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.