The Lesson of the 2013 MTV VMAs: Being Sexual While Female Is Worse Than Being Rapey or Racist

The Lesson of the 2013 MTV VMAs: Being Sexual While Female Is Worse Than Being Rapey or Racist August 28, 2013

So. Miley Cyrus. It seems she sang a song at the 2013 MTV VMAs.

Mostly I’ve just been watching the multiple conversations going on about Miley’s performance. But since the discussion hasn’t shown any signs of letting up yet, I thought I’d dip my toe in. But since so much has been said already, I want to do so by highlighting some of the work of others, and also by opening the floor for commenters to post additional articles they thought were particularly thought-provoking—or particularly bad.

I’m going to start with a piece by Elizabeth Esther titled “Well, Miley Cyrus. How Predictable of You.” Because seriously, that’s exactly what I thought in the immediate aftermath.

Aaaand cue outrage. Shock. Horror. Pearl-clutching. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs last night was shocking. Oops. I mean. Predictable.

. . .

Here’s the truth: Miley Cyrus doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t care that you’re outraged, disgusted, offended and horrified. In fact, she likes having “haters.” It motivates her.

Miley Cyrus set out to shock everyone and she succeeded. The only surprise, here, is that the adults are asking stupid questions like: “How did this happen?”

Everyone knows how this happened. It’s not like her song “We Can’t Stop” is subtle or nuanced. It’s not like it’s some hidden mystery of the universe that  Miley is singing about doing drugs. Of COURSE she is.

It’s been obvious for awhile that Miley is going off the rails . . . er, I mean: GROWING UP. Shaking one’s ass on national TV is, after-all, the time-honored way for former Disney stars to shed their squeaky-clean image and take ARTISTIC CONTROL of their careers. And by artistic control I mean: rocking the stripper pole. Or, in Miley’s case, the foam finger.

America has a problem with its little girls growing up—especially its little white girls. This is why Shirley Temple never broke into adult acting. It seems that for female actor/musicians like Miley Cyrus, openly and boldly embracing their sexuality looks like the quickest ticket toward being seen as an adult and no longer as a pure and innocent sweet little child star (which is a whole discussion of its own, but let’s not get sidetracked at the moment!).

But what seems most interesting to me about this whole thing is that the American people were way more interested in slut-shaming Miley than they were in addressing her dance partner Robin Thicke’s rapey lyrics or Miley’s own appropriation of black culture and objectification of black bodies.

First let’s talk about the rapey part. Let me quote a short post by a sexologist:

Dear Society,

If you think a woman in a tan vinyl bra and underwear, grabbing her crotch and grinding up on a dance partner is raunchy, trashy, and offensive but you don’t think her dance partner is raunchy, trashy, or offensive as he sings a song about “blurred” lines of consent and propagating rape culture, then you may want to reevaluate your acceptance of double standards and your belief in stereotypes about how men vs. women “should” and are “allowed” to behave.


Dr. Jill

Yep. That. Where has all the outrage been over Thicke’s lyrics? Oh sure, there’s outrage in the feminist blogosphere—but in mainstream media or among the American people writ large? There’s been lots of talk about everything Miley did and comparatively little about Thicke’s rapey “blurred lines” rhetoric. This is what feminists are referring to when they say the phrase “rape culture.”

Now the appropriation of black culture and objectification of black bodies issue.

The universe (well, the media) is slut-shaming Miley Cyrus pretty damn hard today for her performance at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards. She wore little. She gyrated. She was sexual.  This is the least of our problems—or it should  be the least of our problems anyway.

Cyrus used her sexuality–which is hers  to use–throughout the performance. This is not something we as viewers should be shocked by or disgusted withWhat should be shocking is Cyrus’ appropriation of a culture she knows nothing about, and her use of black women as props in her most recent music video and in last night’s performance. Most, if not all, of the dancing bears were women of color. At one point, Cyrus motorboats one woman’s ass, which adds to the weird, circus-y feel of it all. Cyrus is the “ring leader,” and women of color are hers to play with however she likes.

More on this here and here, and also here. I didn’t watch Miley’s performance before seeing these articles, and I might not have caught it on my own otherwise. Once again, I am thankful to others for speaking up.

To be honest, while I’m not unfamiliar with Miley Cyrcus I’d never heard of this award ceremony before. This usually isn’t my sort of thing. But what I do find interesting is watching when these sorts of events turn into broader conversations about our culture. And that is why I would say, quite simply, that there is more to be learned in the aftermath of the 2013 MTV VMAs about ourselves as a culture than about Miley Cyrus.

What would you add? What good—or bad—articles have you run across on the subject? Do share!

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