“Sex is one of the most interesting things we as humans have to play with, and we’ve reduced it to polyester underpants and implants. We are selling ourselves unbelievably short.”
Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
The furore surrounding Miley Cyrus’s making of history by ‘twerking’, licking hammers and propping herself on a giant metal ball – although sexually provocative – tells us nothing about female sexuality. Also, instead of inspiring women, it seems to be driving more women to hate women.
Again, we’re met with the same boring, plasticine images of a female celebrity jumping around with no clothes on, in the name of ‘making history’. What I really don’t understand is how Cyrus intends on ‘making history’ post Madonna or Rihanna, without even taking the Wife of Bath into account. We should spare a thought for John Aubrey’s ‘young wenches…who get upon a table-board and wabble to and fro with their buttocks as if they were kneading of dowgh with their a-’, back in 1868, or the controversy surrounding Manet’s Olympia in 1865. This display of wanton sexuality in public is definitely not new.
Cyrus’s behaviour also doesn’t really tell us anything substantial about how women want to express themselves sexually today (if she intended to spark that debate). As feminist icons such as Germaine Greer have stated countless times, with all its make-up and thin bodies, air brushing and great lighting, Cyrus licking a hammer is unreal sexuality; posed and distorted. If Cyrus tells us anything about female sexuality in 2013, she only emphasises just how conformist we are in our attitudes to it and how accepting we are of reductive sexual imagery. In a time when we’re sold Fifty Shades of Grey and it becomes a worldwide bestseller when critics ridicule it, it’s time our mainstream media feeds us something with more substance.
I’m sure lots of young women admire Miley Cyrus and her music because she is rebellious, in the same way as Rihanna or Lindsay Lohan might be. It’s not true rebellion though, is it, when this kind of behaviour is now becoming the norm in the mainstream pop and fashion worlds. She could be truly rebellious by sending out useful messages to young women about exploring their potential through their intellect and talents, instead of through their looks (cue Lily Cole). As Sinead O’Connor rightly pointed out, Cyrus sending out the message that young women should be valued more for their sexual appeal than their creative talents is not a message of empowerment or liberation for women.
Media reporting on Cyrus is also turning women against women, as tabloids scrutinize everything she does and focus in on her ‘eccentric’ behaviour in typical freak show style. More and more women then find themselves commenting on this media reporting and saying negative things about her personality and her body – all in the name of women’s liberation.
We definitely shouldn’t live in a world of censorship and sexual expression is something that should feel natural for everyone. However, when The Sun’s Page Three still exists, women are still harassed in the street and women constitute almost two-thirds (62%) of those on low pay and are not given senior roles in work, a female role model, like Cyrus, should consider sending out positive and meaningful messages to her fans.