Don’t Slut-Shame. Just. Don’t.

I will start out by laying out some disclaimers.

1. I have not watched the Miley Cyrus twerking video. I have absolutely zero desire to and I don’t believe it’s necessary for me to have formed the particular opinions I’ve formed. However, if I’m missing some major point, such as if she threatened or acted on violence or some equal thing, feel free to enlighten me.
2. I am not condoning her act. See above where I noted my intense lack of desire to watch it. I care about how she danced just about as much as I care about football. Which is to say that I want to never have to sit down and watch it. In short, here are all the fucks I give about her performance last night:

twerking

See? Zero fucks given.

And let me follow those disclaimers with some observations about MTV. Because I like lists.

1. MTV has always been controversial. Their entire premise has been essentially about pushing the envelope. Remember Madonnna’s Like a Virgin performance at the very first MTV music video awards? (Me neither. I’m old, but I wasn’t yet watching MTV in 1984. But I did watch a crap ton of clip shows on MTV about MTV so I remember that it existed.) Nearly every year there’s some controversial act in the VMA’s. Almost 20 years later and I’m frankly kind of bored.
2. MTV is also known for really shitty shit. So I don’t care how many weird dancing teddy bears she had or what the hell was happening with her weird 3-inch-wide wedgie or if she was humping Beetlejuice for some reason*. It’s all stuff you expect to find on MTV. In other words, welcome home, Miley. You fit right in.

And now let’s consider some of the things I’ve heard about her in regards to her performance and why they are problematic things to say.

1. She’s struggling/unhealthy/crazy and I’m worried about her. Guess whose business it is to worry about Miley Cyrus? Not yours. Not mine. Not Will Smith’s. Don’t get me wrong – I wish her well. I hope she isn’t struggling in any way and if she is, I hope she finds peace soon. But the thing is that I don’t know her. I don’t know what is going on in her personal life (and if I ever cared to read the celeb gossip I still wouldn’t know). I don’t know what led her to make the decisions she made about that performance. I will say this, though. Many, many young female musicians go through a wild phase like this and I have to wonder why. Is it confusion on their part over what growing up means? Is it part of their personal search for self? Is it because it is the only way for a female in the music industry to take charge of her sexuality? Because if you look at it, every woman in the industry is being sold to us as a sex symbol. But people only start to complain when the sexiness is not controlled by men. When it is powerful female sex. That is when audiences shit their pants.
2. She’s dead to me. What even the fuck? I have this image of Lawrence Olivier tearing his clothes when his son Neil Diamond refuses to come back to New York to become a cantor (shut up. I love Neil Diamond). I think disowning someone is, like, reserved for a) really actually bad situations like murder or violence, and/or b) people you actually know. You can’t just go disowning people you don’t even know, and you sure as hell can’t do it just because you don’t like the way they dance. Because if you look at this, you’ll find, I think that no one ever disowned Madonna over her Like a Virgin shit back in 1984. (And as a child of the 80’s I am required to clarify here that by “shit” I mean “fucking awesomest dance ever”.) Because no one ever saw Madonna grow up. She came onto the scene pushing the envelope. She never tried to be anyone’s role model. But these bubblegum teenagers who go on to have adult careers in very female-powerful sexy ways are given shit at every turn.

It all boils down to slut-shaming. 99% of what I’ve heard about Miley’s performance last night is slut-shaming. Sometimes it’s underneath genuine worry for her, but that doesn’t make it any more ok. Because the fact is that she is an adult who has no responsibility to any of us to either be a role model or to remain virginal forever and who has the right and responsibility to make her own decisions. And if we take that away from her, we are effectively supporting rape culture. If we degrade her or claim that she is degrading herself because she is sexy and powerful about it, we are boldly making the same claim for all women. That we must not take charge of our sex-power. That if we do, we must be taught our rightful place by being shamed into submission. It is, at its very core, the same argument as “she was asking for it”.

So don’t. Just don’t. Critique her on her dance technique if you know things about dance techniques, call her out on lame use of giant dancing teddy bears (Bjork did giant teddy bears way better) if you think that’s worthwhile. But don’t slut-shame her. Because that only keeps all of us held back.

*Because I refuse to watch the video itself, I’m gathering all my information from gifs on Tumblr that just happen to be on my dash. So I cannot guarantee the validity of any of the claims I made there, but you know what? I kind of appreciate the idea that Beetlejuice was there so let’s just let me live in my own little dream world.

Filed in This is a Woman

{ 32 comments… add one }

  • Mina August 26, 2013, 10:14 pm

    Yep. I’m with you on all of this. Didn’t watch and don’t care to, but I agree with your assessment. Also, I love The Jazz Singer reference. Didn’t know anyone else saw that movie.

    Reply
  • Beverly August 27, 2013, 12:02 am

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Reply
  • Sophie August 27, 2013, 8:23 am

    I totally agree. I don’t think it helps me – her or anyone else to comment on her clothes -style of dancing. I think that she has zero dance ability and I found that mildly offensive but how she portrays herself is none of my business.

    Reply
  • Rachel August 27, 2013, 8:23 am

    EXACTLY. I don’t get the pearl-clutching at ALL. It was largely boring aside from the fug teddy bears. Who cares.

    Reply
  • Sarah G August 27, 2013, 8:30 am

    I also have not seen it and don’t care to see it, for pretty much all of the reasons you said. One commentary a friend posted does point to a legitimate complaint though, so I figured I’d pass it along for discussion here.

    http://groupthink.jezebel.com/dear-miley-keep-your-fucking-hands-to-yourself-1201998015

    Reply
    • bonnie August 27, 2013, 8:38 am

      Interesting. I “manhandling” is the appropriate word here then I would say that counted as a violent act. And why the hell isn’t anyone talking about THAT?

      Reply
  • momofeveryone August 27, 2013, 8:40 am

    i too, refuse to watch the video. its not needed. but i think alot of moms forgot about how MTV is, and thought ‘oh she was on disney! lets watch it!’ and were taken by surprise. but unless she opend the show, and i doubt she did, you as a parent of a younger girl should have seen the writing on the walls.
    honestly, i dont think she has a very good voice, and ive been singing for 2 decades now. shes flat. shes auto tuned. and i dont really care. love your blog btw.

    Reply
  • Fran August 27, 2013, 8:45 am

    I watched it over and over and found it thoroughly entertaining! She’s 20 years old for crying out loud!!! I’m sure the majority of 20 year olds do crazy stuff (I did! 14 years ago) we just have the benefit of not being food for public fodder.

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  • Kate August 27, 2013, 8:53 am

    I think a woman saying “don’t slut-shame” is roughly equivalent to saying that oppressed minorities are being repressive when they object to one of their own actively promoting their oppression.

    Miley’s role in that bit of playacting was not ‘powerful female sexuality’. It was as an active participant in a song promoting rape culture, which harms a lot more women than merely the young girls influenced by this particular pop star.

    There isn’t anything ‘empowering’ about displays of sexuality that continue to require women to strip down and gyrate in order to ‘qualify’ as ‘sexually empowered’ and attract attention to their careers, while men may remain fully clothed and in an upright position to have their bodies-and careers-serviced by this degradation.

    This IS the misogynistic culture. Not the commenters who are concerned about Miley’s mental health or the impression that is made on their children. The misogynistic culture is the one Miley is appealing to and being exploited by, and that so-called ‘sex-positive’ flavors of feminism are so protective of.

    Yeah, I find it horrifying that a young woman would agree to cooperate in this culture that suggests that she cannot be powerful, sexual, or attractive without pornifying herself and marketing herself as a commodity. I’m pretty fed up with a media machine that sells the ‘barely legal girls gone bad’ story over and over because we really don’t think we are allowed to ask for more as women or expect more from men and their ‘appetites’.

    But I think your post amounts to surrender, and it pisses me off.

    Reply
    • bonnie August 27, 2013, 9:01 am

      I went to Comic Con this year with my friend Bethany and we were walking about talking about feminism and cosplay. It’s convoluted to be trying to discuss feminist issues like that and it goes something like this.

      ~If a woman dresses sexily, she’s objectifying herself and contributing to this sexist culture.

      BUT

      ~If we speak out against that, we are stifling her right as a woman to do whatever the fuck she wants to do and that’s oppression.

      THESE ARE BOTH EQUALLY TRUE AND IMPORTANT.

      Ultimately, of course, the comic industry is the one that needs to start taking women seriously, but until it does, women are going to want to dress like the characters they love. And who the hell are we to say no.

      It’s no different, in my mind, to this Miley thing. What she’s doing I don’t agree with and I don’t necessarily think it helps feminism. But slut-shaming her doesn’t help us either. It’s not surrender, and I’m not seeing only one side of the issue (although this particular post was only about one side of the issue). It’s complex and we need to work on it from all areas. But to do that we need to support each other and one very easy way to do that is to stop slut-shaming. Because as long as we associate shame with sex, we’re fucking ourselves over.

      Reply
      • Kate August 27, 2013, 9:15 am

        I suppose you could make the comparison by saying that Miley is only trying to conform to the expectations of the medium she chooses to work in, and say that somehow that’s like women choosing to dress in superhero outfits for ComicCon.

        I don’t buy it though. Those are two different dilemmas. Pursuing authenticity as a *fan* of a pop culture art form is not the same thing as pursuing inauthenticity as a *purveyor* of a pop culture art form. In this case, Miley’s position is far more comparable to that of the comic book artists and publishers.

        Are women are equal human beings who have power over, and responsibility for their decisions (and can thus be critiqued for them)? Or is even expressing an opinion equivalent to stripping them of their power, because they are just that much weaker willed than men?

        Reply
    • Kate August 27, 2013, 9:07 am

      Oh, and the heirarchy implicit in the performance- Miley can choose to degrade herself, AND she can choose to degrade-and treat as objects, furthering the rape-culture theme-the women back-up dancers.

      Having a hard time seeing what’s wrong with objecting to this. Shaming is what we do when people of our own demographic/cultural group act in a shameful way. It’s self-policing, just as much as it is for men to shame other men who act as ‘tools’ and treat women like garbage. No, I don’t get to decide how Miley uses her body. But I sure as hell get to have an opinion on whether or not it harms society, and women in particular. Just like I get to have an opinion on whether it’s a good thing for Rihanna to romanticize her relationship with Chris Brown. That’s part of being a society, with social interactions and social expectations.

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      • bonnie August 27, 2013, 9:23 am

        You’re right. We should critique with well thought out and evidence-supported arguments. I appreciate that helped me clarify that to myself. Thank you.

        But that’s not the majority of what I’m seeing here and it’s not what I was responding to. There is a difference between having an intelligent conversation ABOUT it – just as we are doing here – and just shaming her for being too sexy.

        And when we have these discussions, we should take care to not speak about women personally (i.e. she’s a slut) but to speak about their actions (i.e. her dance was problematic for these reasons).

        Is that a better and more clear expression of what I was trying to say?

        Reply
    • Kerry Eady August 27, 2013, 9:44 am

      So why isn’t anyone talking about Thicke’s singing of THAT song? Why is all the shame an blame being heaped of Cyrus?? Because no one cares about the song, they care about a 20 year old *white* woman twerking.

      Reply
      • Christine August 27, 2013, 10:17 am

        Just want to add that now that i have seen more of her performance what i am really upset about is how she treated the back up dancers. Black women aren’t objects Miley. Back. Off.

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      • Katie M. August 27, 2013, 6:39 pm

        YES. This was the comment I was going to make: that I actually have a WAY bigger problem with the song itself and anyone’s desire to be a participant in promoting it. I did watch the video, and there are probably equally provocative/awkward/stupid/gratuitous performances that have been done — though it’s not exactly a one-to-one analogy, remember all the skerfuffle over Adam Lambert’s 2009 AMA performance? There was fairly equal hand-writing about the “dirty”-ness of it, and it felt like similar kind of shaming being done then, but in the context of gender/sexuality. But really, my WAY bigger problem is the promotion of rape culture through songs like “Blurred Lines” that take on a cultural force and no one seems to really look at the lyrics.

        I also just get sad in general about performances when they just don’t seem to be about artistry. I was saying to my mom today that sometimes I feel like all the hoopla — the teddy bears and the nude spandex and the awkward dancing (sidenote: I bet you can find hand-wringing from every era about certain dance moves being dirty, so I shrug off those things.) — mask a lack of artistry or actual talent. I think Miley has talent, at least in keeping herself relevant, but compared to people like Adele, who can perform art on stage clad in simple black dresses and using only her voice, it’s not artistry. There’s no finesse, there’s no grace or substance.

        I guess the only other thing I’ll say is that as a high school teacher, that tends to see the behavioral fall-out from things like this, is that while the human part of my brain wants to agree that she’s not asking to stay virginal and didn’t necessarily sign up to be a role model, the teacher part of my brain that does see actual changes in student behavior as a result of things that celebrities do has to at least be somewhat critical of the decisions that are being made that might lead to a younger child somewhere down the line to put themselves in a situation that could bring them harm.

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        • bonnie August 27, 2013, 6:52 pm

          Katie, I see your point for sure about how it effects kids. But we’re talking about what we’re aiming for in society. We’re aiming for a culture where women can be respected no matter what. I would hope that in such a culture kids are also taught how to critically think about who they look up to.

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    • Gretchen August 27, 2013, 12:11 pm

      **Applause**

      Thank you so much for saying exactly what I’ve been thinking.

      Reply
  • Christine August 27, 2013, 9:08 am

    Let your freak flag fly but run it up your own flag pole. Don’t use a male stars hit rape culture anthem as the way to introduce your sexual self to the world. Honestly I was offended by the video to Blurred Lines but was just disapointed in the missed opportunity Miley has let slip by. Be sexy, but for your own song, for your own career. And if you are going to dance, dance well.

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    • Marie August 27, 2013, 11:13 am

      Exactly, Christine! I was not crazy about her dancing or treatment of the African-American dancers to begin with, but what really bothered me was her dance and duet with that asshole Robin Thicke.

      Reply
  • person August 27, 2013, 9:59 am

    If you’re over 13 and give a shit about programming for 13 years old on MTV, I’m sorry.

    Reply
  • Candace August 27, 2013, 12:05 pm

    I did watch the video & only because my daughter did look up to her as a role model & being that she is 12 now & loved Miley since she was 3, I needed to see what it was. So much info out there, she was bound to find out. I get the whole publicity thing, I get that she is trying to break out of that “child image”, but the truth is when she chose to become an actor/singer she knew she would become a role model..look at all her interviews as a child star. She was proud of that. My daughter hasn’t liked her in a while because of her rebellion, but my daughter is different than most, I am a different parent, she has very strong morals. I didn’t force them on her, just taught her in a non-forceful & positive way & surprisingly she listened. There are many parents out there though that do not do that & push their daughters to grow up too fast, then wonder why they are pregnant at 16. These girls have no one to really look up to. All the child stars have done this. It broke my daughters heart. It broke mine for my daughters. I personally think that Miley has a beautiful voice & hope she finds it again someday. I truly enjoyed her music, she is super talented, I do not condemn her for her performance, I was embarrassed for her though. not so much the twerking that bothered me, nor did I think she disrespected her black back up dancers, I’ve seen black female singers slap other black women’s butts on stage, it was her pumping the foam finger in her crotch & her tongue out that ruined it for me. Even with the outfit, teddy bears, etc, it could have been a very fun & SEXY performance if she would have removed the two things mentioned above. Simple as that. Not condemning or condoning, just a point of view from an open minded mother of daughters.

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    • bonnie August 27, 2013, 12:16 pm

      Yes there are clearly racial issues here that I was oblivious to (mostly because I didn’t watch it) that make up a good deal of the issue. I’m glad that I’m being shown these things as well.

      Reply
  • Krista August 27, 2013, 12:57 pm

    You give zero fucks but write an entire article about it.

    Reply
  • Lea August 27, 2013, 1:44 pm

    You should watch the video before commenting on it. My criticism is that the performance was just bad. If you are going to go on such a public stage and make a statement at least make it worth it. Her advisors need to be fired.

    Reply
  • Jackie August 27, 2013, 1:49 pm

    The problem with Miley’s dance routine wasn’t that it was sexy/slutty/raunchy or whatever else–all that’s fine! The problem is the blatant and creepy racism and cultural appropriation.

    Reply
    • bonnie August 27, 2013, 6:59 pm

      Yes, clearly there is more to it than just the slut-shaming aspects. I was unaware of the racial aspects and the lyrical aspects because I am wholly unfamiliar with that song and because I didn’t watch the video so I wasn’t even aware of backup dancers. That’s the only reason I regret not watching the video first.

      Clearly this was massively problematic in a lot of ways including race issues, rape culture issues, slut-shaming, and pure coverage on US news sources. There is a fantastic new Tumblr featuring pics of Miley twerking pasted over actual relevant news stories we should all be focusing on instead (with links to the stories, of course). But I don’t regret this discussion because the issues surrounding her performance are many and also extremely important.

      Reply
  • Joe August 27, 2013, 2:06 pm

    I see a lot of comments from people who refuse to watch the video that they are commenting about. She wasn’t sexy, she was crude. It wasn’t her being a powerful female, it was her being trashy and having a giant, hey everyone look how over the top I can be, moment. I won’t let my daughters watch it because it doens’t represent a powerful female, it represents an irresponsible rich girls that most likely has developed a drug problem.
    If you are going to write an article or comment on a video, then watch the video. Do you review movies or books without watching or reading them?

    Reply
    • bonnie August 27, 2013, 6:51 pm

      I’m really not commenting on the video, though. And I really give zero fucks about the video. Really.

      The thing that I am writing an article on, and that I give many fucks about, is the general societal REACTION to the video.

      Reply
    • bonnie August 27, 2013, 6:54 pm

      Oh and when I said she was sexy I don’t the word to mean “sexually attractive” but to mean “like sex”. I don’t know if that’s the right connotation really either, heh, but you get my drift. I hope.

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    • Elizavieta August 27, 2013, 8:13 pm

      I was going to comment on that part, as well. While I can agree with the rest of the article, to claim that any commentary about her is because she was sexy and powerful is false. She was masturbating with a foam finger in public. I can’t imagine who would consider that sexy. She absolutely degraded herself on that stage, and she degraded women but suggesting that this is what a powerful woman looks like.

      Reply
  • Colleen August 27, 2013, 3:05 pm

    I’m sorry, but the first thing I thought about was Lewis Black talking about MTV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo49xbURQUY

    (also, well put. But I couldn’t let the Lewis Black thing pass by)

    Reply

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