By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the recent debacle with entertainer Miley Cyrus at the latest edition of the MTV Video Music Awards. If not, here you go:
My problems with the quality of this performance are multiple:
a). The fact that the clothing looked like crap on her (tried to mimic the Blurred Lines girls, failed).
b). The fact that she can’t dance.
c). The fact that she can’t twerk but insists on trying despite having no ass and no rhythm.
d). The fact that she looked like try-hard wannabe-edgy trash on stage. She’s working so hard to seem “out of control” that she can’t seem to keep her tongue in her mouth.
My concern for this performance is not about it being too sexual in nature. I’m all for women getting up on stage in skimpy clothing and putting on blatantly sexual performances that offend puritanical sensibilities. I just want it done properly is all:
Miley Cyrus’ performance was just poorly done, it’s that simple.
However, if I’m being totally honest, I can’t really knock Cyrus’ hustle here. In today’s social media driven world in which eyeballs are the most prized commodity, Miley Cyrus is a winner. People are talking about her and watching her, and at the end of the day that is all that really matters for her career wise.
To me, however, her performance signifies another important development: the rise and success of third wave feminism.
To understand this success, we have to understand what third wave feminists have sought to accomplish in recent decades. They saw a society in which they perceived women to have been forced into fairly strict caricatures of femininity. They saw a model of “wholesome” and “good” all-American femininity put in front of girls and they concluded that girls were generally punished severely for deviating from that model.
Who is this wholesome, good, all-American girl? Well, she’s generally white (bonus points if blonde), fit (normal BMI or close to it), well-spoken, and not prone to giving off a heavily sexual, raunchy vibe. She’s cute, she’s kind, she’s unassuming and she’s never provocative in her style of dress, behavior or speech.
Feminist concerns stemmed from the fact that, in their view, not every woman could fit in with this standard model of femininity and, more importantly, not every woman should have to. They wanted to see alternative visions of femininity that went beyond these stereotypes promoted and celebrated. That meant getting to a point where women could go against nearly every trait associated with the “all-American good girl” model and suffer few significant consequences for it.
In short, there was an enthusiasm among feminists and young women in general for rebellion against this model of mainstream, Disney-style, all-American femininity that was increasingly being viewed as oppressive, outdated and downright boring.
Miley Cyrus has now become a symbol of this rebellion and its success. Why? Because she has successfully flipped the bird to that old model of traditional American femininity and suffered very few consequences for it. She is a living embodiment of the reality third-wave feminism sought to create for all women, one in which a woman can do virtually whatever she wants and still “have it all.”
Miley Cyrus has it all.
1. She has the “dream guy”.
2. She’s got plenty of money (and her antics will only earn her more)
3. Her career is in fine shape (her antics will only improve it further).
Yes, she has still received plenty of criticism (the feminists will call it “slut shaming”) for her antics, but in the end none of it really matters. She has suffered no real romantic, social or economic consequences for her actions. She’s still got the guy, still got the money, still got the career and still got the fame and popularity. She’s in a situation that I’d bet the bulk of young female America would love to be in. Most will never come close (they don’t have her connections or her finances), but with her example they can maintain hope that it is possible, a hope their parents and grandparents didn’t really have.
Miley Cyrus is not the first of her kind. Madonna was similarly controversial in her youth, and other starlets like Britney Spears have had their out of control moments on stage. When taken together, however, these examples show us how far third-wave feminists have come in their bid to normalize deviation from established and allegedly restrictive definitions of traditional American femininity. They show that it has become possible within the last 15-20 years to openly disregard these norms, or to even insult them, and still find widespread support and adulation within a society where there was only shaming and stigmatization before.
The patriarchy of old is long dead, and the strict limitations it placed on both the men and women under its dominion have gone with it. Miley Cyrus is not the first sign of this social metamorphosis, and she will not be the last.