Bad pop doesn’t interest me. Dumb performances on MTV that are another cookie cutter-ed shape made of the same old “it’s your job to be pretty and sexy” mold bore me. When Sinead O’Connor got involved in the controversy over Miley Cyrus this week, it peaked my interest, and I took notice, because we all know she’ll tell it like it is.
In case you’ve missed it, in short, Miley Cyrus is creating a pretty consistent over-sexualized image of herself that involves a lot of tongue, few clothes, “twerking” on Robin Thicke, beer can penis simulators, riding a wrecking ball and giving a sledge hammer a blow job. Basically, her new video is soft porn and is getting a strong reaction, particularly from Sinead, and in my opinion, Miley looks pretty sad-eyed in most of her photographs. She’s a young woman who didn’t get to be a girl on her own terms. Another Michael Jackson, except her socialization as a female is different. All girls learn that it’s their job to be pretty and sexy and Miley is playing it right out of the book.
Sinead chose to focus on the idea that the music industry is trying to make Miley into something she is not, but, as Amanda Palmer wrote in her eloquent and smart response to Sinead, Miley IS the architect of her own image.
Here’s what I find interesting and important about this whole thing, and the place where some dialogue could be very productive. There is no real sincerity. I have no idea what Miley cares about and as a result, I don’t really care about her, like any character in any narrative. She doesn’t draw me in and that’s because there is an unintelligible space in her self-expression that doesn’t connect. I can look at her and think she’s beautiful or has a nice body, which I think she thinks and wants her viewers to think. But I don’t get drawn in. Because I don’t feel her agency.
And she’s 20. Few women have really stepped into their own agency at that age. Many women never do. She is exploring her sexuality and trying to figure out who she is–a normal adolescent task we all must go through–only she is doing it fully in the public eye. And she’s always been in that public eye and therefore needs the approval of others on a very deep level in order to maintain her own self-image.
What I’d love to see are more women who are self-possessed in their own bodies and sexuality, who really own who they are, don’t give a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks and who express themselves authentically. When a woman does that, she is deeply beautiful from the inside out and that radiance really does draw people in. It’s powerful. Maybe Miley will find her way there one day. For now, she’s searching and experimenting like anyone else her age.
There is a difference between someone who is authentically self-possessed and one who is just creating an image to be viewed, almost like a cardboard doll. The untrained eye will have a difficult time distinguishing the difference. There is a literacy that comes with exploration, experience, critical analysis, and actual empowerment. A woman who has stepped into her own sexual agency and chooses not to be the victim, knows the difference. So many people will miss this part entirely.
Empowerment must include total agency. Victimization, by nature, does not. Sinead sees Miley as a victim, but Miley doesn’t see herself that way. Is she a victim? If so, of what? By whom? Herself or others?
A woman who is the agent over her own body, choices and sexuality is powerful. And no, we don’t have many such role models. I know Sinead wants Miley to be that. She wanted to be that and was in many ways. And both of them fall short on some level because anyone who is put up on a pedestal (as all stars are) will eventually fall.
So who are the the role models for young women? Who are the powerful women who are fully present in their sexuality, who authentically express their art, beauty and sexiness, own their desire and are unafraid to express it? They are not abundant. But they are there. Start with Amanda Palmer.