Tuesday, 27 August 2013

In case you were wondering, sexism is still alive and well: Miley Cyrus and the VMAs aftermath

On Sunday night Miley Cyrus performed at the Video Music Awards. On Monday morning the internet exploded with their condemnation. 

That's the short version. But let's look at the long version shall we?

Miley Cyrus, 20, emerged onto the stage via a very large bear singing her hit of the summer We Can't Stop. Her costume was a plastic bathing suit with a bear emblem (a nod to the actual video of her song). She danced on the stage provocatively and aggressively. She twerked [a style of dance that became popular with Black women in 90s club culture and of which folks are misguidedly proclaiming Miley the the queen. There is certainly much that can be said about the appropriation of culture here but very few bloggers and writers are examining that aspect]. And she slapped the asses of a few of her back-up dancers. Then Robin Thicke, 36, came on stage dressed kinda Beetle-Juicey. They sang his hit of the summer Blurred Lines. During the performance Miley took off her bear-suit to reveal a nude bathing suit (a nod to the costumes of the models in the actual Blurred Lines video). With a large foam finger she grabbed her crotch a lot and she grabbed Robin Thicke's crotch a time or two. 

I'm not here to say that it was the greatest performance of the decade. But I'm not really that into psychedelic bears, foam fingers, or Beetle Juice. And maybe if I was into those things I still wouldn't have loved the performance. But that's not my point. My irritation comes from the bloggers and op-ed writers that are filling my Twitter and Facebook feeds with a verbal finger waging at Miley Cyrus for her supposed lack of class and chastity.  

Many articles are placing blame on her parents for not keeping her grounded in the high-stress world of celebrity. Open letters are being written and the internet is basically turning into one big patronizing figure bent on infantalizing Cyrus to teach her a lesson. See here. And here.  

But what is really happening here is that a former Disney child star has entered into that weird phase of young adulthood. And she has laid claim to her own sexuality. To her right to desire and to pleasure. And that makes the rest of us damn uncomfortable. The Madonna and the whore complex, in which women can only be understood as either Madonnas (maternal and chaste), or as whores (to be used and abused) is in full effect. But Miley Cyrus is neither of those things. Or she is both. She is doing it her way. Taking charge of it on her own terms. And criticizing her for that is detrimental both to her and to women everywhere. 

Yes, you read that right. This matters. It truly does. In the world that extends far beyond Miley Cyrus and the VMAs.  It matters to girls like Amanda Todd who bared her teenage chest on a webcam and then was bullied relentlessly until she took her own life. In a culture of slut shaming we deny women the freedom to experiment with their bodies and their desires. We expect them to exist only in the world of defence - protecting the net from the other team's offense. 

So criticize the performance all you want. The visual effects. The costumes. The singing. The strange paring of Thicke and Cyrus. The appropriation of twerking. The awkwardness of it all. But, for the sake of women and teen girls everywhere, can we lay off the slut-shaming?

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