Was she doing something that most people her age don’t do? No. What she did was legal. She was dressed just as the average American female does when she goes to the beach. She’s growing up. She’s sexual. Why can’t America leave female performers alone? Why can’t we admit that they might be having sex, and that that’s ok? That they’re allowed to have sex because we’re having sex, and if they’re confident about their looks and attitude, well: all the better, I say!

[Note: did anyone critique Robin Thicke on the fact that he participated and definitely rehearsed with Ms. Cyrus prior to the show? He is not immune here, especially since his song itself is also inappropriate, even if it does have a good tune].

Does Miley need to be shamed across world news as countless journalists and pundits have done in the wake of the VMA’s? No; she didn’t deserve that. America, wake up and realize that if you expect something, don’t complain when you get it. Whether we’re too much or too little, we’re women, and you better take us the way we are.




3. Par Sarah Marcus, 27 August, 2013.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2013 12:51 AM

    The thing that shocked me about Miley’s performance had more to do with her lack of star clout. Has she had hits before? Yes. Prince fornicated with the wooden boards of his stage at performances. He’s a rock star. He’s brilliant. He’s had so many hits. He’s a performer. Michael Jackson grabbed his crotch every time he thrust his pelvis forward or stopped from a spin. Elvis was thought to be extremely lewd with his gyrating pelvis. The biggest difference: Miley Cyrus is like none of these performers. She has neither the clout, the history, or the amount of hit songs that make her stand out as a star performer. Her performance was cringe-worthy in that she didn’t really seem comfortable in doing what she was doing, almost as if it was a “show” but not one from her, not one from who she really and truly is as an artist. Lady Gaga performs from who she is. Madonna performs from who she is. We’d don’t always like it, but they own themselves, they have stage presence. Miley doesn’t. It’s unfortunate, but she looked like a kid who threw on some clothes she found in her little sister’s costume closet and maybe one from her mother’s closet, turned her hair into knobs on the top of her head, and ran around the stage sticking her tongue out, flapping a foam finger at everything that had a crotch, and shoving, wriggling, and wagging her ass for anyone to watch.

    It was cringe-inducing embarrassment. It’s like she really didn’t know what she was doing.

    I do think she’s a person who needs some type of therapy, but she’s also young and making all the mistakes society expects her to make because she’s in her 20s. She just happens to be living it out in the age of social media’s bubble.

    • August 28, 2013 11:44 PM

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say she needs some type of therapy…in all reality, MTV probably gave her the idea/concept and she, being a young girl who “sings” and acts to get paid, went along with it…. Maybe I’m just too conditioned to what female pop stars are expected to do, but despite the lewdness (and you’re right, cringe-inducing) act I just can’t raise my eyebrows at it.

      • August 29, 2013 10:41 PM

        I agree that MTV collaborated with her on the performance. It’s amazing to me how many Americans believe that reality TV (and I include awards shows in that) are not scripted. The reality is that they are scripted, rehearsed, and possibly go through many takes before getting the “right reality” shot. The MTV VMAs are no different.

        And although I didn’t raise my eyebrows, I did shake my head because of the cringing-can’t-look-at-it moments. The lewdness didn’t really bother me that much. I’ve probably done far worse, just not on a stage. I’ve seen far worse, on a stage, though, but it was either “in the moment” or pre-planned and fit with the performance, the song, the artist, and/or the artist’s personality. What Miley Cyrus did didn’t necessarily shocked me. It embarrassed me for her. She looked like who she thought someone else or others think she should look like, how they think she should perform. She went so over the top that it was a plea for attention to see how far she really could push the boundaries, but in doing so, because she lacks that confidence, that stage presence, really owning the moment, it came across as amateur, thrown together, and just total shite. Where was the music to back up her performance, too? If I heard a vocal here and there, it was shouted and greatly distorted.

        Again, I just shook my head, and now it’s over, life goes on. I’ve seen all kinds of performances, some of them horrible in different ways for different reasons, and this one fits somewhere on that list.

        I think MIley needs therapy not because of this performance but because of some of her family dynamics, family of origin issues, and dealing with her feelings in a healthy way so that she doesn’t continue to, for example, turn to drugs and alcohol when things go wrong or she’s feeling “less than”. She’s the resulting storm of her and her family’s baggage. Every family is dysfunctional on some level to some degree.

  2. August 28, 2013 5:34 AM

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