I was one of five people who didn’t watch Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s twerkfest on the VMA‘s. Having a strict no-engagement policy with celebrity gossip, as well as zero-tolerance for celebrity worship and behavioral dissemination, I simply looked the other way. It took a lot of self-control, but in the weeks following the raunchy dance performance I scrolled through dozens of bloggers’ “open letters” to the young pop princess with nary a second glance. Everybody had put their two cents in, but I remained resolved to keep silent on the issue. What’s it to me if a child-star-turned-sex-kitten decides to revamp her image in the grand tradition of Brittany Spears and other former child stars who put out sex tapes? I maintain low expectations of celebrity behavior, because I don’t look to them for role models.
When Sinéad O’Connor weighed in with a more concerned maternal perspective, and Amanda Palmer got involved with a respectful rebuttal, I finally glanced at the dialogue. After all, when two edgy musical powerhouses feel the need to reach out to young mainstream Miley Cyrus, it seems the shit has hit the proverbial fan. Despite finally reading these missives, I reserved my right to have no opinion on the subject.
However, my radio silence must now be broken, but not because the topic has been thoroughly beaten to death (and it has). The reason?
When Gloria Steinem speaks, I listen. And then I say, “Damn straight!”
A reporter asked Gloria Steinem, spokeswoman for feminists the world over and co-founder of the Women’s Media Center, if she thought Miley Cyrus has been a setback for the feminist movement, and Steinem responded, “You know, I don’t think so.
I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed. But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states, forms […] the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, ‘This is why China wins.’ You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”
Various media outlets have called this the last word on the Miley Cyrus subject, and I certainly hope to never hear her name again after writing this (though that may just be wishful thinking).
As of now, I think we could all learn a valuable lesson from Steinem. The conversation must be steered away from Ms. Cyrus and towards rethinking a woman’s value in society altogether. Why do women feel the need to use their bodies and external beauty to get ahead in the first place?
Unfortunately, I don’t think America is done judging celebrities for their sexual and drug-fueled escapades in favor of having meaningful conversations about harmful cultural ideology. After all, for what do we live, if not to feel morally superior to those who have it all, and laugh at them in our turn?
However, when America is ready have a real conversation about the marginalization of womanhood through sexualization, about the institutionalized sexism of beauty pageants and the damage it does to young women insofar as it raises them to believe they are the sum of their looks, then I’ll be the first one raising my hand.