Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wrecking Ball Feminism.

A joint post by Katya, Christina, Ceilidh & Cory.

Katya: Lots of people seem concerned about Miley Cyrus. From her VMA performance to the Wrecking Ball video, everyone is very, VERY concerned for Miley Cyrus. Doubtlessly, the concern will turn to vitriol now that she has declared herself a feminist, because (insert preferred reasons.)

I have one question though: For all of the concern people express, how many of them have tried addressing the cause of the problem? Namely, that they, in perpetuating the “save the children” myth have created a generation of young people that has been grown under a jar and then roughly thrust into adult life without so much as an instruction manual?

Maybe instead of clutching our pearls of what Miley Cyrus is doing we ought to start a conversation about the values we raise young people to. 

Ceilidh: I'm bemused, amused and highly offended by the same women who try desperately to convince young women to call themselves feminist sneering at women like Cyrus for taking up the mantle. We saw this a lot when BeyoncĂ© said she was "kind of" a feminist. Oh god, she can't be a feminist. She poses seductively on the front of magazines! She named her tour the Mrs Carter Tour! Tear away her feminist badge! Then again, these women are currently too busy fawning over Lily Allen, whose latest effort proclaims to be feminist and female positive yet comes with a dose of slut-shaming and a racially problematic accompanying video. It seems that some feminists are more equal than others. 

Back to Miley, it's often forgotten amidst her antics and accompanying publicity that she's only 20. Not only has she grown up in the limelight, she did it while under some extremely strict contractual obligations. That Hannah Montana long brown haircut she had? She was contractually obliged by Disney to have that exact haircut while working on the show. She was trotted out on TV sets, music tours, a book tour for her autobiography, and all under the happy mantle of the House of Mouse. Her dad, of Achy Breaky Heart and Hannah Montana co-star fame, talked openly about feeling more like her friend than her dad. She was hoisted to the position of role model for girls her own age and let's not forget the God fearing promise ring wearing "good girl" image she was forced to maintain. Can anyone blame her for getting a Twiggy haircut and licking a few sledgehammers?

Christina: If people want a perfect example of how damaging a life can be while growing up in the public eye, they need to look no further than Michael Jackson. He was often referred to as someone with "Peter Pan syndrome", often because the public didn't WANT him to grow up. He was to remain "little Michael", a sexless cherubic child with an enormous amount of talent. 

A more recent example is Britney Spears, who was held up as a role model for being successful, attractive, and a self-proclaimed virgin. She was also almost instantly sexualized, wearing a schoolgirl outfit while dancing provocatively in her video for "One More Time" and posing in her underwear for Rolling Stone before she was eighteen.

Miley Cyrus states that she is doing as she pleases and is not being coerced into dressing or acting a certain way. If this is true, is she indeed a feminist? Are those who condemn her slut-shaming her, or do they have a point? Is it possible to be a feminist while celebrating your sexuality as a woman?

That might be the key thing here. Cyrus is still seen as a little girl, not a woman. Also, her tone is more raunchy than mature. If she was to do a suggestive photo-shoot for a fashion ad rather than grinding on stage with a foam finger and sticking her tongue out, would this still warrant a discussion?

Katya: I think the major problem here is that people still see “feminism” as a passing fad, rather than an important social movement to bring about true equality.

If we truly didn’t need “feminism” because “we’re all equal”, we’d be able to see that women can be as varied and as unapologetic in their expression as men are without condemning them. We would be able to view BeyoncĂ© and Miley as artists first, women next, as we are supposed to view men. We would be able to discuss their work without having to descend into heavily polarised discussions because to each their own and (dis)liking either of those artists was just a personal choice, not a political/moral statement.

(Incidentally, this is also one of the reasons why I’m baffled by people hailing John Green as the saviour of YA because he writes: “rich, complex characters” and “view MPDG as real people.” I mean, wow, a man who views women as human beings! All of the gold stars!)

Instead, we use a woman calling herself “feminist” either to fawn over her or to slam the movement. Which, incidentally, ends up supporting the status quo because it sets women against one another, and rather than them focusing their effort on kicking patriarchy, they kick themselves and feed into the stereotype of “emotional women” who can’t handle “serious subjects.” 

Christina: I'm also confused as to where the line is drawn, because clearly there is a line. It's "okay" for a woman to have a nude scene in an elegant drama, but not okay to pose for Playboy. It's "okay" for an older woman to flaunt her younger boyfriend/husband, but not okay for a woman to talk about how great her sex life is with anyone. Where is the line and why is it there?

Women who don't sexualize themselves are held up as the gold standard, but why? Miley Cyrus is an adult. If she did that performance when she was underage, that would be another issue. Why do we assume that when a woman shows off her body and sexuality, she is not doing so by her own choice?

Cory: I think it would also be important to consider the series of open letters between Sinead O'Conner and Miley, as well as the racial implications left by the performance if we're truly going to address Miley vs Feminism. I find the latter rather important as there seems to be a growing divide between white feminists and WoC, with WoC, choosing not to even identify as such. Also, with Sinead a while back being a rather large face of feminism choosing to slut shame Miley.

Also, Joss Whedon's recent weird little speech on Feminism vs Genderism. 

It is a rather large topic, IMO. Truly interesting that Miley would choose to identify as a feminist now but many major pop stars won't. 

Ceilidh: It’s still safer for pop stars, especially young ones, to play the “I’m not a feminist, but” card. Feminism’s still seen as radical hysteria fuelled by a desire to castrate men by a surprisingly large portion of the population. Then again, after decades of an overwhelming narrative pushing this falsified image, it’s not hard to see why, and it’s also not hard to see why women refuse the mantle. Feminism to this day is not an all-inclusive club of happy sisterhood: Trans women, sex workers, the working class, women of colour, uneducated women, disabled women, etc, all feel excluded from modern discourse on feminism. When the media spends its days declaring Joss Whedon, Lena Dunham and Lily Allen the saviours of feminism, I occasionally feel the need to jump ship myself.

It also doesn't help that nuance entirely fails a substantial number of commentators when it comes to an issue like feminism. There is a very strong argument to be made against Miley Cyrus, mostly in relation to her objectification of women of colour and the general mantle known as black culture in an attempt to promote herself. The twerking's been sneered at but there's a point to be made there. Unfortunately, it's one that's passed by so many because gender and race are seen as entirely separate issues. Nope, life is not a single issue to be solved, everything intersects. 

For Miley, we can't just look at her age and circumstances. We should also take a gander at her manager, the man partially responsible for Britney Spears in her jail bait titillating school girl number. We talk about sex selling but if that were the case every male pop star out there would thrust against hammers with their meat and two veg on show. Sex doesn't sell - sexualising women sells, and Cyrus's YouTube page views and single sales are a perfect example of that. 

Katya: Ah, yes, I believe Caitlin Moran was fawning over Lilly Allen for her “satire”, but people accuse Miley of being racist. White middle class feminists, who tend to be the “elite” for this kind of thing, don’t like talking about WoC, but they will gladly shame Miley for being racist because?

I have no doubt that Miley’s expression is racially problematic, but the fact that she’s the only one to actively promote the idea that feminism isn’t a monolith is a pretty big stand against the views expressed by the elite. Is that why feminists like Allen and O’Conner slam her? Because she dares to say that their little club should not be so exclusive? 

Speaking of the sex sells, can I say something about Wrecking Ball? I get why the fuss over the video, but has anyone actually listened to the lyrics? That’s some major cognitive dissonance right there. The song is about a strained relationship and the singer’s gradual disillusionment with the whole “save the tortured boy” idea that permeates our society; the video is only barely appropriate because it has the most literal interpretation of the lyrics.

Again, how many people slamming Miley for the video actually listened to the lyrics?

Christina: It's obvious that a lot of people are still offended by Cyrus's VMA performance, judging by the sheer amount of rage directed to her (particularly from other women). I myself saw it as an obvious marketing ploy and was therefore less than impressed. 

Take a look at this list of top ten MTV VMA shocking performances. Most of the performers were women who shocked audiences with their blatant sexuality. One of the more buzz-worthy performances was a kiss from Madonna to Britney Spears and Christina Aguliera, which Stevie Nicks called "obnoxious" and stating that Britney "dug a hole" forherself with the public kiss.

Ceilidh: The VMAs are an irrelevant little show that thrives on shock value. It always has. Cyrus fit the mould perfectly and did her job. The fact that so many people seem determined to beat this dead horse to dust (while ignoring the date rape song cohort of her on-stage shenanigans, Robin Thicke) shows how little our mainstream media actually cares about feminism, something they see as simultaneously too exclusive and not exclusive enough. 

The issue with the Wrecking Ball video that many have had (other than Cyrus’s inability to act) is the involvement of the director, Terry Richardson, a man who has received several accusations of sexual harassment from women who have modelled for him. The male gaze becomes more evident with Cyrus’s video when his involvement is acknowledged, or at least it does for me. Like Thicke using Cyrus for VMAs publicity, it leads to the question of how much a 20 year old woman is being used by fully grown men with more power for the purposes of making money.

Christina: What would be a way to combat this line of thinking? Do we as a society agree that a woman can make her own choices but is still a feminist? Why is a woman who wants to stay at home, raise her kids, and cook automatically not a feminist? Why is a career woman a feminist unless she's a sex worker who is happy with her job and her life? How can we get away from the knee jerk reactions and the vitriol, and can we even do so?

Katya: Engaging in a discussion about intersectionality, as well as an honest critique about the truly problematic aspects of pop culture (racism in the way the media treats Miley vs Rihanna, the fact that Macklemore, an admittedly gifted rapper, is only able to do his shtick (publish independently and reap amazing awards) because of some inherent privilege.)

Ceilidh: The issue, as with life in general, could benefit from a little nuance and some context. The intersectional approach is the right one too (I have no time for those who dismiss it or claim it's overtly complex). We also need to take some time to explain that women can and will make decisions that aren't necessarily feminist, and doing so doesn't relinquish them of their desire to be treated equally to a man. Miley Cyrus can lick her hammers and show her nipples and still be a feminist (but all the racial appropriation needs to stop now because that's definitely not feminist). It can be hard to always do or say the right thing when you're both blinded by your own privilege and living under the smothering awareness of generations of internalised misogyny and a patriarchy that compares wanting equal rights to Nazism. 

Feminism itself isn't an amoeba. It evolves, it's not made up of one united movement and it hasn't always done good. Look at the classism, transphobia, racism and shaming that still prevails in modern discourse. If you claim to be a feminist yet see nothing wrong with disparaging women like Cyrus for calling themselves as such while praising Joss Whedon's mansplaining derailing of so-called 'genderism' then you're a far bigger problem than a pop star licking a hammer.

Further reading.

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