Miley makes her choice – or does she?

There’s a few people in the world I wouldn’t want to be. Kevin Rudd, the nurse who sticks needles in babies at council immunisation sessions and Miley Cyrus.

For the bulk of her career Miley has been a cute-girl-in-the-mansion-next-door tweeny star. A predictable, but socially acceptable, product of the sterile Disney machine that pops out princesses faster than a royal family. Tough gig when the cute girl grows up and needs to make her way in the hedonistic world of popular American music.

So much has been said about Miley’s surprise performance at the MTV Video Music Awards one would think something ground breaking had happened. It didn’t. It was just a grown up girl strutting her stuff on stage in a way that grown up girls have been strutting their stuff across stages and TV screens for at least two decades. So why the hoopla?

A look at Twitter and comment streams are enlightening. She is labelled as ‘silly’ and ‘a cheap stripper’. People complain about ‘taste’ and ‘appropriateness’, bemoaning the impact this sexualised behaviour will have on their thirteen and fourteen year old daughters. Others whine that Miley has sold out to the raunch-pop culture and is reinforcing the objectification of women. Some people (read vultures) simply relished the opportunity publically belittle another woman’s body (where the joy is in that is lost on me).

Miley’s overt assertion of sexuality has created a seismic reaction in first world culture. Why? Because being female and overtly sexual is a social no-no. For women like Miley, who want to grow up and into their sexual selves, the choices are limited. They either evolve into a ‘yummy mummy’, sort of modestly sexy but conservative and acceptable, or a ‘femme fatale’, a wanton, licentious woman whose value is measured only by her sex appeal.

The cultural models available to most women as they sexually mature are restricted by deeply held beliefs that the sexualised female is in some way bad, wrong, filthy, not to be trusted. Think about it. Where are the positive cultural models for female sexuality? We have the relatively sexless images of the Virgin-Girl, the Good-Wife, the Dutiful-Mother, which give women very little wriggle room to claim and express the full extent of their sexuality – whatever that means for them.

In spite of the sexual revolution and women’s liberation, women remain constrained by prevailing cultural expectations of what female sexuality looks like. Until a more positive cultural model for expressing female sexuality is on offer, women like Miley can only resort to the familiar roles that have been defined and reinforced over decades by the advertising and porn industries. The Bad-Girl, the Slut, the Whore. If she’s overtly sexual, she’s going to be exploited for it and taken as a sell out.

Many people still believe it is a woman’s job to moderate and control her sexuality so the lads won’t lose their cool. This view comes out in all kinds of ways, including shaming Miley Cyrus for showing the world she’s a sexual being in the only way she understood how. We still life in a world where girls who enjoy sex are treated like filth because no woman with any decency or sense gives in to those primal urges.
Women’s sexuality has long been defined by masculine values. What constitutes ‘hot’ arises from male libido and the female fashion industry. It rarely includes who the woman is, only what she looks like. Her sexual value is separated out from the rest of her, like oil from water, so it can be presented as an independent, consumable commodity.

This focus on the physical body as an object and valuing of specific sexual behaviours has been universally adopted by popular culture. We see it every day on our laptops, devices, TV screens and in print media. It’s all around in the behaviours and attitudes of our family, friends and communities. And because it’s so familiar to us we don’t question it. We don’t even take time out from judging Miley Cyrus to wonder what drove her to behave the way she did and what was she trying to say? Nor do we ask ourselves, why do we find an overtly sexual woman so confronting? Nope. Let’s just judge her, like we always do.

If we are looking for a ‘why?’ to Miley Cyrus’s performance, then we should look in the mirror. She’s performing for us – the consumers, the buyers of the product of female sexuality. She herself said later ‘I didn’t even think about it, that’s just me.’ Until we not only accept, but embrace, female sexuality in all its beautiful and diverse complexity, the Miley Cyrus’s of the world will keep growing up into the only sexual beings we allow them to be.

Miley comments on her VMA performance:


Well said. Those of us who see ourselves as sexual beings and are comfortable with that, enjoy that aspect of ourselves and aren't afraid to show it should be allowed to do so without judgement. Why are women who openly show their sexual side seen as somehow bad or immoral. It's only one aspect of our personality yet most can't see beyond it. Grow up!

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Andra. It's true, women's sexuality is very controlled and contained by cultural and social mores. It has been the case for centuries. I think we are reaching a zeitgeist of sorts in this regard though. Attitudes are shifting and women are challenging the judgements made of them. More power to them.

You write the most thoughtful and thought-provoking posts, Kate. Thank you.

The Miley Cyrus performance, although I've only seen what was on the news, reminded me of Madonna in the 80s/90s. Sometimes to change people's beliefs about yourself, you have to go to drastic measures. Madonna did that with her re-incarnations of herself, and although she copped the same criticism as Miley did, I think overall Madonna is seen as a success story in the industry.

The saint/whore dichotomy has always intrigued me and I agree that it's been driven by a male-dominated society. I believe women have an inner strength that terrifies men and in the past, society (hand in hand with religion) were constructed to "keep women in their place", which was under the control of men.

I hope women do shift the attitudes of society so that we have more than a couple of stereotypes for girls to grow into. And I hope women's sexuality one day no longer becomes a newsworthy event.

Cate xo

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Cate. I agree, when women's sexuality is no longer newsworthy, we will know we've made a difference.

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