by Johan Clarke
This past summer has seen Miley Cyrus fall into infamy as she tries to pull herself away from her clean image and give herself a new identity. In our Madonna-whore complex obsessed world, this is incredibly difficult for a woman, especially a child star. The question is: has Miley crossed a line this summer or are we as a society just enforcing the patriarchy?
I had problems with her music video for “We Can’t Stop,” but not because of her sexual energy or the weird direction that the music video took. I am fine with someone trying something new, and if Miley wants to go up there and show off her body, we as a society have no right to tell her otherwise. It is her body, and she can do what she likes with it. Society sexualizes her body. Just because she wants to wear less clothing when she dances does not mean she is a slut, though there is nothing wrong with her having as much sex as she wants.
No, my problem with that music video is her cultural appropriation. Amy LaCount put it very well in her article when she said to Miley, “you grew up steeped in white privilege; with your father’s name, you’ve been wealthy your entire life. Because your simultaneous appropriation and stereotypying of black culture is harmful and oppressive. You can twerk and pretend to be ‘ratchet’ but it only lasts for the three minutes and 34 seconds that you’re on screen, and then you can take it all off and live life as the privileged white girl that you are. Other people of color can’t do that. They have to deal with the awful stereotypes, the racism, the discrimination that comes attached to their non-whiteness.” Miley is using this dance not to promote a part of her culture but to “rebel,” which garners much attention and therefore more money. She is selling out something she has no right to sell out because it does not belong to her.
Now Miley has come out with another music video for her latest song “Wrecking Ball,” which is a lot less racist but possibly more risqué. The music video begins with a close-up of just her face and a tear rolling down her cheek, setting the tone for the rest of the video. The song is very personal and about heartbreak, which is even sadder when you think about the constant torment she must get from America’s obsession with knowing everything about celebrities. For her, she does not get to grieve any loss by herself. Her tragedy simultaneously becomes a show that she must tip-toe through as the entire world watches, waiting for any “mistakes”.
This could explain why by the end of the first minute we see her swinging on a giant wrecking ball completely naked. Male sex organ symbolism aside (we will discuss that soon enough), Miley’s naked body could symbolize her nakedness in front of the American public. Any time she has suffered heartbreak, she has had to do it with everyone watching her. Not to mention, in this video, Miley shows off her tan lines, her creases, her tummy, her everything. Nothing seems overtly airbrushed as Miley only hides her nipples and her shoes (she oddly wears a large pair of boots, possibly to protect her feet from the large piles of cement). Her body, like her private life, is out there for your consumption. As I stated earlier, if Miley wants to show off her body, it is her body to show off, not society’s. She can do with it as she likes, and it is not society’s job to sexualize it or demean it.
However, the overt phallic images in this video cannot be ignored. In between nude shots of her hanging from a giant ball, she licks the head of a sledge hammer, something that seems incredibly out of place for a song about heartbreak. If Miley were trying to show her sadness like she was at the beginning of the video, then why does she now sensuously lick the end of a dirty tool? Terry Richardson, the director of the video, has faced much controversy in the past with things like this, notably in his GQ photoshoot with one clothed male and two scantily clothed females from Glee. Could this be a continuation in his misogyny? It does fit with the aesthetic of many of his other works.
Could the fact that this was filmed by a notorious sexist and not by someone trying to promote female positivity hinder its power? Should Miley be allowed to portray her sexuality, empowering white women while not allowing a dialogue for the unfair sexualization and fetishization of women of color who would be scorned much more severely? If Miley fits into the westernized ideal for beauty, will this video harm notions of body positivity and enforce more fat shaming?
This video highlights the difficulties of what it means to be a feminist in this day and age. It is hard to make an opinion and stick to it when there are so many sides and so many different ways to be a woman. At this point in time, there is no right answer, and there may never be a right answer. There is no right way as a feminist to respond to Miley’s sudden character change. The only thing we can do is to start a discussion about it.