To this point, I’ve avoided talking about the Miley Cyrus debacle mostly because, at first? I dismissed it as much ado about nothing. A pop star got up on stage, gave a questionable performance that included defiling teddy bears, and people reacted by doing the O.o face and asking WHY, MILEY, WHY? My take on it was, “If she wants to get up there and give a strange, crappy performance, that’s up to her, but where were her handlers?” Not because Miley shouldn’t have been doing sexy things (cultural appropriation arguments aside, that’s a whole other kettle of fish for people better versed in the subject than I am) but because I just didn’t think the VMA performance was particularly entertaining. You’re an entertainer, you get up on stage to entertain. If other people out there found it fun and sexy and cool? Okay, well I guess she struck a chord somewhere but the vast majority of folks I saw/read found it ridiculous. (Though, I will say this – if her point was to get people talking? She succeeded beautifully. Weeks later? A month later? Folks are still obsessed with it.)
Anyway, the reason I’m finally giving into the MC hubbub is because the Sinead O’Connor open letter is making its rounds. Facebook, Twitter – it’s everywhere, and I have thoughts on it. Some good, some bad. Mostly good, but the bad is bad.
First things first. What is slut shaming? Slut shaming is, thank you Wikipedia, “A neologism used to describe the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or supernatural/religious law.” Basically, if you demean a chick because of her sexual exploits or because she chooses to present her body in a sexual way, you’re slut shaming. Yes, go ahead, lob the argument of “good taste” my way. Sadly, dudes? Most “good taste” is based on an antiquated view of how women should behave. Girls should be polite in public, should be demure, should reserve the mighty vagina for one dude. If they do have a one night stand, they should hang their heads and feel badly about it because that’s not what “good girls do.” Guys, meanwhile, can go through high school, college, and their early twenties humping anything in sight and that’s considered, “Sowing their wild oats.”
Long story short? The good taste argument is a slippery slope. Don’t present that to someone talking about slut shaming because we’re going to tear it apart. Yes, you can say “No one should do that in public, no one should be sexual before the public” but the reality is, men are lauded for their sex, and women are notoriously shit on for it. That’s just how society works. Good taste is perpetuating the notion that sex-for-girls-bad, sex-for-boys-typical. And it’s bogus.
So, what does slut shaming have to do with this Sinead letter? Welp, here goes. For the most part, Sinead’s message of self-respect is dead on. Miley Cyrus should NOT let men (or anyone) shape her image for money. She should not let the industry mold her into a person she’s not just to sell records. It should be about her talent, her music, and not how many times she can shake DAT ASS so dudes can wank it. Okay, I get that. High five Sinead. Good going. You had a career based on pushing boundaries, of not buckling to industry pressure, and you’re trying to mentor this chick with a message of self empowerment. I am so with you on this. In fact, I am with you for eighty percent of your letter. Here’s the problem I have with that last twenty percent: not once in that letter did Miss O’Connor ever asking herself if being sexual is what MILEY CYRUS WANTED. She assumed that girls, or this girl in particular, was at her core a “good girl” who “should want to reserve her precious body for her boyfriend.”
Look, the argument of self-respect, of respecting your body, of standing up to those who wish to exploit you? That should be heard everywhere, twice. Do only what makes you happy, what makes you comfortable, what makes you feel good about yourself. The problem here is that we (and by we, I mean the people who are cheering this letter) are operating under the assumption that what makes Miley Cyrus happy, comfortable, and feeling good about herself is not HOW SHE IS. What if that’s not the case? If this young woman likes dressing in tiny clothes, likes shaking her body, likes showing off the curve of her breasts and expressing her sexuality, that’s actually NOT a reason to make her feel bad. If she’s doing it to please others? Problem. If she’s doing it to please herself? Not a problem. And if you think the latter is wrong, you’re feeding into the slut shaming paradigm.
I really do think Miss O’Connor did a good thing here. I think most reasonable people can look at the letter and see the point she was trying to make and embrace it. What I’m challenging her (and really anyone else reading this letter) to do is to take a second to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, Miley Cyrus wants to be a sexual being. And I want people to see that as an okay thing. She doesn’t owe it to anyone to “act like a lady.” She shouldn’t feel bad about her body, how she sees her body, or how she moves her body. If she’s consciously making the decision to embrace her feminine sexuality, that’s not something to fret about or pearl clutch about. And if it offends you? Don’t watch her on TV or listen to her music. Yes, it’s okay for you to be offended, but at the end of the day? It’s also okay for her to be okay with her body and what she chooses to do with it.
Get me? Yes? Hillary out.