A Different Take on the Miley Cyrus Affair


Image, Wikipedia Commons

I didn’t really expect to wade into the pearl-clutching and outrage over Miley Cyrus. But, I’ve been thinking about her all day, and after discussing her notorious VMA performance with Darcy and finding out we shared the same point of view, I decided to write a post.

I think there are four separate topics at work here.

1. What does Miley Cyrus owe the girls who followed her as Hannah Montana, if anything?
2. The issue of hypersexualized girls and the men who love them.
3. That creepy Robin Thicke song.
4. The actual Miley Cyrus performance.

The Rise and Fall of Hannah Montana

One of my friends had tween girls back at the height of the Hannah Montana craze and I watched an episode with them. For those lucky enough to have escaped the show, Hannah Montana is a celebrity teen singer, but no one knows her true identity: she’s actually a suburban normal girl by day. Pretty wholesome right? Well, yes and no. First of all, I buy into the Peggy Orenstein point of view that those Disney Channel teen characters are the second wave of the princess phase. I highly recommend everyone read her book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.”

What’s the first wave? Think about the fairy tales the traditional Disney movies tell: Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast. Sweet harmless fun, right? Not really. Because when girls embrace the pretty princess dresses and act out those movies, they embrace the message of those stories: someday, my prince will come if I wait around and am beautiful enough.

Eventually as they age, girls tire of the Disney Princess merchandise and move on, according to market research, to a different set of toys. Monster High, Bratz, Hannah Montana dolls: what do they have in common? Well, they are more grown up than the princesses. Yet, these dolls may be worse. These toys celebrate “sassy” “gothic” girls who are thin and wear short skirts.

How does this affect our girls? From The Daily Beast:

“Studies show young girls today face more pressure than ever to be ‘perfect’ (like a princess?) — not only to get straight A’s and excel academically, but to be beautiful, fashionable, and kind. And the more mainstream media girls consume, the more they worry about being pretty and sexy. One study, from the University of Minnesota, found that just seeing advertisements from one to three minutes can have a negative impact on girls’ self-esteem.”

This can lead to a wormhole of eating disorders and self-destructive behavior, which all studies indicate are on the rise among young women.

Back to Hannah Montana. The series was mostly a bunch of silly misunderstandings about how Hannah had to hide her real identity as a world famous pop star. What I was struck by was how awed my friends’s daughters were by the idea of becoming a pop star princess. Because, Hannah Montana IS a princess of sorts. Back when I was 10, I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought that was a super glamorous career. These girls wanted to be a pop star. And I found that problematic.

The Disneyfication of many pop stars seems to follow the same path each time: tween and teen girls are packaged into wholesome, pink bubble gum virgin sweethearts, but inevitably they rebel and begin to break out of the mold in their late teens or early twenties. We’ve seen it with countless models: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Amanda Bynes and now Miley Cyrus.

Here’s where I differ from most parents: I will not let my daughter watch shows like Hannah Montana. And I don’t blame Miley Cyrus for who she has become.

When Miley Cyrus was cast as Hannah Montana she was 11. Now she is 20. Can you imagine the changes you went through in those nine years? Why would we expect Miley Cyrus to stay the same?

The Lolita Phenomenon

Often these tween stars flirt with acting like a Lolita. Probably, this is a natural evolution of coming to terms with their power as a woman of beauty, attractive to men. When you are an actress or a pop star (or aspire to be one, like millions of girls) the way you look is your calling card. The thinner you are, the blonder you are, the cuter you are? The better. Hannah Montana didn’t look like an opera star diva, did she? The glorification of being pretty, being a model, being an actress: it’s one dimensional, it’s often out of your control, and even if you are the most beautiful girl in the world? Beauty fades.

Probably the most notorious Lolita of them all was Britney. No one really put herself out there in that pervy way like Britney, who at the age of 15 was wearing Catholic girl short skits, and licking lollipops. To me, she never seemed to be in control of what she was doing. In this scary interview (complete with cringe-worthy narration by some guy old enough to be her father), it seemed that she thought of her stage persona as if it was some distant out-of-body experience, and not real. Dudes ate this up, of course. Whomever was manipulating her image (I’m pretty convinced it wasn’t her, there just doesn’t seem to be a “there” there with Britney) was appealing to creepy, base instincts in grown men. And that was disturbing and gross.

“He Has the Look of a Man Finally Coming Into the Privilege He Was Sure Was His All Along.”

Mel covered the Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” pretty well. The uncensored video features a number of listless looking models shuffling and bouncing around naked. They don’t really look like they are fully present, they look kind of drugged. The men in the video remain fully dressed, awake, aware and openly leer and fondle them.

Enter Miley Cyrus, Stage Right

SO, let’s move on to the actual performance. Here’s what struck me first of all: Miley Cyrus chose to send up the Lolita image right away, by entering stage right out of a giant stuffed teddy bear. But her stance was immediately agressive: this was no passive little girl. She was sticking out her tongue and making lewd gestures of the sort Michael Jackson used to use. She seemed in control of the performance. You can debate the merits of her dancing, her lack of rhythum, etc. But she appeared to be calling the shots and carefully choosing her moves. I’d say her dancing was kind of, well, masculine. Even in the skimpy outfit.

Then she dueted with Robin Thicke, and to me, she seemed just as agressive as he was. She seemed an equal partner in the song, singing half of it by herself. Yes she twerked, but she also grabbed him by the neck. She touched him with that foam finger. Unlike the robotic mannequins in the video, this was a woman in control of herself and her actions. Yes, she was sexualized, but in a way that had her being just as assertive as a man. Robin Thicke certainly wasn’t center stage and he wasn’t in full control like some later day Christian Grey.

In other words, she wasn’t just sitting around licking her lollipop, waiting for her prince to objectify her.

I was listening to the radio this morning, and the tiresome local shock jocks were jeering her performance. They called it a “missed opportunity” that those dreary models from Robin Thicke’s video weren’t there instead. And then they called Miley Cyrus a slut.

No one referred to Robin Thicke as a slut. Yet, how is his behavior different from Miley’s? Or, worse? “You know you want it.”

I think what really has everyone up in arms is the change of Miley Cyrus from a passive Pretty Disney Princess into a complicated woman who calls the shots, sexually.

As always, I want to know, what say you? Were you upset about the performance? If so, why? Has the response bothered you?


Filed under body shit, What Say You?

23 responses to “A Different Take on the Miley Cyrus Affair

  1. Definitely disturbed. But she was created by this media machine. I don’t blame her as much as I feel sad for her…in the same way I do for all those child pop stars/actresses. I don’t know their families, but it just seems these kids are exploited…lack the maturity to handle that kind of fame. It shouldn’t surprise us when they turn out this way. Mostly saddened. And I def. agree with the whole Disney Princess deal. That mentality can really bring havoc on a girl as she matures into a women (case in point.)

    Thanks for a great response to this!

    • Thanks Kate! It does seem to be no coincidence that almost all of the Disney actresses seem to go through a really rocky time after their teen years…and that alone makes me not want to expose my own daugther to this whole Disney Channel world.

      • I don’t blame you. I don’t have a daughter (yet, hopefully), but I already know I don’t want her into all of that. In the long-run, I think it can be damaging!

  2. I’m only upset by the performance because it sucks that she feels she has to go aggressively sexual to shake the pop princess persona. Out of all the singers I think Pink has done the best job of being aggressive without resorting to twerking and doing things with foam fingers. Wish there were more like her and less like Miley.

    • Pink has been mentioned a few times here. I admire also the way she presents a strong female image as a singer as well. She and Robyn seem to be in a class of their own, here.

  3. What a wonderful, thoughtful post. I am just commenting based on your observations here since I didn’t see it. I find it really interesting how many of your points echo something I talked but not too long ago about the third wave of feminism… Where women began conflating their sexual power with being powerful. I am sort of old-school coming out teachers and a mother from the second wave… I tend to see this standing in the gaze, choosing to stand actively in the gaze is almost more destructive because there is the illusion of power when really you are still just equating the only power you have Not with your brain and intellect which she clearly has, not with her savvy business sense… which may be there but with her body, her sexuality. I fall into the social media wormhole of 13-year-olds quite a bit with our son. I am absolutely horrified at the messages so many young women transmit out into the universe. If they think of themselves as more than just a body and face and sexual being they certainly don’t show it. They are picking that up from the pervasive hyper sexualized culture as you so eloquently state. I don’t think that we give credit for how powerful and all consuming media is. We protect our children from a myriad of other things but we don’t protect them from technology and media. I think about how I thought I was supposed to be Tawny Kitaen because it was the era of big hair glam band women crawling on cars 80’s (Thanks Whitesnake) But think about how amplified and supersaturated it is for women these days not simply in one video or a few popular print magazines but in their hands –bathing them in what they’re supposed to be all. The. Time.

    Thanks for the opportunity to use my brain this morning. Xoxo

    Ps I meant to say if you went the number two party school in the nation I think I must’ve gone to number one.


    • This!! “I don’t think that we give credit for how powerful and all consuming media is. We protect our children from a myriad of other things but we don’t protect them from technology and media.” I could not agree more. Now more than ever, I appreciate that my parents would not let me watch TV unsupervised and banned many programs outright. I plan to follow the same template.

    • This was exactly my thought. I am not bothered by the fact that Miley (or anyone else) is a complicated woman who calls the shots, sexually. I am uncomfortable about the fact that the take-home message of her performance was all about her sexuality, and not about much of anything else. I respect her right to represent herself as she chooses, and am not offended by it per se, but it makes me a bit sad for her that she presents herself as if she thinks that she has anything to offer except sex.

  4. A really interesting post. I agree with you that in her performance, Miley was showing she had power and could compete as an equal. Its just so sad that she felt that she needed to compete on the terms defined by the music industry which objectify and sexualise women. Its a bit like the old eighties cliche that for a woman to get ahead in business, she needs to act like the men.

    • The music industry really doesn’t do a good job of presenting women in a 3rd dimension, even though most of the biggest acts are women, like Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, etc, etc, etc.

  5. As a psychologist, i am worried for her. She’s oozing someone who has been damaged from a young age, and to see it on display, to see her not fully getting it but thinks she gets it in her delayed adolesence, it just makes me feel sad for her. I think she’s a victim. I am not shocked by her behaviors or upset by them, I never even saw Hannah Montana, so it’s not that for me, I didn’t even find her outfit or moves to be sexy. And I have said negative things about Robin Thicke too. It’s not her being slutty that upsets me, it’s the mother in me feeling sad she didn’t have better support and guidance and role models for her, and feeling sad she couldn’t find a healthier way to work out her issues. I worry she’s headed the same way so many of these teenage starlets are headed (i/e Lindsay Lohan.) She was engaged for awhile too, at such a young age, and now this… it’s such a cry for help.

  6. I’ve been trying to think thoughtfully about why her performance disturbed me. I get that she wants to prove she’s grown up and in control of her sexuality, but I think what she ultimately demonstrated is how very immature she still is. There was nothing sexy about that performance. She looks very much like the child she professes not to be, and while I don’t let Robin Thicke off the hook, I don’t think the pedophilia vibe would be quite as strong if the woman had been, say Pink or even Britney at the same age.

    Yeah, it can be very heady for a woman when she realizes her sexuality gives her an amount of power. Most of us, thankfully, do not express that in front of millions. I think she’s trying too hard and will realize the hard way that she wasn’t proving anything.

    I’m very glad my adolescence was during the 90s and the grunge era when my role model was Roseanne’s Darlene Connor LOL.

  7. I did not see the Miley Cyrus performance and have not seen the Blurred lines video (although I saw stills of her performance and have caught snippets of the arm chair quarterbacking and I have heard the song and what I find to be its objectionable lyrics (it has such a catchy beat that I’m disappointed he didn’t do something better with it so that I could listen to it and not feel icky since it’s part of the work-out mix they play where I work-out).

    I don’t have a daughter but I hate the Disney Princessification of young girls and can’t believe how many of my friends buy into it for their daughters, and worse, them graduating to Monster High, etc.

    What does any celebrity own their following? But, more importantly, why do parents check out, ascribe to, or outsource their girls’ (or boys in the case of equally objectionable content) opinions and perceptions to Disney and/or related fare? I sorta don’t get it,

  8. I have a series of thoughts about the whole thing, but a big chunk of it can be summarized as follows: there’s no depiction of what normal teen/young adult female sexual development should look like. Girls are either innocent virgins or sluts in the media and I’m not comfortable with that, and if we look at young adults in the media, again we have slut, virgin, or wife/mother. None of that leaves room for healthy exploration of sexuality (and here I mean things like kissing and dating and having a romantic relationship, with people of your own age and not creepy older guys). A TV/pop culture career makes this lack of space for being a normal teen even more pronounced – young girls start out playing themselves and then have to keep playing young girls for as long as they can before they are forced into slut/saint/mother roles. Since there’s no middle ground and no privacy for them as teens to explore anything even vaguely normal, there’s often a sharp transition where one day you have Hannah Montana and the next you have Miley at the VMAs doing whatever awful things that was about (haven’t seen it, I’m happy with that choice, it sounds awful and racist to boot). So for me, a lot of the problem is that we don’t let girls grow up in their own time, especially on TV/in the media, and since the majority of girls/parents take their cues about how children of a given age should behave from the media, it perpetuates through peers and we have girls choosing slut or virgin without knowing any other options exist.

    And I really agree with Wordgirl that we (3rd wave feminist women) have conflated being in the spotlight with being in power and that’s absolutely wrong. On stage you have no power at all aside from entrancing and that’s not really power but an illusion created by being blind to the audience’s reactions.

  9. I think back to when I was 20, 21… 25 (okay, I was a slow learner on this) and used my sexuality as power. I feel lucky that the only people I embarrassed myself in front of were at a bar, not the whole country. I think it’s normal for girls to do this on their way to growing up, it’s just too bad Miley did it in this way. At that age, who doesn’t want everyone to want them? To prove they are grown-up enough to do things like this? What bothers me most is that she is being slut-shamed; particularly since it is for a performance she most likely didn’t even design. Women should be allowed to use their sexuality in the same way men are. Should they do it on national TV? No. But neither should men. Or fake stuffed teddy bears, for that matter.

    This is a great post.

  10. Okay, I just had to Google twerking and since I missed the show, I watched the video of her performance. Actually, I found it goofy and kind of what a sorority girl does when she’s drunk. Danced with the same kind of grace as well. OMG, I gotta go wash my eyes out.

  11. I have been sitting here thinking for ages about this post and to summarise my thoughts as briefly as I could. I think the reason I am and was disturbed about her performance is not so much about Miley using sexuality as a weapon but in those few short minutes up on stage you could see in your head slow motion how the next few years are going to play out in her life. I hope that she isn’t another tragic teen star gone terribly wrong. It doesn’t help having super pushy stage parents that want to micro manage your career and the moment you hit of age you do everything you can to rebel.

    I don’t even buy into the whole princess thing. I liked the princess dream when I was a kid – it didn’t mean that I had to shake my bare arse booty on stage to say that I am not a princess now!

    I just hope for her sake that she doesn’t end up a drug addled rehab queen desperately trying to work out who her true friends are and she can be all the crazy stunt pulling woman things she wants to be without having to embarrass herself to get there. Because no one should have to poke their tongue out and gyrate against a man to prove how tough you are.

    As to males wearing a suit whilst a woman nudes up I don’t know if it ever going to change? I hope for both our daughters sakes that it does.

  12. You know, I watched that performance and Miley just looked ridiculous to me. I’m not slut-shaming her — it just wasn’t a good performance, and Madonna and Britney have already done a MUCH better job claiming power in female sexuality, without an undercurrent of embracing pedophilia (teddy bears to undies on a body that looks pre-pubescent. Disturbing on many levels. And it’s HER choosing to sexualize images related to little girls, not Robin Thick).. What bothered me most, though, were the dancers in costumes around her. You should read this article, which says so eloquently what I thought about that element of the performance.


  13. Michell/battynurse

    Great post. You make some very good points and even though the whole thing wasn’t something I enjoyed watching I could look at and acknowledge that she’s an adult woman and being passionate or sexy isn’t necessarily a bad thing although there’s the whole time and place thing. My primary thoughts though when I was watching it? Wow, what do her parents and primarily her dad think of it. I admit to being a long time fan of her dads music (possibly since before she was born which makes me feel really old) and I can’t imagine a parent watching and approving of or liking their daughter doing that in front of millions. Then again maybe I’m wrong and they don’t care or mind. I also did realize that this thought never really occurred to me with other stars such as Madonna, and sort of wonder why I never did.

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