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:
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.