2013 Uri Schanker
First off, it should be acknowledged that Miley Cyrus deserves props for openly embracing the label ‘feminist’ when many people — especially celebrities — are still wary of doing so. And Miley has, if nothing else, sparked some very interesting conversations about women, pop culture, performative idenitites, and media in 2013. For that, we thank her. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be a little critical.
Recently Miley has been speaking out in interviews, going so far as to declare herself “one of the biggest feminists in the world” because she tells women “to not be scared of anything.” But what Miley may not realize is that she tells women lots of other things too. Of course fearlessness is an admirable quality in any person — male or female — and nobody would deny that such a message works well with a feminist movement, but Miley has also equated her antics on stage and in her videos (many of which involve her being naked or some variation thereof) with women’s empowerment. Sinead O’Connor tried to explain why some of this is problematic in her initial open letter to Miley (which then turned into a Twitter feud, naturally). Miley has done what many women have done, in that she has conflated sexual empowerment or agency with sexual exploitation. Perhaps it’s a thin line, but the difference has to be acknowledged. Many people are working to explore these complexities in modern feminist thought as it relates to pop culture, like the folks who created this video:
Since her unforgettable MTV Video Music Awards performance, Miley has continued to be a walking contradiction (which is partly what makes her so fascinating) — showing up barely dressed and seemingly attention-starved at one event, then classying it up for the next. Joining the Free the Nipple campaign because she’s a feminist (and she thinks all feminists should want to walk around topless), and making out with supermodels and backup dancers all in the name of doing what she wants to do — another ideal that she probably thinks makes her a feminist.
But a big part of feminism has to do with challenging the very notion of “want” as it relates to women. Is Miley doing what she wants to do, or has she just convinced herself that she wants to perpetrate this particular image? And again, her image is complicated and not easily pinned down — something else we might applaud her for — but the reality is that, for the most part, she comes off like a 24-hour publicity tool. Her image as a sexual being is at the forefront of her so-called music career, and that alone almost entirely negates any feminist ideas she might be able to put out there. Which is sad. Miley’s no Beyoncé on the microphone but she’s got enough talent and personality (and sexual appeal too, because — hey — there’s nothing wrong with that!) to be a big deal. One has to hope that, as she matures, so will her definition (and performance) of feminism. She could use a little refresher on the women’s lib movement too, but then again, couldn’t we all?