It's almost become a game — how many things can be blamed on Miley Cyrus? When she went out on her Bangerz tour, mothers — none of whom had apparently been paying attention to what the singer's been up to since Hannah Montana — took to the web to complain about her antics, comparing the stage show to porn and lamenting the fact that their children had been exposed to it. Joe Jonas wrote a tell-all essay for New York Magazine, where he revealed that it was peer-pressure from Cyrus and Demi Lovato that got him to smoke pot for the first time. When she subsequently lit up a joint on stage in Amsterdam, she was labeled out of control. Months after, she caught a ton of flak for her "twerking" at the MTV Video Music Awards, the Internet exploded with rumors that Cyrus was the real reason behind the break-up of Robin Thicke and his wife, Paula Patton.
Now, Katy Perry is taking shots at the singer after Cyrus tried to kiss her at a concert, telling an Australian television show that she backed away from the smooch because, "God knows where that tongue has been." Even something as simple as being photographed using a teleprompter during a concert in Denver — a practice that did not originate with Cyrus — becomes national tabloid fodder. All that's missing at this point is Vladimir Putin issuing a statement saying that Cyrus is the real cause behind the unrest in the Ukraine.
Do a search for Cyrus' name and you'll return a lot of self-righteous posturing about her habit of not wearing clothes and her professed love of marijuana. The problem with all of this is that when you boil it all down, there's absolutely nothing wrong with what Cyrus is doing. In fact, if anything, it's a savvy career move.
Cyrus' image make-over isn't the first of its kind. When Drew Barrymore wanted to be seen as something more than the girl from E.T., she posed for Playboy and flashed David Letterman on national television. Within the music industry, Cyrus still has a ways to go before she tops the dual masters of self-promotion, Madonna and Lady Gaga. Heck, Madonna was kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera years before Cyrus thought of it, and Gaga has been naked (or nearly) so often that it doesn't even register anymore.
So, why does what Cyrus is doing bother so many people? Is it because there's a segment of the audience that feels like they've watched her grow up on her Disney Channel show? Is it because she comes from a country music background with its more "traditional" values and with none other than Dolly Parton as her godmother? Or is it just that even now, people have difficulty with a young woman flaunting her sexuality?
The truth is that as a culture there are continuous mixed messages about female sexuality. Being sexy is valued, but being overtly sexual can go either way. When Jennifer Lawrence goes on Conan and tells a story about sex aides, it gets treated as something cute. If Kim Kardashian does the same thing, the nicest label that gets attached to her is "vapid." Madonna and Gaga are hailed as smart business women for parlaying an image based largely on sex into millions of dollars, but Spears is continuously portrayed disparagingly for doing the same thing. Cyrus was bashed for the tone of her concerts, but mothers routinely take their daughters to Perry's shows that feature skimpy costumes, stripper poles and a variety of accoutrements tied to her breasts. How does any young female performer that's coming up know what's over the line, when the line isn't the same for any two women?
To her credit, Cyrus does not take the criticism without hitting back. When Jonas made his comments, she responded to the New York Times that, "If you want to smoke weed, you're going to smoke weed. There's nothing that two little girls are going to get you to do that you don't want to do." When Perry called her out, she took to Twitter to shoot back about Perry's ex-boyfriend John Mayer, "Girl if ur worried abt where tongues have been good thing ur ex boo is ur EX BOO cause we all know where THAT (tongue) been."
She also has a sense of humor about it, appearing on Saturday Night Live two different times in the fall to make fun of the furor over her behavior. Parton, who was never shy about using her own sexuality to gain notice, has defended her goddaughter as well, telling a London newspaper, "It's not easy being young. You almost have to sacrifice your damn soul to get anything done."
Unlike Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan, Cyrus appears to know exactly what she's doing. If she's to blame for anything, it's for showcasing again the double-standards that get applied to strong, young women.