Performing female sexuality

You have probably heard about Miley Cyrus performing at the VMA’s today. It has been somewhat controversial to say the least. If you haven’t, you may choose to watch this.

Watching this I found myself embarrassed for her. I don’t think she has been talked into this by someone else – she is 20 years old, 21 in November this year. She is an adult and can make her own choices. I think Robin Thicke is a bit creepy but I did anyway. I am curious why Miley chose this way to express herself but first I think we need to talk about why this performance is problematic.

Karen Healy’s tumblr deals with some of the issues here with links to writers on why Miley’s ‘We can’t stop’ video tries to appropriate ‘blackness’. So it is problematic because it is cultural appropriation and actual black women in the clip are just there as dancers around the main white character (something also pointed out in Miley’s Can’t Stop clip).

I am definitely not an expert on this but I think it is also problematic in the way it defines the black culture it is appropriating as hyper sexualised.

I think it is problematic in the way the woman with the amazing bottom in the striped tights is treated with the focus being entirely on her bottom, which is spanked by Miley after she seems to stick her face a bit too close, then that woman in the stripy tights leaves the stage entirely once that little show is over. We never see her face.

The whole crotch grabbing thing has been done better by Michael Jackson and just quietly I think has had it’s day. But that may be just me. (Get those kids off my lawn).

But I wonder if it is a reaction to being shoe-horned into the good girl Disney princess mould for too long? Is this the one way to rid yourself of that image forever?

If she wants to cavort around like a teenager wearing not much at all more power to her. But the whole thing seemed to be more ‘trying to embarrass Mum and Dad’ rather than showing her raw adult woman sexuality. Miley is apparently good friends with Rihanna, who could give her some pointers in being a strong sexy woman (IMHO), as could any number of other performers. I was left wondering what it is all about. Maybe I am just too old to appreciate this?

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, media

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16 replies

  1. I can’t play the video, but if it is as tacky as these things often are (to me) it would arouse in me an old antipathy to media appropriating, or interceding or usurping a parent, sibling or pal role, as confidante (Ronald Macdonald as “friend”); “wedging” if you like.
    Even though it is symbolic it is calculated and meticulously so, by the techniques for attention employed.
    I think it’s a bit like seeing parents slapped about the face and sent to the corner for wondering if some slickster is encouraging your kid to be a smart ass by employing a seductive but inaccurate mock-sophisticate version. adoration transfers to the star involved and thelifestyle, its not meant consciously at parents out of hatred; they are just obstacles to be neutered while the magnitude of the star’s significance is inscribed in the mind of the young person.
    This has youngsters inculcated into the star/ glitz/ bling/”attitude” consumer culture thing.
    Is it much different to my time, when Jimmy Page was god and you had to buy Levis and stereos and cars and waffle about consciousness, of course?
    The whole kit, to be an esteemed honorary member of the rock fraternity (sorority for young women?), even if you only really wanted was to reestablish pecking order in your peer group by trumping someone on being able to tell if Jimmy played a Gibson or Fender guitar. Much can hang on these things.
    And once you are “inducted” you are inducted body and soul in some cases. Heaps of middle aged people who think they are Linda Ronstadt or Michael Hutchence seem truly conditioned to an illusion.
    It may be just the way of the world in an ethnological sense, perhaps tackiness is a matter of aesthetics, then perhaps again, it’s an unconscious reproduction of mores and behaviour that create outlooks that reproduce the terms of society and the next generation’s socialisation within material culture.
    This regardless of what seems ill or good, rational or absurd and resistant to modification(?)
    It doesn’t matter to the people running media that “black chicks” and dark glamorous and adventurous tropical stuff reinforces old colonialist stereotypes and normalises gross inequality globally, either.
    It’s sexist by the description. a bit of bondage by the sound and sex, “attitude” and sadism are a potent mix.
    I don’t mind attractive women dancing on tell for a few minutes but suspect this thread is more worried about what values it develops in impressionable teenagers as they imagine themselves up there, a big star that even Miley Cyrus is in awe of, probably by virtue of bump and grind.
    In a way its worse than po#n, much po#n is gruesome but this is an image and a promise that is seductive,plays on kids aspirations, but not likely to create realistic expectations or less than a sense of entitlement/ victimhood when the disillusion of starry eyes sets in.
    I suppose, the degree that people believe the dream, is the measure how far conditioning, commodification or sexualisation is a reality and whether people have enough wherewithal to resist something that can turn into too intense a form for them, acting out their conditioning dislocated from safety and reality.

  2. Jody Rosen on Miley’s performance and how it used POC culture for her own ends.

  3. From the Sarah Ditum article: “Hey, everyone’s naked today, Gaga. Next time try blowing my mind by wearing a three-piece suit or something.”
    I have never missed Annie Lennox more than today.

  4. Because I like to imagine that people do actually know what they’re doing (I admit that this is perhaps a presumption too far), I think that this perfomance was intentionally playing with Miley’s reputation for appropriating black culture. She is intentionally trying to do a ‘Beyonce’ or a ‘Rihanna’, but white, so that the awkwardness becomes a sort of a comic rendering of ‘white doing black’. I partly think this because of Robin Thicke, who I think tries to do a similar thing with his ridiculous sexism that is almost but not quite parody – by which I mean, they are intentionally playing that line between realistic presentation and parody, so that the viewer never quite knows where they are situated.
    I think that this is an intentional form of social commentary, but I ultimately believe it is intentionally regressive and conservative. Because it neither instance are they trying to make a statement about the problems with sexism or racism – rather they are trying to make a commentary about the policing of sexism and racism (which is being made light of).

  5. I sense Feminist Avatar is right proposing commercial imperatives and the creation of simulacras.
    I wonder if people are really letting fly their suspicion and resentment at bad faith mass culture and media rather than the pop stars who are its face.

  6. Melissa at Pigtail Pals has just put up a great post about talking to your kids about what they are seeing in a performance like this.

  7. Orlando, that pigtail pals article is fantastic. Thank you.

  8. Pigtail Pals is fair enough.
    This thread begins to follow a similar line to some at No Place For Sheep, that Mindy knows, where sooner or later polarisation can develop between libertarians and more cautious viewpoints as to “expression” and “art”.
    Tacky or not, Miley Cyrus and co will have good alibis as to these and plausible deniability on their side regardless of whether what they do is exploitative and derivative, or not.
    In the end the only people “they” really like censoring are people of the Berthold Brecht type.

  9. We probably don’t have the libertarians that NPFS enjoys. I don’t think Miley and Co care because they got the hits and publicity that they wanted. There are enough people who can’t see the exploitation side, or who are sniggering over the PC crowd worrying about it that it won’t affect Miley or Robin Thicke’s brand for long if at all.

  10. Thanks.
    Actually back with the thought of your thread title, “Performing female sexuality” in mind.
    There is actually a bit of an ethnological turn, it seems to be offering hope in even asking whether groups can and do reappropriate the spaces and means for personal growth and living that the system seems to seek to deny, even to its own.
    Previous generations have survived, perhaps there is something in the human that still remains out side of the grasp of controlling tendencies.
    After all, they’ve had the knitting needle out since Descartes discovered that pesky internal rattle, the “ghost in the machine”.

  11. Ha! Just dug up an article by Hadlee Freeman at the current Grauniad; “Miley Cyrus’ twerking routine was cultural appropriation of the worst kind”, which is another attack on what we could call another bad faith call from the entertainment industry, as good faith is again misappropriated for commercial imperatives.
    I think Freeman follows along similar lines to Mindy’s comments.
    “Where’s the multiculturalism?” she seems to be crying out.
    None of the stuff here or there is a personal attack on Cyrus but it does ask questions as to how oafish the entertainment industry can be.

  12. And finally, an article from today’s Age’s and Craig Mathieson; “Australia’s top role model” throwing up an example for contrast, as to Jennifer Hawkins and “Australia’s next top model” teev show, re “appropriation” getting in the way of any positive message that could be derived of this sort of outing.

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