Wednesday, September 4, 2013

And We Can't Stop

As I've mentioned, I don't have a television; as a result, I did not see the recent VMAs, but that didn't keep me from hearing ... And hearing ... About Miley Cyrus's performance.

So I YouTubed it.

I wasn't shocked, or horrified. Instead, I felt relieved. Relieved because I remember being twenty-something and doing things that I thought were a GREAT idea and that in retrospect were extremely questionable but which, thank The Lord, were not caught on camera.


The buzz and the brouhaha over this performance is problematic to me on multiple levels, but the issue I'm going to focus on is -- as usual -- the conflicting messages we give young girls regarding sexuality in this country. Specifically, our media and popular culture value and promote women who look "sexy". There  is an element of sexuality evident in almost every level of mass marketing. We also value youth; many of the models used in advertising can be seen, scantily and sexily clad, in photos, commercials, and editorials, at the ripe ages of eighteen to about twenty-two.

We're apparently okay with that. 

That's not okay with me. 

Here's why: sexy young models in photo shoots seem to be acceptable because they don't have agency. They are sexy and beautiful because they are motionless, captured for viewing but not active, making this entire debate a literal example of the notion that female sexuality should be seen and not heard. If Miley Cyrus appeared in a sexy photo spread, I would venture to guess that there would have been significantly less condemnation than there was when she was onstage performing in a way that was overtly sexual.

The outcry "Miley Cyrus is a role model, what was she thinking?!" is interesting to me as a result of the above. I'm not sure what the decision making process was that resulted in that performance, and I'm  not certain that celebrities should really be held up as role models. I am certain, however, that women who are assertively, aggressively sexual are judged and pointed at in ways that their male counterparts are not. Do I think that our society puts too much emphasis on sex, especially for young girls? I do. But do I also believe -- and quite firmly -- that if we're going to put that emphasis on female sexuality, we need to make sure that women are not expected to be passive objects who should be viewed and who are not allowed to act and assert who they are?

I really, really do.

I will say that this argument is somewhat problematic because it does deal with a celebrity. How much input Miley Cyrus had in that performance is unclear (which puts the notion of agency in question), and because this was a public performance and intended to be attention getting, it seems likely to me that it was calculatedly over the top.

Problematic or not, however, what I do know for sure is that women should not be viewed and not heard. If we're going to obsess about, market, sell, promote the sexuality of young women, then we should not be surprised or shocked when they behave in a sexual way, and we should not condemn them for it; if we think that the specialization of young women is a problem, we need to actively condemn a media market that continues to sell sexuality.

Until then? Well, I'll keep writing about it.

And I won't stop.

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