Miley Cyrus isn't the first pop culture provocateur, but she's cemented her status as one of the most controversial celebrities in recent years. Even those who wouldn't normally discuss her can't resist offering an opinion on the pop star's latest antics. Cultural critic Camille Paglia, for instance, criticized Cyrus for her sexual expression, harshly instructing the young pop star to "go back to school!" The problem with the criticisms from Paglia and others, however, is that they attack Cyrus for her behavior when, in fact, she possesses numerous positive attributes that young girls should emulate. Below are five significant, seldom discussed reasons why Cyrus is a good role model.
Cyrus knows who she is and what she wants, and she won't let anyone stand in her way. With each public appearance, she expresses herself honestly and without restraint. When Matt Lauer of The Today Show asked Cyrus if it was difficult to promote a controversial persona, Cyrus responded by saying "I think it's only hard if you're trying to be something you're not." Her I-don't-give-a... attitude silences her haters and gives her ample room to succeed on her own terms.
She's Comfortable With Her Sexuality
Cyrus' willingness to reveal it all on stage with such ease is empowering for young girls who struggle with body image issues. She encourages everyone to love their bodies, flaws and all, and she practices what she preaches with no regrets.
She's a Smart Businesswoman
At just 21 years old, Cyrus has accomplished a lot. She's learned how to stand out in a competitive, saturated market, and forcefully captures the world's attention with every move she makes. For most people, the success of Hannah Montana would be enough, but for Cyrus, it was just the beginning of an impressive career.
Cyrus doesn't follow trends. Case in point: When other pop stars like Britney Spears and Katy Perry release generic dance singles, Cyrus gives us power ballads like “Wrecking Ball” and “Adore You.”
She's a Philanthropist
Cyrus uses her status and wealth to make a difference in the world, thereby proving that she is more than her controversial star image. Among the charities she's affiliated with are Musicians on Call and Get Ur Good On. What can be better than that?
Pop star Rihanna has named Princess Diana as her biggest fashion influence, labelling the late royal's style "gangsta". The Diamonds hitmaker was dubbed the new Diana earlier this year (13) by U.S. feminist writer Camille Paglia, who claimed the princess and the pop star share a "ravishingly seductive flirtation" with the media.
Rihanna has now revealed the Princess of Wales is her biggest fashion inspiration, telling Glamour magazine, "You know who is the best ever who did it? Princess Diana. She was like, she killed it. Every look was right. She was gangsta (sic) with her clothes. She had these crazy oversized jackets. I loved everything she wore."
Only Anne Hathaway seems capable of inspiring as much ire as Taylor Swift these days. Many seem to have long found her annoying, but it feels like we’re reaching some sort of peak hatred for Swift. (I hope, anyway.) Even Michael J. Fox has snark to spare for her.
In a new Vanity Fair interview, Swift comes out swinging — and she's more than capable of standing up for herself, thanks. She even has some words for Golden Globes hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — who took the jab at her love life that led to Fox’s joke. When asked about Fey and Poehler’s crack that she should stay away from Fox’s son (who was onstage helping with the awards), Swift quoted something Katie Couric once told her: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
As painful as this is, it’s hard to deny: Taylor Swift is right, and the usually impeccably feminist Fey and Poehler are wrong. Or maybe not so much wrong as likely inclined to agree with her that these jokes could use some rethinking, and are, in fact, sexist. As Swift continued, directing her ire at the broader judgy, tabloid culture, “For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated — a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way — that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”
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I hate to tell you this, Ms. Swift, but given those last few statements, you are a feminist — even though you sidestepped the label in a recent interview with The Daily Beast. Feminism isn't just “guys versus girls,” as you put it there. And, if you really feel that "if you [meaning women] work as hard as guys, you can go far in life," you're a femisist, whether you adopt the label or not. Given that she’s still only 22, hopefully she’s in the process of figuring that out.
Despite her eschewing of the feminist label, I can’t help feeling a little defensive of a girl who has managed to keep her wits and intelligence about her through her teen years in the spotlight, and who is a damn good songwriter. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t all be talking about her in the first place.) Yes, she takes her chances by putting her love life out in her songs for public consumption. Being an artist means being vulnerable, and she has nailed that since the beginning of her career.
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Swift has in the process emerged as a confounding creature to many feminists, and thus has ended up the subject of surprisingly vitriolic diatribes from the likes of Camille Paglia and Jezebel. One, these are ridiculous rants against Swift, reflecting far more about the ranters than about the woman herself. What they’re saying is: We don’t think we’d like to hang out with her, and we don’t enjoy her music, therefore she can’t be a feminist like we are.
None of us are perfect feminists. If any of our lives were dissected piece by piece, you could put some parts in the “feminist” column, some parts in the “not,” and I’d hope we’d still be “allowed” to be feminists. Dating back to her teens, Swift has been inspiring little girls to pick up guitars and to write their own truths into song. She has also been perpetuating endless fairy tale, princess-in-distress fantasies through her songs, though I’d argue that that’s her truth. A then-teenage singer/songwriter couldn’t be held responsible for reflecting what her culture had taught her. And incidentally, her newer songs, like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were in Trouble” drop the Prince Charming delusions.
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For me, she lands squarely in the feminist camp — whether she embraces that word or not — when she says this to Vanity Fair: “There’s a lesson in all this, in knowing that you can live your life in a way that you’re proud of and people are still gonna take shots.” Hopefully, she’ll keep doing just that, and growing.
Hollywood.com correspondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of two forthcoming books, Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. For more information visit JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong
[Photo Credit: Vanity Fair]
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Part Rocky Horror Picture Show part Velvet Goldmine part Tommy Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of Hedwig née Hansel (John Cameron Mitchell) a transsexual transvestite wannabe rock star whose botched sex change operation left him/her with only an "angry inch." As she tours the pit stops of America with her Eastern Block band "the Angry Inch " Hedwig's search for fame success and fulfillment with another eventually becomes a search for wholeness within herself. That's the easy version. But to tell the truth Hollywood doesn't have a label for this intricate film. It's a fun movie about rock stars and drag queens but it's also a finely tuned look at gender and its impact on human experience. It's a musical. It's a journey. It's a destination. It's David Bowie meets Iggy Pop meets Camille Paglia at a midnight showing of Rocky Horror. It's falling walls and building bridges. "Listen " Hedwig sings "There ain't much of a difference/between a bridge and a wall/Without me right in the middle babe/you would be nothing at all."
Mitchell who wrote directed and starred in both the film version and the hit off-Broadway play captivates in the title role creating a perfect blend of rock star and star-crossed lover in his beautiful complex Hedwig. The chemistry between Hedwig and the object of her affection her protégé Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt)--who steals her music and leaves her to become a rock god--is a sight to behold. Pitt's turn as a Jesus freak-turned-punk rock star is believable if a bit stilted. Andrea Martin as Hedwig's agent Phyllis Stein plays the only "straight" speaking part in both the comedic and the sexual senses. Completely absent from the off-Broadway play except in voiceovers Stein might have been better left out of the movie version as well; the subtlety of her straightness is lost on the big screen. Though Martin makes a valiant effort the character is flat in the midst of this cacophony of music and gender. The big surprise in the film is Miriam Shor's finely tuned performance as Yitzhak Hedwig's "husband" with a voice like a Welsh choirboy and an alternating fixation with Hedwig women's clothing and Rent.
Mitchell does a fantastic job of translating both character and story from the stage onto the big screen. His script draws universal lessons in humanity from a very specific and uncommon situation turning Hedwig's quest into a question: Can she can anybody ever really be whole? Or does Hedwig's "angry inch " merely manifest the fundamental divide in human experience? Can the wall between East and West Berlin between man and woman between me and you become a bridge? Tommy may be singing Hedwig's songs at Madison Square Garden while she's playing dive bars but are they really all that different? The questions are asked answered and asked again in a different way in Stephen Trask's music and lyrics a crucial element in the film. If the movie shows us Hedwig's search for her other half the music tells her story from her childhood in East Berlin to the "defining" moment on the doctor's slab to her love for Tommy and her final self-acceptance in an operatic finale. Animated sequences further illustrate what could have been an obscure examination of gender flux creating a mythos around Hedwig's sexuality. Flashbacks tell the tale of Hedwig's life in East Berlin before the Berlin Wall fell and reveal just how she became the rock star hopeful she is in the present.