Years ago I wrote a song called "I Want It" about being -- ahem-- infatuated on a dance floor. I would perform in spandex costumes, jump into crowds and gyrate. All the while, I loudly and proudly identified as a feminist.
These traits created a perfect storm for male interviewers to pose creepy questions, specifically about being a feminist with a sex life. To me it seemed simple: as a performer I use my body to express myself. Sometimes I want to have sex and sometimes that's a fun thing to sing about. But I overlooked the fact that even though I was a performer, in the eyes of the media, first and foremost I was a woman who has sex.
Sure, I never posted up naked on a wrecking ball in my music video that was watched by a bazillion people. But it became clear to me that because I was a woman performer using my sexuality people were getting riled up. I became more sensitive to how the media and the public fixate on how female artists perform -- especially when it comes to using sexuality as a form of expression. And Sinead O'Connor's open letter to Miley Cyrus sent me into a rage.
As women, and as artists, we are constantly fed mixed messages, trying to walk the thin, precarious line of giving people what they want while fitting into our prescribed roles as desirable yet consumable women. Be strong but don't be a bitch. Be sexy but not too sexual. We want to want you -- but if you walk around naked you will become "prey for animals and less than animals" who will lose control of their animal impulses and devour you -- NOM NOM. Wait, what?
I never anticipated Sinead as capable of slut-shaming. But here we are.
I did not read Sinead's message as one of empowerment. Instead it seemed to reinforce patriarchal ideals of control, placing limits on what kind of nudity is acceptable ("Your body is for you and your boyfriend"). Her response also assumes Miley is devoid of any control in creative decisions and is being "pimped" and "prostituted" -- both words expressed with vitriol and disgust intended to promote feelings of shame. But don't worry it was all "in the spirit of motherliness," so we're cool. Wait, what?
Sinead writes: "Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren't merely objects of desire." While this is a positive, pro-feminist assertion it becomes disturbingly clear when reading her post that Sinead is expressing polarized ideas about sexuality, forcing a choice between two extremes: role model versus naked whore.
As a result, Miley's choice to use her sexuality has categorized her on the far end of the whore-spectrum, completely disintegrating her identity into...naked whore.
I do agree that the music industry continues to be male-dominated, controlled by patriarchal norms and ideals and generally fucked up. It's an industry where "feminist", a term fundamentally rooted in equality, is often viewed as a dangerous and dirty word -- dismissed and avoided.
It is possible (ok, more than likely) that some misogynist industry-types are influencing the trajectory of Miley's career. But let's not dismiss the possibility of Miley having agency in making creative decisions.
Sinead is making the assumption that Miley is not in control. And maybe she's not. But why are we so quick to assume she is a victim and eagerly give her advice on how to shape (or cover) up? Why are we blaming her for sending the wrong message if she is indeed corrupted by the "greedy record executive" and debased by the "spunk-spewing dirtbag"?
My message to Miley: I'm with you, girl! Do your thing. True empowerment comes from being in control of your own decisions. This includes getting naked if you want to because your body is for YOU and however YOU choose to use it.
Some people may not like it -- and who knows, maybe in ten years you may feel weird about some past creative decisions, maybe you will laugh, maybe you be proud and say "hell yeah?" or maybe you will feel a bit of all of these things, because as women, we are capable of feeling and being more than one thing.
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Singer Miley Cyrus arrives at Clive Davis & The Recording Academy's 2013 Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Antonio 'L.A.' Reid at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 9, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: Miley Cyrus poses backstage at the Marc Jacobs Collection Fall 2013 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at New York Armory on February 14, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Singer Miley Cyrus attends the 21st Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party at West Hollywood Park on February 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for EJAF)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Miley Cyrus attends the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Huffington Post)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 19: Miley Cyrus arrives at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 19, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12: Actress/recording artist Miley Cyrus attends the Myspace Event at the El Rey Theatre on June 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - JUNE 29: Miley Cyrus poses at the iHeartRadio Ultimate Pool Party Presented by VISIT FLORIDA at Fontainebleau's BleauLive in Miami on June 29, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 11: Singer Miley Cyrus attends the Teen Choice Awards 2013 at Gibson Amphitheatre on August 11, 2013 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Miley Cyrus attends the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center on August 25, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for MTV)
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