World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

The Twerking Girl and the Virtuous Vixen

on August 27, 2013

Yadda yadda yadda. Everyone’s talking about Miley at the VMAs even as we’re on the brink of war in Syria, where too much horror and devastation has gone on for too long. And isn’t that a more important thing for us to talk about?

Of course it is. But hear me out. images

How we see (and discuss) young women in popular culture is important, too, and it is not a stretch to say that one group of people’s inability to see another group of people as human, with their own agency and feelings and concerns, is what too often leads to atrocities such as the current situation in Syria and elsewhere.

Like most people, I was appalled by Miley Cyrus’ performance on Sunday night. It was lewd, weird, and the vocals were not good. On the one hand, I want to move past my memories of her as Hannah Montana and champion her right as a young woman and performer owning her own sexuality. But the problem is, as so many have discussed more eloquently than I, she is co-opting another group’s – a much maligned group’s sexuality in gross parody of hip hop African-American female sexuality that only contributes to longstanding prejudices and exploitation. For a better analysis of this than I can ever make, please check out this article from Jezebel.com.  I’ve written on my other blog, Smells Like T(w)een Spirit, about Miley Cyrus’ uneasy transition from tween star to grown up, and I sympathize with her need to show that she’s not the little girl who lived in the best of both worlds over on the Disney channel. (You can see those posts here and here). But it seems she’s done that sufficiently, so now we’re just perplexed. Now it’s getting worrisome. I can only hope she works things out as well as Demi Lovato seems to have, against the same odds. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a young woman who makes all of her mistakes so publicly, in a world in which a misstep is immediately broadcast globally (though the VMA performance was arguably more than a misstep.) I can only guess it would be the equivalent of falling on your face in the middle school cafeteria multiplied by about a billion and lasting forever because so many people caught it on film. (On the Tween Spirit blog I wrote an open letter to Demi Lovato but I don’t claim to have straightened her out at all 🙂 I think some hard work and soul-searching did that).

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And Miley’s performance wasn’t the only disturbing image of a young woman trying to express/find herself in public.  On another blog, I wrote about images of young women in popular culture and argued that there are two common tropes, the victim or the vixen, and that Taylor Swift is America’s sweetheart because she manages to be both. But if Taylor keeps it up, she’s going to slide into a new category, one equally stereotypical and harmful to women: The Catty B.  As she churns out more songs about the boys who done her wrong, we have to wonder what the odds are that Taylor is always right and they are always wrong.  And on the VMAs she thanked the man who inspired her winning song “I Knew You were Trouble” and assuring us he “know[s] who he is” even if the rest of us are debating whether it’s Harry or Jake.  More cattily, as One Direction was presenting an award, she appears to have mouthed to her BFF Selena Gomez “Shut the fuck up.”*  I don’t have a major problem with profanity (though it’s problematic from the mouth of a squeaky clean teen idol) but I do have a problem with a lack of grace.  Tay Tay is in danger of becoming one of the young female stereotypes her music trades in; she’s no longer the girl “in the bleachers” but has morphed into the nasty head cheerleader. And neither stereotype is useful or empowering.

Enough, both of you. As influential women in the entertainment industry, you have the power to dispose of these images and provide new ones. I know that’s a lot to ask, but as we learned from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. So let’s see some female superheroes instead of the tired old images we’ve outgrown.

Unknown-4 (Malala Yousafzai is a good start)

*Add to this her open mocking of Harry and his accent at the Grammys earlier this year. I have had my share of crappy boyfriends and have no problem imagining that Harry Styles fits this category (he’s young, he’s rich, and has the world at his feet, which makes for a major asshat).images-3

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2 responses to “The Twerking Girl and the Virtuous Vixen

  1. Rachel Schieffelbein says:

    This is a great post, Stephanie. I mostly thought Miley’s performance was just weird. It looked to me like a young woman trying too hard to change her image. Something that, as you said, is not easy for someone in her position.
    I will say, in defense of Taylor’s comment to Harry, she has apparently come out to say that the song’s about him after they dated the first time. And when they were together the second time he apparently got a tattoo to match the guy from that video. So, I’m thinking he’s pretty okay with that song being about him. 😉

    • Good point, Rachel. I should say that while Harry may not have been the perfect boyfriend (and who knows?) he is being much more mature about the breakup than she is. He’s said it’s a good song, and I wouldn’t dispute that.

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