A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

September 1, 2013

The pop industry, slut-shaming, and Miley

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miley-cyrus
Miley Cyrus was the most spoken about person last week after she shocked the Internet and the music world with her performance at the VMAs.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the event because of the discussion her performance engendered. Reactions varied from people being outright disgusted and shocked, to appreciation for her uncaring, in-your-face attitude, to rampant slut-shaming, and accusations of racism and cultural appropriation. I’ve even read about how her performance was about her illuminati masters inducting her into their world. Then, of course, were the memes.

The problem with popular culture is that the way to the top is different for women and men. All men have to have is talent – they will have fans no matter what they look like because it’s firstly about their skills and what they can do. Take One Direction for example: their popularity doesn’t depend on their looks – it depends on their voices, at least, at first. After they’re appreciated for their talent, they become appreciated for their looks (and let’s be honest – they’re not the cream of the crop, in my opinion). And, remember, they’re working in an industry dominated by male producers, and male-owned record companies, and male agents…

However, for women, they have to be good girls gone bad to really make it in the world of popular culture (see Madonna, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and an unending list of others). In Miley’s case, she has to go really far over the top because when she was below 18, she started out as the innocent Disney Hannah Montana. Once she turned 18, she would become obsolete as her innocent character, because now it was legal to see her as a sexual object: the only way she would be recognised has nothing to do with her talent as a singer – even though she’s been doing it her entire life - and everything to do with her sexuality, and objectifying herself for the male gaze.

Her performance was meant to be controversial. I digress, but I would say it was also the perfect distraction from the fact that out of 16 awards, only three winners were female, including the best female video – you know, because they *had* to choose a woman for that one. There were also only three non-white winners.

Now, one might argue that Miley Cyrus is a grown woman and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows what industry she’s in and she knows that for her to make it – for her to become as famous as she dreams – she has to use her sexuality. The ‘horror’ for everyone is that she was trying to make a name for herself the way male pop stars do.

The problem in my opinion is not that Miley did what she did – no matter how shocking or pointless her performance was. The problem is that the way to the top is different for the two sexes, and if the female sex attempts to make it to the top firstly by giving her fans what they want (a sexy, sexual woman) and secondly by appropriating the male route to the top, they are slut-shamed and made fun of. No one made fun of married Robin Thicke for being the ‘twerkee’, but it was Miley who got the brunt of the insults and poor public opinion. This is the classic ‘hero’ stance – the one taken by those who chose to praise the boy who received oral sex from a random girl at a concert in Slane, Ireland, while at the same time slut-shaming the girl for doing what she did.

If there is truly to be equality in this world, the first place is needs to happen, aside from the home, is in the media and entertainment industry, because these things are what our children are growing up watching, absorbing, and using as role models. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, and parents have no influence over their children any more. At least not without some solid perseverance, honesty, and frankness on their part.

(Image Credit: By calmdownlove (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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