Sinead O'Connor's letter to Miley Cyrus about Miley's "Wrecking Ball" video, widely publicized yesterday, pushed me over the edge. I have been biting my tongue over the "Blurred Lines" song and especially video, its "feminist" parody, and the controversy surrounding it regarding whether or not it's a "rape song." I have held my breath about Miley's twerking, a popular parody of twerking,and over what it's like to be raising a teenaged daughter, as well as a man-child, among all of this madness. But as a radically liberal, sex-positive feminist, I cannot sit on my hands anymore. This post is writing itself.
And I'm going to start way, way back.
In college, I authored a thesis titled "Stronger and Thus Saner: The Athleticization of Women in Late-Nineteenth Century America." Too long to sum up in a blog post, the thesis examined the premise of women's physical education's and sports' rise due to male doctors' desires to control women's reproductive systems and, in part, the related affliction of "hysteria" -- an afflication that infallibly beset anyone with a uterus. Doctors like Dudley Sargent suggested that if women lazed around a little less and exercised a little more, they would become better mothers to the future race (yes, it just smacks of eugenics, doesn't it...), stronger, and less hysterical -- or more sane.
Well, if that's the case, the way Miley twerks, she must be the sanest woman on the planet, right? I mean, that is *work.* Have you twerked? I have. I actually took a twerking *lesson,* and no, I am not kidding. It's kind of like bellydancing: constant, exhausting motion. That Miley is one. fit. chic. to twerk like that. My hat is off.
(Yes, I did just move from the scholarly into the sarcastic, and that is kind of purposeful to set the tone of this whole piece. Bear with me. Like a Louis C.K. routine, this piece will give you a takeaway that'll make you say "hmm" -- I hope.)
Say what? Miley is nude and licking a sledgehammer and gyrating wildly -- and Sinead thinks that this is because record company execs are "prostituting" her? This is not Miley's natural way? She doesn't move like that to get fit and sane? She does it for -- gulp -- men's attention? or to make men money? Sound the alarm! Feminists, take up your placards and March on Washington! A twenty year-old is naked and trying to get some attention from men! Except ... that has happened since, oh, the beginning of time ... and most of the most negative attention is coming from ... women.
I have so many problems with this on so many levels. I mean, in her time, Marilyn Monroe was too sexy, too, and she wasn't naked and licking and twerking and twenty. But beyond that, I had an experience lately that made me think twice about this male-exploitation model. (You knew this was coming.) I spent a week at Burning Man, where "sex positive" culture rules the nights and days. Women twerked with other women at Slutgarden. Men twerked with other men at Glamcocks. Gay, straight, whatever, there were a whole lot of naked and nearly-naked people twerking and writhing and bumping and grinding, and there were no record company execs present. Nothing was to be gained from being half-naked in the desert; there were no dollars to be made. No one was worried for the future of our daughters. People weren't worried about "Blurred Lines" (more on that in a sec). We danced until the sun came up, and we owned our bodies and what we did with them. We were confident and, yes, sexual, beings who drew the attention we sought and rejected what we didn't want. It was a fantastic place to learn where to draw one's lines. I fear more for a world in we try to censor that which teaches us boundaries -- one in which there is no twerking and worse, no conversation about it. So really, I welcomed Sinead's letter. It's a conversation I've already had with my own daughter time and time again. Maybe more parents will have it now.
But I'm of the ilk that the twerking shouldn't stop, nor should videos like "Wrecking Ball." Why? Well, what is our end-game here? What is our goal? Is it to stop the hypersexualizing of teenagers? Or is it to realize the freedom that comes from acceptance that we're all sexual human beings who will act accordingly -- and that liberation comes from owning that sexuality, being empowered by it, and dancing however the hell we want to dance? Other cultures have figured this out. Being naked on TV in France is no thing. And last I checked, their kids aren't having sex earlier than ours, or having more unwanted pregnancies. What do we really fear, here?
That leads me to the concept of liberation as part of the controversy around Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," the chorus of which repeats "I know you want it, I know you want it." It's a man singing to a woman and the song invokes the concept of liberation: "OK now he was close, try to domesticate you, but you're an animal, baby it's in your nature, just let me liberate you..." And there are many more lines in the song that are as double-entendre-rich as those. What is Thicke *really* singing? Is he being pushy? Is he suggesting that he doesn't take "no" for an answer, or that he knows what the woman he's singing to wants? The fact of the matter is that *she* isn't represented in the song. He's singing it. And it's called, get this: "Blurred Lines." We're not supposed to know. It's walking *that line.* It's making *that point.* It's friggin' ingenious. And I play it in my car, and I sing along, and God, I love to dance to it -- and I am not offended by it. I do not think that hearing it will make my son think that women "want it" or my daughter think that a man knows what she wants. For it is a song, and it is art. We are not supposed to take it literally.
I know: whoa. The hate mail, it's going to come flying. Friends will disagree on Facebook, and I'll get some PMs and some VMs and some tsk-tsks. And Imma make it worse right now.
I look around me, and I am surrounded by a whole lot of very rich, very beautiful women, because I live in Silicon Valley where we have enough in the bank for Botox and new breasts when ours get saggy. We wear Lululemon and drive Cayennes, and we go Paleo and dye our hair. This is not Portland. This might as well be LA.
I am far more worried about what our daughters see us eat -- or, more importantly, NOT eat -- every day, about how they see us diet, about how they hear of our botox and surgeons and attire and Miracle bras -- than I am about Miley Cyrus twerking. I am far more concerned about how we mothers are fighting the aging process, dying our hair and still dressing like teenagers. And don't even get me started on their fathers and what example *they* set in their interactions with women, from their wives to their waitresses to the people they seat that the table in their boardrooms (for it is mostly men staffing those still). And no, I'm not being funny. There's nothing funny about this scene.
And yes, we can say that Miley is no role model, but hey -- are we? are our friends? And plus, who says that celebrities are supposed to be role models anyway? And how many of us freaking out about Miley Cyrus on Facebook have posted about the Kardashians or the Real Housewives in the past week? or have a People magazine lying around? or watched Madonna's "Like a Virgin" video the very moment it debuted on MTV and didn't end up going right out and getting sexually "ruined" - ? We can't have it both ways, moms-of-the-world. If we're going to preach, change starts with us, and with the media that our daughters see us consuming, and with keeping it real -- and/or, we need to teach them to see it all as entertainment, use these things as a way to start good conversations, and aim to get to a point where a video like "Wrecking Ball" just isn't a thing.
So here's the role I choose to play for my kids: self-confidence. Self-acceptance. Comfort in my own skin. I make a point of making healthy eating choices, and of exercising for health -- things I try to role model for my kids. So how do I model for them, when they're old enough (and/or as they're growing old enough) that I think it's okay to be a sexual being -- that sex isn't dirty or bad or wrong, and that women can want it just as much as men? that women can feel sexy and powerful while clothed in a boardroom or while naked and riding a wrecking ball? that men can play a role in women's sexual liberation by calling out those "blurred lines" and playing with the notions of dominance and submission, roles that really shouldn't be just in Fifty Shades books but, rather, are part of any healthy, adult sexual exploration? Is there any discourse over this to be had with kids? I think there is, when they hit whatever the 'right' age is in your home, for I sure don't want them learning only from other teens or from MTV -- and, as far as I can tell, these conversations just aren't happening.
I think it's time that we rip this band-aid off, and that maybe Miley has actually done it. I am ready for women to own our sexuality, for us to say: it's actually not just about pleasing men. Maybe we get naked and ride wrecking balls because we like it. Maybe we twerk because we want to. Maybe it's high time that we stop freaking out because someday, our daughters are going to have sex. Maybe instead, we try to set a tone such that when they do get there, it is as much about their own pleasure as it is about the traditional role of man-pleasing -- a role that, I fear, Sinead O'Connor folded right into with her letter. I don't think Miley's video is about men at all. I think it is about women becoming fearless with our sexuality, wrecking a dated notion of sex and power.
And I kind of feel that if we started looking at it that way, then we can stop freaking out about sex and start focusing on things that really matter, like the fact that women are still making 77 cents to the dollar. There sure is *nothing* sexy about that.
P.S. Amanda Palmer wrote a letter to Sinead today in response to Sinead's letter to Miley. Sure, we can all roll our eyes that Amanda has thrown herself into the discussion -- but her letter is a bit more aligned with mine than much of the current debate, so I encourage you to read it.