(NSFW, slightly, if you care… I do not. I am angry. This is catharsis as per usual.)
A something happens to force your head firmly into a tight grasp of your hands, fingers pressing down on temples, your hair tightly stretched back, symbolic perhaps of your mind reaching its outer limits as it tries to understand things complex and infuriating and persistent. Events play out before our eyes and as we try to process these things for ourselves, but others beat us to the concluding thought and feign to make up our minds for us. Media conglomerates urge us to step in line, giving few facts but myriad end points.
This past weekend, a woman performed on television and she was kind of a trainwreck but whatever, MTV is known for trainwrecks. But the woman was wearing underwear and little else and she danced sexually and grinded up on on a male singer, one who incidentally has a hit single about a woman being an animal…. so, as we have before, we have shifted to a grand gesture of sanctimony and protecting “THE CHILDREN” and we do it in such a unanimous, quick way, via twitter and cable news and the like, that we never stop to breathe in the complexity and the contours of what it is we actually saw and why it is that our first inclination is to call Miley Cyrus a whore for what she did on television over the course of a few brief minutes.
This is the same storyline we’ve seen before. Woman gets overtly sexual to make a point about art or culture or just to have fun – GASP – and suddenly she has to account for her behavior in a way that a man, frankly, rarely does. Fuck, I hate Miley Cyrus – her music is terrible, for one – but shouldn’t she be able to perform like that without having to answer to an army of angry moms and dads and news anchors and internet commentators who have nothing to say about her music being bad but everything to say about how she’s being a bad example?
How exactly is she being a bad example, generally? Is it making millions before she’s even 18? Or having a career that she can shape with her own choices and in doing so explore her identity in a way that the rest of us simply never will?
We’re willing to accept a lot as a culture … gun deaths and national debt and crippling urban poverty and acquaintance rape and men who write songs about subjecting a woman to his sexual will… but dancing in underwear and making a mockery of the sexual culture which we allow to persist on TV, that somehow crosses the line.
Because she’s a woman. Don’t bother arguing. Don’t put up some objections as to her gender being the biggest reason that her career has specific, preordained limits and that we’re talking about her performance making Robin Thicke’s wife embarrassed rather than a Robin Thicke hit that likens a woman to some anthropomophized beast, asking her to accept that the man she is with won’t “make her,” (because a woman’s self is dependent on being made by a man, duh), and asking her allow him to liberate her… with his dick, probably.
This is the kind of music we accept. Miley’s crime, perhaps, was not playing her part sexy enough.
A female performer has to be able to – she fucking has to – be allowed to take chances with her art, such as it is; to take chances by playing the part weird or freaky or outside the preordained limits within which we would prefer to exist. She has to be able to do it without being held to account in this way; without a million people calling her a slut for what she did during a fraction of her weekend.
This kind of paradigm has played itself out before, publicly – Janet or Marilyn or Rihanna or Madonna or Tori … women who from time to time are sexual in their art, just like we prefer them, right?, but who from time to time crossed that ever vague line into unacceptable. What happened after we saw Janet’s breast? Where did her career go? And then, inevitably, where did Timberlake go?
Can we find a place where we can dislike what a woman does with her sexuality without, as the only publicly acceptable response, putting her in a place where she’s a whore or an animal or dirty, and instead just accept that it wasn’t our cup of tea but that doesn’t mean she isn’t still a fucking person. Not a whore. Not a slut. Not a skank. A woman, simply.
We have to do better with this stuff. More patient, more discerning, more forgiving and more accepting. Maybe a performance like Miley’s isn’t acceptable. But maybe it’s simply because it was bad, but not that Ms. Cyrus, in any fundamental way, is.