Recently, another chapter in an ongoing conversation was opened by Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance and subsequent events. Thanks to some risqué dancing, feminism has been a hot topic on online forums, blogs and news articles. It makes me cringe that the likes of young, attention seeking Cyrus has become the center of such a major discourse. But the discussion that the young pop star inspired is worth a little attention.
The VMA performance offended many people and brought heavy criticism to Cyrus. News anchors were openly outraged, saying that the performance was borderline porn. A “cheerleading squad for hookers” is how Bob Beckel put it. There are rumors circulating the Internet of mental illness and instability causing Cyrus’ actions.
This week, as I started reading articles debating Cyrus’ over-sexualized public ‘statement,’ I became curious and finally watched the famed performance. What I saw was very familiar. I don’t actively seek raunchy videos, but in my comings and goings in the media I have seen performances that have been at least this offensive and distasteful. Basically, my thought was: “This is gross, but certainly is nothing new.” Nicki Minaj gave a twerking lap-dance to Lil’ Wayne on their video “High School” and no one made a fuss about it.
Why then is the media making such a case about this particular instance? Some are upset that Disney’s sweetheart has become a sex symbol. Others fiercely defend Cyrus and applaud her for her artistic expression.
This is where feminism meets a familiar fork in the road. Feminism, as a generalization, supports autonomy for women. Basically this means that women should make their own informed decisions free from anyone else’s influence. The question that is being tossed around in this debate is whether female performers, especially in the music industry, sexualize their performances because they want to express their artistic and sexual freedom as a form of liberation from societal confines, or is the sexual nature of media derived from the fact that today’s patriarchal society, who lays the foundation for the industry standard, responds to sexual images and creates a system that rewards women for debasing themselves?
Are women becoming a sexually liberated gender or are they being influenced by a society in which sex sells?
In my opinion, women today are being fed a false idea of what it means to be empowered.
In matriarchal societies, in which women are generally held in positions of power and authority, one doesn’t see rampant sexual displays. Women have the freedom to participate sexually with whomever they want, but they don’t make exhibitions of their sexuality. I don’t believe that women inherently enjoy showcasing their bodies as sex symbols.
I don’t wear make up and buy push up bras because I actually enjoy doing those things. There is nothing about my daily beauty regime that increases my ability or aptitude in any aspect of my life. I do it because society tells me that I look better with mascara on and I like the feeling that I get when I look like the beautiful women I see in the media. Is that a horrible thing? No. Will I stop wearing make up? No. But I think the same rules apply to sexual propaganda.
There isn’t much about shaking your butt in front of a camera that actually activates the human brains pleasure centers. The pleasure is derived from knowing that millions of people like what they see. They like watching girls twerk. And because the music industry realized that those images that entice a man’s more base instincts make a lot of money; they have been popularized and even moralized until they are seen as a form of feminine empowerment.
To achieve true autonomy female artists should have the right to choose their own artistic expression, even when it may be viewed as sexual exploitation. Cyrus did just that, as have many before her. But I don’t think that the feminist movement can ignore that using sexuality, while it may be viewed as an art form, is definitely a form of working the system, a lucrative system that was set up by men, not to celebrate sexual liberation, but to satisfy a lustful appetite.