Okay, I think it's pretty safe to say a lot of moms weren't exactly thrilled with Miley Cyrus' VMA performance last week. Oh dear Lord, what to tell the children, etc. Call me crazy, though, but I think blaming the Steubenville sexual assault on Miley Cyrus is going maybe just a bit too far. That seems to be what self-proclaimed "old fogey" Richard Cohen is doing in his Washington Post opinion piece, "Miley Cyrus, Steubenville, and teen culture run amok."
Cohen begins by calling Miley a "cheap act" and then hops over to the Steubenville rape. He ends by saying Miley's act debases women and feeds into the very rape culture that resulted in Steubenville. Aaaand I'm calling bullshit -- not because I think Miley's performance and rape culture are totally unrelated. It's just that the arrows in my diagram would be going in the other direction, if that makes any sense. Performers like Miley don't cause rape. But maybe rape culture influences performances like Miley's.
Here's how Cohen ties it all together:
So now back to Miley Cyrus and her twerking. I run the risk of old-fogeyness for suggesting the girl’s a tasteless twit — especially that bit with the foam finger. (Look it up, if you must.) But let me also suggest that acts such as hers not only objectify women but debase them. They encourage a teenage culture that has set the women’s movement back on its heels. What is being celebrated is not sexuality but sexual exploitation, a mean casualness that deprives intimacy of all intimacy. Cyrus taught me a word. Now let me teach her one: She’s a twerk.
I mean, this is almost blaming the victim here. (And for an older man to call a scantily-clad younger woman a "cheap act" reeks of misogyny.) It's freakin' creepy. If anything, Cohen is perpetuating rape culture more than Miley is. Miley went all slutty on us, flaunting her sexuality; therefore, she is the reason why hormone-frenzied teenage boys can't control themselves. Right? Bullshit. You don't go from "Miley objectifies/debases herself" to "blame Miley for rape culture." Nice try, but no.
Miley isn't exactly on my 9-year-old son's radar and he hasn't seen the performance, but he knows who she is. So I've been thinking about how I would talk with him about that performance, if it came up. What do we say to our BOYS about Miley?
I wasn't crazy about Miley's act, either -- mostly because I think she's capable of better. What I see is a young woman who's exploring her sexuality in a very public way, probably with a hearty helping of narcissism and too many enablers who aren't helping her exercise better judgment. In other words, Miley is doing on the big screen what countless teenage girls do on social media every single day.
This is new territory for all of us -- this online world where we can share too much in a split second and live with the results forever. Girls are getting hit especially hard with mixed messages: Be sexy but not sexual, show us your tits/don't be a slut, whatever happens, it's always your fault. Most of all, girls shoulder most of the responsibility for everything that happens, their own actions as well as the action of others. And that's grossly unfair. I want my son to know better.
So what I would tell my son about Miley's VMA performance is that a woman exploring her sexuality in a public way does not deserve to be shamed or raped. It doesn't matter what she's doing with that glove or what she's not wearing. She's an imperfect human being trying to figure it all out, maybe making some mistakes, just like you. You don't have to like what she's doing, and it's okay if you actually do like what she's doing. But you treat her with respect and never, ever use what she does as an excuse to treat women or girls as objects. Ever.
Do you think Miley is playing into rape culture, or is she trying to break free from it?
Image via Miley Cyrus/Twitter