Miley Cyrus, love her or hate her, has risen to occupy a cult status in popular culture in recent years. Things she’s done on stage: ridden hot dogs, fellated blow up dolls, smoked a doobie and grinded up against Robin Thicke.
Viewed as something of a joke for her scandalously headline-grabbing stunts, she has being publicly vilified as an attention-whore, a real whore and devoid of any musical credibility at all. But beneath the scathing veneer of judgement we the public have so easily imparted on her, is there actually something more to Cyrus’ actions than pure showmanship?
Her most recent comments to catch fire were the surprisingly logical ones about rapper Kendrick Lamar. In an interview with Marie Claire, Cyrus said that: “There is so much sexism, ageism, you name it. Kendrick Lamar sings about LSD and he’s cool. I do it and I’m a druggie whore.”
And these aren’t the only comments Cyrus made about the hypocrisy she faces in the music industry. “I don’t get the violence-revenge thing,” she said of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood video. “That’s supposed to be a good example? And I’m a bad role model because I’m running around with my titties out? I’m not sure how titties are worse than guns.”
Yes, the barrage of criticism Cyrus has faced on the topics of her highly sexualised image has been enormous. She is held up by anxious parents and watchdog groups everywhere as an example of everything that is going wrong with young women and their unchecked sexuality. She is corrupting the minds of the young and teaching women to devalue themselves by flaunting their flesh. et cetera.
Perhaps instead of Cyrus being the cause of everything wrong with today’s youth culture, she’s just a symptom of it? Attitudes towards sexual mores have been loosening for decades, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
When we try to control women by restricting their right to express themselves sexuality, we limit their freedom in one of the most fundamental ways possible. The Madonna-whore complex has been wrecking havoc for too long, shaming women for the desire to be seen as sexual, not just sexy, to exert sexual agency in their lives, their choices and with their partners.
Cyrus is at the forefront of this new shift in attitudes, choosing to represent the values and ideals reflected in modern women. Her unabashed ownership of her sexuality and refusal to apologise for flouting it should be celebrated, not condemned.
However, the remnants of our slut-shaming culture still likes to rear its ugly head whenever a strong independent woman tries to express herself in the public sphere. When Nicki Minaj had the audacity to call our the whitewashing of the VMA nominations, white apologists everywhere took to stands to defend the choice on the basis of ‘merit’.
If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year 😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊😊
— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) July 21, 2015
Even Taylor Swift got involved, replying to Minaj on Twitter with:
@NICKIMINAJ I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) July 21, 2015
The condescending tone of Swift’s retort completely missed the point of Minaj’s outrage, making it about herself, while masquerading under the white flag of feminism. When Minaj speaks out about racism in the industry, she is condemned. When a fellow male rapper counterpart does the exact same thing, such as Killer Mike from Run The Jewels, he is applauded.
Women just don’t have the same allowances in the public sphere to openly express themselves as men do. And this is why female performers like Cyrus and Minaj are so important in the fight to break these barriers down for other women.
Cyrus’ openness when it comes to her sexuality is born out of a desire to be herself and exert sexual agency, rather than necessarily, and certainly not exclusively, to cater to the male gaze. It is assertive, rather than passive, and this is why people find it so confronting. She’s not wearing nipple pasties and posing naked with a pig for your wank-bank, she’s doing it for herself and making a very political statement simultaneously.
Cyrus is very aware of her position within the public eye. Her Instagram account is awash with a series of bizarre and self-deprecating edits, often containing nudity, her photoshoots are both provocative and tongue-in-cheek and her comments are intelligent and well timed. She may not be perfect most of the time (her use of black women’s bodies as stage props for her 2013 VMA performance wasn’t a smart move) but she possesses a self-awareness of someone much wiser in years than her tender 22 years.
Speaking of her gender fluidity in the same Marie Claire interview, Cyrus said: “They want to judge me. People need more conventional role models, I guess. But I just don’t care to be that person.”
And she’s exactly that: an unconventional role model for the new age. The feminist icon you never thought you needed until now.