[Part 1 of 2. Maybe]
Quite a few years ago, it was as a young mum with a pre-school daughter when I found myself first finding feminism. As I came to understand what I thought feminism meant, I saw myself as a someone who advocated for equal rights. I had, after all, a daughter; a vested interest in the future. I studied history and that gave me hope for a better future, one where equal rights ensured equal opportunities and equal access to jobs, resources, information, etc. Equal for all, not just women. Pretty simple. Or so I thought.
One night, we were entertaining friends, another young couple. We were sitting around watching music videos, drinking beer, talking when a video came on – I Touch Myself, by the Divinyls. At first I was shocked, and then I felt strangely pleased. I thought it was a brave expression of female sexuality, certainly the first time that I had heard a woman sing so openly about masturbation and it was so beautifully rendered. I cheered its feminist content. I felt we had come a long way, baby. Then my friend asked me: “Would you like your daughter singing it?”
That gave me pause for thought. Would I?
The idea of my pre-schooler singing about touching herself whenever she thinks about you was just a little creepy. That was a gut reaction. A firm voice inside me said, No. But I hmmm’d… to my friend and said something about empowering female sexuality but I turned the volume down. Good thing my daughter was in bed at the time. It’s not hard when you have small kids: they come first. No, I didn’t think it was age appropriate. My listening habits changed.
It was years until I heard the song again, on YouTube. The girls, I had had another by then, had already left home. It wasn’t intentional, ignoring the song. Songs come and go. I wasn’t about to make it an anthem. Although over the years it came to mind from time to time.
La la la la Lola
La la la la Lola
La la la la Lola
I’m a man of a man and so is Lola
I was 10 in 1970 when the The Kinks released Lola. The radio was always on at home, background noise. I had my own little radio that I used to listen to as I fell asleep at night. I loved listening to music and I sang along to all the songs I knew, whether I had any idea of what they were singing about or not. I wonder what my mother thought as I sang my heart out to the chorus of Lola as I cleaned the bathroom. I remember being perplexed about the last line, was I really hearing what the song was singing: that a man was dressed as a woman, and this guy singing liked her. If it were true, what did that mean? I didn’t ask my mother. No reason why, I just didn’t think she’d know. Funny what we think when we’re kids. I just kept singing.
Cut to 2013.
Everyone, it seems, has something to say about Miley Cyrus’ performance on the 2013 Video Music Awards, hosted by MTV. I’m not going to list them, you can find them easily enough. Lauren Duca, writing at the Huffington Post posted a clever summary. Most of the loudest vitriol comes from parents (older people) and women outraged over her overt sexuality and booty grinding on Robin Thicke, her co-crooner in their rendition of that clever little rapey song he wrote and which is now sitting at number one in America.
I haven’t had cable for some time; I don’t know what the last award show was that I watched. But I remember a time when I looked forward to them with anticipation, a chance to see my favourite stars and musicians, oogle the dresses and “connect” in real time, them in their seats me in mine. A time when I was young. And impressionable.
Nowadays I like to check-in online the next day. I still oogle pictures of the stars, check out who one what, lust after the outfits. It’s very decadent and I revel in it. It’s “rock and roll”, no? Or the Oscars, or Grammy’s.
I didn’t have to wait long on Monday, the day after the VMAs, to hear the scoop. Miley made the news before I opened my eyes; the whole hedonistic event was described by the radio announcer in raunchy morning DJ detail. Lovely.
Shock and awe hit America.
Twitter went nuts during the event, pushing the service to record tweets. The reaction of some audience members was underwhelming. However, the response of the American public the next morning was ballistic. Mika Brezenski, of MSNBC’s Morning Joe said what a lot of people must have thought. Brooke Shields wondered where she went wrong. Brooke played Hannah Montana’s mom occasionally on the Disney series. Miley played Hannah.
As a precocious child star, Cyrus charmed the tween set as Hannah Montana and her fans grew to legion-like proportion. Made her a millionaire, it did. Disney’s marketing machine took her around the world, and her fans followed. Alas, in the fictional world of make-believe characters, aging is rarely worked into the story line. In the parlance of the business, she aged out of her role.
How to find a new one?
Morphing from a child star to a adult one is a delicate business. Not everyone can do it effectively. Children who try to grow up too fast can die young, whether rock stars or street youth. Given the freedom to act independently, with seemingly endless resources, at a time when you’re pretty selfish and focused on yourself and your own desires, as the youth are known to be, can be disastrous. Ask Lynne Spears or Patty Beiber. Or Billy Ray Cyrus, although as a parent, all you can really do is offer support. And if you’re truthful and of a certain age, you know because you were there once too. Ask your parents.
Cyrus’ behavior as she pushed the boundaries has come under the microscope particularly because of her young fan base carried over from her Disney days. Her fans have grown up around her and those young girls are not 12 anymore. They’re 18 or 19. I’m sure she wants to be considered relevant as her peers experiment with sexting, drugs and the brave new world that is the internet. She has been a prolific tweeter, getting in trouble with inappropriate tweets on a couple of occasions. To her critics, Cyrus has taken the tact to respond a la Rihanna that she didn’t sign up for the job as role model and she can do what she wants.
It’s our party and we can do what we want to
Dancing with molly
We can do whatever we want
We run things
Things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody
Trying to get a line in the bathroom
It’s my mouth and I can say what I want to
Choice lines from her latest song: We Can’t Stop
Yup. No argument there. You can do and say and be whatever you want to. But with behavior comes consequences, for everyone. Sure – it’s your party – until the cops come and shut you down for noise restrictions. You can do what you want to, as long as you don’t break the laws that everyone has agreed to. You can say whatever you want, but expect others to say whatever they want back.
The sentiment behind We Can’t Stop is admirable and reminiscent of the Beastie Boys’ (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party). An anthem for a generation. Too bad it isn’t a better song, but it’s not my generation. Meh.
But it wasn’t her weird teddy bear get up that got tags wagging, or the way she strode all over the stage in mimic of dance moves. It was her duet with Robin Thicke-Dick in his rapey song Blurred Lines. Where he stood still in a black and white striped suit while she stripped off her teddy bear fur and pranced around with a foam finger in a manner that can only be described as lewd, if we go with the Oxford Definition of lewd as “crude and offensive in a sexual way”, although people have been quite colourful in their criticism. Even the foam finger people are offended.
The criticism comes from two camps. The first response was to her lewd and lascivious ways on the stage, which was fairly obvious, by the slut-shamers. This response was predicable. But another critique is rising to the top regarding her appropriation of black culture, to which “twerking” belongs. Not to diminish the cultural appropriation aspect, but twerking is one thing. Grinding your ass into Thicke’s dick during a prime time show and grabbing your crotch with a foam finger is something just a little different. Just a little.
Which brings me to a real dilemma: how is it that any criticism of a woman’s sexual behaviour is considered slut-shaming?
Consider: We kinda want men to get shamed for their doggish ways, don’t we – we women, I’m talking to. Don’t we? Do we really look up to the guy who just wants to fuck around? Who grinds on you on the dance floor? Who grabs your breasts every time he passes by? We want men who encounter men who act in doggish ways to raise the bar a little, don’t we, call them on their shit? Not be our “protectors” but allies in the fight for equal respect etc. etc.
Then why can’t we – and I mean we women – say anything about the sexual behavior of women? Especially when it’s become so disturbing on the public stage. There’s a one-upwomanship going on with who can bare the most skin, flash the most boob. And we’re all ok with that? I don’t see that happening with the men. It seems to me that young female stars have completely bought into the objectification of women as a tool for their own empowerment. And they’re good with that. It pays for the Maybach, I guess.
And no, I wouldn’t want my daughter to act that way. Nor do I want my grandson coming to think that it’s “normal” for girls to grind on him, or him on them. I’m not up for the pornification of North American culture. Save it for the strip club.
When Michael Jackson grabbed his crotch there was a collective “what was that?” that went up. Shock to be sure. Did he have to go to the bathroom? But because it was the great MJ somehow that became de rigeur for rock stars to do. Ummm… Ok. Relevance? To anything?
Personally I felt saddened by the display. Just like I feel saddened that young stars who are clearly talented are pressured by their career choreographers to dance to the tune of debauchery rather than their natural talent. Sex is a very common denominator; to play the sex card is to show little imagination. But there it is, everywhere.
I also felt disappointment in how off-base the message of female empowerment has become. Is this the message that young women are taking away from the fight for equal rights? Is this the behavior of empowered young women? To behave like men? Although I don’t know, he just stood there, she did all the work. Seems same old, same old to me.
So many people have stated: if it had been a man, the blowback wouldn’t have been so severe. To that I say: too bad. No one needs to watch, without warning and a chance to change the channel, what should be either bedroom behaviour or found at a strip club. I have no problem with strong female sexuality, but Cyrus’ performance smacked more of corporate exploitation masking as freedom of choice. I don’t blame her, she’s just a young girl with an image to shed and another to take on. It’s those around her who thought this was a good idea, for either her career or the unsuspecting audience.
Cyrus will bounce back, she’s a talented woman, the young are resilient, she has family that love her and she will be stronger for running the gauntlet.
Blurred lines indeed.
Next: Thicke’s (a) Dick