This also leads to the "protest" in the lines of Thicke's song about a woman expressing sexual desire: "But you're a good girl." Ignoring the other ways in which the song represents a rape culture mindset, and how referring to any woman who is mature enough to legally have sex as a "girl" is profoundly offensive, exploitative, and even infantilizing, this line sets up the "Madonna/whore" dichotomy quite explicitly: "good girls" are virginal, don't ever have sex, and never will (i.e., "Madonna"), but if they suddenly do, they've become a "bad girl" and are no better than any shameless whore that has ever lived. In reality, outside of these reductionistic, abusive, and unrealistic Christian theological stereotypes that are endemic to the Western overculture, there are plenty of good women who have sex, who enjoy having sex, and who express their sexual desires toward diverse others in ways that are appropriate, provocative, flirtatious, and enjoyable for everyone involved. Miley Cyrus, and all of the women in Thicke's video, were not doing anything of the sort, and while I do not think that "slut-shaming" (which follows from the Madonna/whore complex) is at all appropriate in this case or any other; nonetheless it highlights the exploitative nature of the male gaze in many situations of this sort. It frankly surprises me that so many people have reacted as they have against Ms. Cyrus, but have not likewise reacted to Mr. Thicke, who was just as culpable. That the male performer has not been critiqued in this way more than he has is a further example of the flawed nature of these matters in our neurotic overculture.

One of the most obvious reactions in all of this is the apparent "coming-of-age" nature of Ms. Cyrus' performance: now that she is being recognized as a "sexual being," people who are used to seeing her as a children's entertainer are uncomfortable with it. The fact is, Miley Cyrus has been sexualized by the viewing culture for years, and not just by perverts in the dusty basements watching internet videos furtively. The sexualization of children and teenagers has been more the norm than the exception for the entirety of my life, and is nothing new; it is simply not recognized by most people. The ways in which both boys and girls (and, unfortunately, not people of other genders, because we have very few options in this regard, in childhood or otherwise) stress themselves out at school because they are not wearing the right clothes, have their hair done the right way, don't have the best backpack or phone or laptop, and so forth, all in efforts to appease the estimations of the opposite (or occasionally same) sex, is a source of profound anxiety to students, and is the source of a great deal of bullying, social exclusion, and any number of other negative ills that permeate public school culture in the U.S. They are, unknowingly, capitulating to sexual desirability standards of which neither they nor their parents and peers are aware.

Teenagers are sexual beings naturally, since they are undergoing sexual development and coming into its awareness with the awe and curiosity so characteristic of earlier childhood. They have no way to articulate this other than through a complex code of clothes, attitudes, and other social mores that validate their socio-sexual existence in the eyes of their peers. Everyone would like to ask someone to dance at the middle school dance, but everyone worries if their hair is right, if they'll say something stupid, and any number of other potential outcomes. These experiences end up shaping a great deal of later adult interactions to a much larger extent than many realize. And yet, when they need it most, there is little effective education by parents, religious leaders, or public school officials on these matters, and teenagers are left to work things out for themselves.