Yesterday’s open letter from Sinéad O’Connor to Miley Cyrus, where Sinéad expresses her concern about Miley’s recent actions… Yeah. Whoa. (If you haven’t yet read it, you can read it here: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/oct/03/sinead-o-connor-open-letter-miley-cyrus ). I know that since the initial letter, there has been Miley’s rebuttal and two additional letters from Sinéad – all of which I have found heinous and offensive. For the purposes of this article, I am addressing Sinéad’s first letter.
So a friend posted Sinéad’s letter on Facebook, which I read and then immediately re-posted, along with the following comment (edited slightly for length):
I do not agree with Sinéad’s letter at all. And here’s why:
Miley is under no “illusions”, nor do I feel she’s being pimped out. She’s 20 years old, has been in the business for years, and knows how it works. I’ve seen and read many an interview with her and it’s clear she knows both full-well the ‘machine’ she is working for and knew exactly what the MTV VMA performance would do. It would garner attention and buzz – and oh hey! it did – perfectly timed with her album dropping. She’s no dummy.
She’s also no different than any other young pop star out there; even the ‘good girl’ types (i.e. Taylor Swift), are selling their own brand of sex via the girl next door image – it may be packaged slightly differently, but it exists. Miley’s just putting it way out there; she knows exactly what she’s doing. Big fucking deal – she reached that weird foam finger between Robin Thicke’s legs and then yes, twerked up against his pinstriped crotch. That was it. Far more provocative things have been done on stage, like simulated sex and masturbation (uh, Madonna anyone?) yet in Madge’s case we applaud and say, “she’s a strong, empowered woman standing up and expressing her sexuality!” The problem people/Sinéad have with this Miley situation is that the world has frozen her in time as Hannah Montana. Well, that’s not Miley’s problem, that’s our problem.
Miley isn’t some confused and naïve victim of manipulation and exploitation. She’s her own woman, and I applaud her for being bold and provoking people (which again, has been Madonna’s modus operandi from day one). And for fuck sakes, seriously – go back and watch that 45 second clip. Now watch pretty much any hip-hop or rap video. Such a double standard it’s ridiculous. I also resent the fact that once again, women are told what NOT to do, and how NOT to act because of the ‘big, scary and dangerous world out there’ (the message being “acting a certain way is like ‘asking for it’ “), instead of bringing up and teaching our boys and young men NOT to be big, scary and dangerous. (The “don’t get raped” versus “DON’T rape” mentality).
But perhaps the biggest problem I have with Sinéad’s letter is its very thinly veiled tone of body/sex/sexuality shaming.
While I knew I’d be opening a can of worms once I re-posted the letter and my comment, and though I was pretty much on my own with my views, I was pleased with the intelligent, opinionated and passionate discussion that ensued.
There were certain things upon which we all agreed. The music/media industry is still very much a male-dominated machine overall, with a very specific agenda that involves making a lot of money. And what helps make money, whether we’re talking about selling records or burgers (oh hai, Carl’s Jr)? S.E.X. It sells, baby, and it’s typically us women doing the selling. Women are objectified and sexualized on the regular by the media through print ads, TV ads, fashion, music and the internet, telling us that we need to ‘be sexier, dress sexier, and act sexier’ if we want to get/achieve “X”, yet when we do, more often than not, we are called out and shamed for it. It’s this fucked up Catch-22 that really chaps my ass.
At Miley’s age we were all navigating our own path through young adulthood, experimenting and expressing ourselves in various ways and exploring our sexuality. I may not have been twerking up against Robin Thicke’s junk when I was 20 years old, but I sure as shit was doing other things to express my sexuality. We watched Christina Aguilera, in her assless chaps, shock the nation as she carved a new path for her career – one that finally felt authentic to her. It’s frustrating that still, a woman expressing her sexuality is seen as having to be coming from a place of low self-esteem, coercion or exploitation.
I refuse to buy into women being viewed collectively as victims. Sinéad’s tone intimates that Miley must be a victim of the music industry’s players, if she is (in her opinion) ‘acting like a prostitute’ on stage and in her videos. While the patriarchal machine does still tick, by refusing to play victim, we take power away from the hand that tries to use it against us, thus empowering ourselves. This starts with education by parenting, not just our young girls, but our young boys as well, teaching them about respect, equality, sexuality and just generally being a good human being. Educating our young girls and women to make informed decisions from a place of strength and self-confidence allows them to strike out and be healthy sexual beings, expressing themselves however feels right for them. I don’t believe that repressing or blaming sex and sexuality for society’s issues is the answer, nor do I feel they’re something to be ashamed of, or shamed for.