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Looking for Women Representation in HBO’s Newest Series

21 Jan

by Johan Clarke

The new series Looking premiered on HBO this past Sunday, opening with a jab at the “cruising” trope as one of the main characters, played by Jonathan Groff, awkwardly tries it  just for fun. From there, the show begins to look at his failures in the dating world, showing fairly honest portrayals of the lives of gay males in a fairly liberal American city. The show seems like it wants to destroy certain images about the gay community, and in some regards, it does.

To a certain extent, it does better than many other shows that have tried to do the same thing by having characters that are not just white. One of the main three characters in the show is Latino, but the show does not necessarily define him by his background. He and the other Latino character are not exotified (yet), but they keep their identities and are not wholly white-washed.

This representation is nice to see, but some of the creator’s comments on it have been less than ideal. In response to certain concerns that the show would be as lacking in diversity as Girls, which plays on HBO right before Looking, creator Andrew Haigh commented, “We have two very prominent Latin characters. We have an African-American character. We have an Asian-American character, so I think we are dealing with different ethnicities. There’s always a limit to what you can put in a half-hour show and we’ve never tried to represent the whole of the LGBT community because it’s an enormous community made up of lots of different elements. All we can really do is try and tell a story about our characters.” The comments sound similar to many other responses in the past from shows with lack of diversity. They have every right to tell a story about their characters, and as of now they do tell stories about the queer people of color fairly honestly. However, the beginning of his comment is akin to the “I have black friends” argument many people with white-savior complexes tend to use to say or do things they really shouldn’t be doing.

The problem is that they could have these characters, they just choose not to. At the moment, there are no characters on the show who identify as bisexual or pansexual, though Dom, one of the main characters, alluded to a girlfriend in the past, though it was done more as a joke. There are also no trans* characters on the show, furthering trans*-erasure in media. And they also have no lesbians in the show.

In fact, in the entire thirty minutes of the first episode, only one woman had a somewhat significant speaking role (there was one other woman, Augustín’s artist boss, who had a total of about three lines and was on screen for less than half a minute). The show does not even pass the first criterion on the Bechdel test. In a scene at a wedding ceremony, there is a shot of the guests, and the crowd looks uncomfortably masculine. The only female character is Dom’s long-ago ex, who is shown for about a minute as she gives him dating advice in a fierce, almost sassy manner. The only reason she is on screen is because she is a support for the male character to not make a bad decision, treading dangerously close to the rather sexist “fag hag” trope.

Some people may argue that the show is about gay men, so why would there be women? If the show wanted to accurately portray gay life, though, it would have at least more than one woman in it, or the woman would have more screen time. Gay men do not exclusively hang out with other men, and when they do hang out with women, they do not have to be overly feisty and talk only about the men’s love lives. This way of thinking has dangerous implications in creating a new trope of the “token female friend”, as the show is also dangerous to tokenize its characters of color.

If the show is not supposed to have women because it is a show about gay men, then it proves that female characters can only be love interests. Gay men would never have a girlfriend or would never be romantically involved in one, so why would they be allowed a character on the show? In fact, the only woman on the show is an old romantic interest because in media logic, men and women can never just be friends. It’s the same basic logic that fuels the notion of the Friend Zone.

Looking has great promise, but it has also set itself up for possible failure in regards to representation. For a show that claims to represent the real gay man, it does little outside of obsessing with his dating habits. If it wants to really show what it’s like to be queer, it will have to show more than one letter of the acronym LGBTQIA, and show that there are queer women as well, or any women.

Prom

7 Dec

*TRIGGER WARNING* This piece contains accounts of sexual harassment.

by Katie

The boys on my cross country team have an offensive sense of humor. After practice one day, the team was talking and playing Frisbee. A freshman boy started making jokes.

“Oh hey, George, I’m going to rape you if you don’t run faster! Run faster! Run! Run!”

The atomic clock on the scoreboard couldn’t seem to move any slower as George ran away.

“I’m going to rape you! I’m going to rape you!”

The black numbers of the clock turned from 8:13 to 8:14 to 8:15. With each change of the numbers, I felt the tears creeping up to the sides of my eyes. I refused to take the taunting anymore.

“Okay, stop, rape jokes aren’t funny! Rape isn’t funny!” I asserted firmly.

“Um, no, rape is hilarious,” George replied, chucking me the Frisbee.

I fumbled with the Frisbee. It’s never been easy for me.

The tears started threatening me again, but I refused to let them control me. “No, rape is never funny. It’s used to dehumanize people,” I challenged as I gripped the Frisbee tighter and tighter.

“Why are you so emotional about this,” the freshman idiot taunted. “Men get raped too!”

Incredulous, I snapped, “I never said only women are raped!”

“Were you ever raped?”

“What? No! Of course not! And that’s not a question that you ask other people!” I half-screamed.

“Then why are you so upset?” George challenged me with a taunting sing-song tone.

“Because rape isn’t funny,” I replied coldly as a chill ran down my arms.

“Whatever. Wanna play some Frisbee?” the ignorant freshman asked.

“No thanks, I have to go home now,” I replied calmly, placing the Frisbee on the field and walking to the car.

But why was I really so upset?

Prom.

I had a crush on this guy for the entire year. He was best friends with one of the nicest, most hard working boys on the cross country team. He was smart (or so I thought), he was kind (or so I thought) and he was trustworthy (or so I thought).

I was a sophomore. He was a senior.

I was 15. He was 18.

At the end of the long evening, as we were standing in line for the coat check I could feel the ugly red blisters forming on my pinkie toes from my high heels. I stood patiently with my arms over my chest, making small talk with him. He stepped out of line and turned to face me. He opened his mouth in the way that people do when they have something of vital importance to say.

“Um, were you going to say something?” I asked, raising my eyebrows, confronted with a date whose mouth was gaping like that of a fish whose bowl had shattered.

He hung his head, embarrassed and sheepish. “Oh, it’s nothing.”

I took a long breath in and stated, “Okay, well, if you change your mind, I’m right here.”

After a few seconds of distraught contemplation he blurted out, “Can I kiss you?”

HERE? NOW?!?!? IN FRONT OF ALL MY FRIENDS?! UH, HELL TO THE NO!

Appealing to his sense of decency, I reasoned with him, “In front of all these people?”

He shrugged and leaned.

Every alarm in my body was screaming. The flashing red lights blurred my vision.

“THINK! WHAT DO I DO TO AVOID A KISS?” I screamed inside my head as his lips came closer and closer and closer. His eyes were closed. I could just run for it? But he was my ride home!

I suddenly remembered a book in which the character turned her face to so the undesired kiss would land on her cheek instead of her lips. I tilted my head too late. His lips landed half on my cheeks, half on my lips. I felt the dull thud of a lead weight being dropped on my heart. Seventeen Magazine lied to me. Everyone lied to me. My first kiss didn’t make me feel like flying, it made me feel like crying and running away. I went into survival mode. I needed to send the signal that I wasn’t interested. I stood with my eyes locked ahead, focused solely on obtaining my purse.

 “We need to try that again. That one wasn’t good enough,” he demurred.

I pretended to not hear.

Three agonizing minutes later with my purse finally in hand, I made my way to the door. But first, he tugged me into a corner.

 “Hold on a sec,” he purred, his hand on my lower back, corralling me towards his body. He closed his eyes and leaned in, closer and closer and closer and closer.

 I pulled him in for a hug and whispered, “No, no. I’m sorry, but no.”

 He finally relented.

As we walked out of the hotel ballroom, he kept trying to apologize.

“I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship. I really like you. I want to keep seeing you. I really like you. I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship. You know, I am going to college close by, so I hope we can keep seeing each other.”

All I was able to say was, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” as I hobbled from the long night while chills ran up and down my body in the warm air on the May night. My repetitive speech of it being “okay” was mainly to myself, only partly to him. I would most definitely not being seeing him over the summer or while he would be in college nearby. Or ever.

His father picked us up from the hotel and we drove home. As my date and I sat in the backseat, I noticed he hadn’t bothered to put on his seatbelt. He simply pouted and stared out the window with his empty head held up by his enormous fist.

We finally parted ways forever when I broke up with him the next Tuesday. It was the right thing to do. The lead weight I felt on my heart was lifted. I felt like I could fly.

Though one thing remained. My first kiss was forced.

It’s been a struggle for me to define what happened. Was it assault? Was it sexual harassment?

Assault has too many implications for me. It implies that the coercion was violent. But sexual harassment is perceived to be trivial and unimportant, so I need a stronger word to embody the anger and sadness and anxiety I felt and even occasionally still feel. I need a word for the amount of Nutella with warm toast I consumed afterwards. I need a word for the hours I spent talking to my best friend. I need a word for the panic that washed over me when he appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. I need a word for the joy I felt when my friend reassured me that I could finally defriend him. I need a word for the worry I feel that made me not write this under my real name.

I can’t call it assault if he went to my school. According to the media, assault is only supposed to happen when you don’t know your attacker. To call it assault makes the experience real.

Tom Daley Is Not Gay, He’s Just in a Relationship with a Man

2 Dec

by Johan Clarke

Tom Daley recently came out via YouTube with the information that he is in a relationship with another man, surprising many and bringing pride to many different communities. In the wake of the Winter Olympics in a country with incredibly harsh anti-LGBT laws, the news that a well-known and well-respected athlete from the most recent Summer Olympics is queer provides awareness and visibility to a community that in the past has been erased. Stereotypes within the gay community are slowly coming down. More and more athletes are coming out as gay, giving pride and hope for young people who do not feel they fit into certain categories defined by our culture. One can play sports, be one of the team, and not have to be straight or pretend to be something they are not.

I find it remarkable that Tom Daley has found the courage to do something so brave and come out with his relationship with another man at this pivotal time. Coming out is still an incredibly difficult thing to do, and to do it in front of everyone in the world, to have everybody watch your every move, to judge you without having met you, takes incredible strength. I commend him for doing something so hard, yet so necessary. Daley is helping to change history for the better and creating a safer space for queer youths.

The media’s response, though, is not the most ideal. As I have written in previous articles, I do not like labeling, and I especially do not like labeling that erases other communities. Many of the articles that have come out this morning have titles with the word “gay” in it, yet in the video he posted, he never makes that claim. He says that he is in a relationship with another man and that he is comfortable and feels safe with him, but he does not say the words, “I am gay.” In fact, during the video, he claims, “I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”

This may seem like an unnecessary difference for some, but this is a prime example of bi erasure, something that has been going on for years. It’s fantastic that Daley has come out with his relationship, but it is not okay that the media has once again mislabeled someone. Daley has not defined his sexuality. He has stated that he is in a relationship with a man, but he has not come out as gay as several articles have claimed. He has not come out as bisexual either, so the media needs to stop saying that he has.

Mislabeling erases many different communities that struggle to have their voices heard. It makes it difficult for people who are unsure about their sexualities or who do not fit with “gay” or “straight” labels. It illegitimazes legitimate relationships and does not allow people to understand or accept themselves in ways they can. We need to stop enforcing labels on people or the great stride Daley made today in this announcement will do little in awareness for the overall queer communities.

Sexism Abroad

23 Oct

by Allyn Faenza

“Ghana is a male-dominated society, and we like it that way.” This speech was given to every visiting student on the first day of orientation here in Legon, Ghana by a professor of political science. The female students were warned to watch their behavior and never leave their intentions unspoken. We were told that Ghanaian men often interpret “no” as a woman’s challenge for them to try harder. In the past, a visiting international student invited a Ghanaian man into her dorm room and after a few minutes changed her mind about going any further physically. The man didn’t listen. When she tried to alert the university’s police that she was raped, she said they practically laughed in her face. It seems the police could not wrap their heads around the notion that a woman can exercise control over her own body or direct a man’s actions. The professor told us this as a cautionary tale with no hint of irony, no hint of an apology. What the speech came down to was this: men here are in charge and women have to learn to play by the rules to get what they want.

Rarely has a day has gone by here in Ghana that I haven’t been grabbed, catcalled, or proposed marriage. The best way for me to advert attention from myself is to tell the men I’m married. It is as if they could only understand my disinterest by rationalizing that I belong to someone else. On more than one occasion I have heard women and men alike come to the consensus that the female body is a tool for male pleasure. As I walk through crowds of men, I can feel their eyes on me, and more often than not, their hands. They grope and grab me, and if I protest, I am often challenged. They say “Who are you to tell me not to touch you?! You are a woman, you are a woman!”

Today during my Sociology of the Family class, the topic of domestic violence came up. I have seen some of the television programs Ghanaians watch and oftentimes they center around a male/female romantic relationship that ends with the female screaming at the top of her voice only to be punched and slapped by her male companion. But seeing as I am attending class at a premiere university in West Africa, I assumed their opinions of domestic violence would be that it is something to be taken seriously, something that needs to end, and something that is shameful. I hoped they would find it as deplorable as I do, but I was wrong.

The professor began her lecture about Radical Feminist Theory on the family by proposing the question : “Does a husband have the right to physically discipline his wife?”

The male student behind me scoffs, “Of course!” with all of his friends giggling in agreement. Considering my experiences with some Ghanaian men thus far, the male response hardly surprised me. I have come to expect men to believe themselves biologically superior, and, therefore, somehow responsible for the disciplining of females. They get their validation from religion, media, and societal gender roles. What I was most astounded by was the female response to the question. While no one directly answered “yes,” the women laughed and acted like the conversation was unnecessary. I was angry and so very disappointed. I wanted to scream from the frustration, but then I considered the conversation from a new angle. How could these female students think of the lecture as nothing more than a challenge to the norms of this society? And with many women here in search of a husband, they don’t want to look like the dissenting women, bitter with experience. Ghanaian women don’t want to be a woman no man would want to marry. They do not have the tools to stifle sexism or the support they need to demand respect.

The only comfort I can find in this experience is telling and showing males here that I am a person. I am a living someone who cannot be objectified. I am not a tool for your pleasure. I have a mind and thoughts and feelings that tell me their behavior is demeaning. And even though it might get annoying to Ghanaian men and women, I talk about the inequality every chance I get. I am learning how to explain my culture and my expectations as eloquently as possible. While we might have a long way to go in Ghana, I am learning to live with the satisfaction it gives me to stand up to these gender roles and the hope it gives me for a Ghana that takes pride in the minds of Ghanaian women and not their bodies, for an equal Ghana.

This post is part of a regular series that will be posted every Wednesday.

Queera Personalis: My Journey From Rejection to Reconciliation to Celebration

9 Oct

by Thomas Lloyd

The last few months have been a whirlwind for the LGBTQ community at Georgetown.

We elected our first openly gay student body president and had our LGBTQ history pushed in to the spotlight by outlets like The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and my personal favorite, The Cardinal Newman Society Blog. Those who oppose our advance deride our community as Catholics and Catholic institutions abandoning their values.

I’ve had to answer the same question in dozens of conversations: how has this change come about despite Catholic doctrine?

Having been at Georgetown for over two years now, and having been a gay Catholic my whole life, my answer is simple: It doesn’t. Advancement of LGBTQ issues is critical to the fulfillment of the Catholic mission. These changes are necessary because of Catholic doctrine.

I’ve made this argument before, citing Catholic social teaching, the catechism of the Church, and (unsurprisingly) the Jesuit concept of Cura Peronalis.

But to be honest, I formulated those arguments well after I had made up my mind on how Catholic doctrine fits in with the LGBTQ rights movement. The real game changer for me is my experience. In a way, this is the ultimate form of Catholic argument. As the Universal Church, Catholicism is ultimately about its people and their stories. So for this Coming Out Week, rather than rehash theological arguments I’ve made here and here, I’m going to out myself again, but by sharing my personal faith journey.

Growing up, before I knew that my limp wrist and love of offering my aunt fashion advice meant that I’d be labeled “gay” or “homosexual” (or anything “sexual” for that matter), I never thought that what made me “different” would somehow negatively affect my relationship with God or with the Church. My high voice and flair for the dramatics actually made me an asset at many a church basement musical production of Jesus Christ: A Life (no Jesus since has been able to give Judas the appropriate one-eyebrow raise during the last supper scene).

The Church was the way I connected to my neighborhood. I never went to school near my house. So I made local friends through Sunday school. I joined our boy scouts chapter (however briefly) and taught Sunday school for years. My supervisor, a nun who I affectionately referred to as Sister Gene the Dancing Machine (in a reference to the campy 80’s Gong Show) seemingly embraced my “unconventional” personality.

It wasn’t until I was at the most vulnerable moment in my life that the Church became an “obstacle” to be “overcome”. In high school, my gay mental dam of cognitive dissonance began to break down. My heterosexual identity, built up by years of bullying and abuse from other students, was crumbling under the weight of my real sexual orientation. I starting to think that I might just be “gay,” or that thing that I’d denied being for years because people laughed at me, excluded me, and fought with me.

These conversations with myself about my identity were conducted in the deepest segments of my person. I could feel them as series of tugs in my chest, right next to where I had (usually joyful and joking) conversations with God. There, in my most private and sacred space, I never felt a tension from God related to my identity. If anything, God was a central player in that discussion. I remember the first night that I asked God to change me, to hide the thing that made me a target. I lay awake and silently begged as my eyes burned up. But I never thought God disapproved, just that a bunch of assholes did. God was on my side, right?

Unfortunately, at the same time that I grew increasingly conscious of my sexuality, I also grew increasingly aware of the American political attitudes towards gay people. The debates over LGBT issues were, and still are, imbued with religious arguments against the acceptance or inclusion of gays and lesbians, with almost no religious (let alone Catholic) voices on the other side. Even more unfortunately, the increasingly insecure and paranoid closeted me was very prone to internalize those voices. These included voices of my family members, whose political discussions I began to understand more. I let them pollute my personal and longstanding relationship with my faith.

I would go through what was a painful coming out process, thinking that I couldn’t lean on the support system that had given me community, confidence, and meaning. Further, I was afraid to engage some individuals closest to me because of their association with that same community. At first, this just made me anti-social. But becoming more and more alone in ever-more profound ways led me to moments where I considered and planned suicide.

It was with the support of very loving (and sometimes pushy) friends and teachers that I emerged from my coming out process unscathed. By the time I felt comfortable to come out to my parents and school, I had all but given up on trying to bring together my LGBTQ and Catholic identities. In the same way that I lived with a mental wall between my “heterosexual identity” and obvious homosexual orientation, I erected a new wall between my values and my private life. For some, this could prove dangerous. (un)Luckily for me, I was high school debater with acne, so this didn’t become a concern.

I would go on for years with a simple answer to “How can you be gay and Catholic?”  I would answer with a pithy cop-out, “The Church is about more than sexual orientation.”

At Georgetown, the Jesuit education lived up to its reputation and called me out on my bullshit. My (at the time) conservative roommate lived up to his political affiliation, ordering me to tear down the wall between my identities and engage the questions I had effectively been postponing. There was no getting around the fact that if I wanted to keep identifying as Catholic, I had better get a damn good reason. After all, I would be engaging my orientation (and others’ orientations…) with an octogenarian Priest down the hall.

My reason came as I started to re-understand Catholicism in the way I had as a child: as a sum of individuals from all backgrounds, working together to achieve spiritual fulfillment and salvation by living a life of service, advocacy, and love, just as Christ did. I was a part of that equation, as are a whole host of queers, commies, radicals, republicans, democrats, feminists, NRA members, whatever, even if I had been told for years that we all fell on opposing “sides.”

How did I come back to this understanding? Simply by engaging all of those people that truly make the Catholic Church Universal. Was the Jesuit who told me masturbation made one not a virgin more Catholic than the one who affectionately nicknamed me “a wonderfully irksome shit” because of my work with Pride? Are the ministers behind Love Saxa more Catholic than those who show up at the LGBTQ Resource Center open house or who run the LGBTQ prayer group? Who is anyone, any human being, to answer these questions?

When one lives in a Universal Church, it becomes impossible to view someone’s unchangeable and loving identity as disordered.  It’s impossible to think that there is one ideal Catholic, or any set of absolutes that can apply to a universal institution. Its impossible to do anything but CELEBRATE the fact that such diversity exists.

To those that disagree, say an alum who graduated 10, 20, 30 or more years ago (Hi, William Blatty, Class of 1950!), I have this to say:

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students no longer live in the same fear of being the victims of hate crimes when walking to their dorms.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students needn’t feel like their faith tradition is against them.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because through being more welcoming, our community saves more students from self-harm.

Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because we are finally “universal” enough to encourage multiple trans* students to make themselves visible.

Georgetown is more Catholic today than ever before because LGBTQ students, with or without faith traditions, have made this university truer to its Jesuit commitment to community in diversity, to social justice, and to Universality.

In the same way that I stopped letting those who didn’t understand the LGBTQ experience pollute my relationship with God, I refuse to let similarly antiquated beliefs taint the conversation of what makes us a Catholic University.

I am gay and I am Catholic. Accepting my identity enabled me to be more Catholic. My University is Catholic, and it is only becoming more LGBTQ-friendly, making it all the more Catholic. This is more than acceptable—this is our motto: Utraque Unum.

Fisting

7 Oct

by Anonymous

‘Aight. Let’s talk about fisting. I know it’s scary (hell, I was a fisting virgin once too),  but that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want or doing it SAFELY. That’s the thing, once I did my research, no more scariness. So hopefully this gives you some relief if you start thinking about logistics.

Also, fisting isn’t just for woman on woman. If you’ve got a hand and a partner, you’re good to go. I won’t speak specifically to the wider world of fisting, so hopefully some of the links in here can give you a starting place.

First things first: don’t do it alone. Not that you could. Fisting is more intimate than any other sexual act of which I know. We’re always being told not to be intimate with people unless we trust them, but let’s be real, things happen. Fisting cannot be one of those things. Fisting can produce some of the best sexual experiences, but you must be completely open and trusting of your partner whether giving or receiving. Constant communication is key. What makes fisting so amazing for both partners is the muscle involvement. Orgasms resulting from fisting usually involve the kegel muscles, the muscles along the vaginal wall, creating wave sensations. These muscles are treasures, but they are very sensitive to emotional states. If the receiver is anxious or uncomfortable, they can close off making the vagina “tight.” Let’s just say this is unpleasant for everyone. So talk to each other.

Second is that it will take time. It’s like poker. Don’t expect to go all in during the first hand. Play each round. Add more to the pot each time. You’ll get there. And when you do, there’s a big payoff. For some people (and realize this varies for everyone) it takes about two to three weeks to work up to. Like I said, talk. If ever either partner starts to feel pain, stop. Rapid expansion of the vaginal walls can cause tearing and bleeding. Going slowly can prevent this from happening.

Third, and most important, is safety. Ladies and gentlemen, hands with nails have no business between anyone’s legs! I don’t care how much you love to scratch your partners or how great your manicure looks; neither of those things matter when your hand is inside another person. That said, most doctors recommend wearing gloves when fisting (be careful with latex allergies). They can somewhat protect against nails, but not very efficiently. Gloves do protect against various other things your hands may have on them. You never know.

Most important to me, which is why it gets its own paragraph, LUBE. There is no fisting without lube. It just doesn’t happen. Ever. Most sites and stores will recommend a water-based lube, as do I. You may think getting the small bottle is a good idea. It’s compact, cheap. For your first buy, the small bottle is good. But when you’re getting into fisting, honey, you Costco that shit. There isn’t enough lube in the world for fisting. Even when starting out and working your way up, add lube. Then, add more. Then, when you feel like your hand is swimming in a sea of lube, add more lube. Receiver, you will probably feel like slip’n’slide, but trust me, you need it. If you’re using enough, you’ll end up with lube all over your bed (or whatever location you chose), and, receiver, don’t be embarrassed—you will leak.

Fourth, don’t worry about it. Fisting is seriously fun, so try and relax and enjoy. As long as you’re in control and aware you should be loving life (not to mention being more aware can heighten sexual response).

If you want more information, doctors are a good go-to. As awkward as you think the conversation might be, taking any issue of this nature to an OB is not that big a deal.  Always refer to professional health caregivers with questions of sexual health or activity or anything really. For less serious advice, this is a great video on intro fisting, and they pretty much bring up all the points I could possibly think of. Get ready for International Fisting Day on October 21st! You can also find a handy diagram here for your introduction to fisting.

How Should a Feminist React to Miley Cyrus?

10 Sep

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.