There is a quote from the infinitely quotable Mean Girls that goes along the lines of ‘you have all got to stop calling yourself sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores’. Mean Girls was released in 2004, when Li-Lo hadn’t served jail time and Destiny’s Child was going through a hiatus (worst two years of my LIFE). Yet as a society we haven’t learned that crucial lesson and continue to label young girls as ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’. Take Miley Cyrus and that VMA’s performance for instance. Oh, and her new music video: Wrecking Ball.
Evidently, each one of Miley’s endeavours to re-launch into the music industry has caused controversy. The two apparent reasons: her lack of clothing and her signature dance move, the ‘twerk’. Society is in uproar. From her nude, latex covered body grinding on 36 year-old married Robin Thicke, to her naked body swinging on a wrecking ball and finally, the recent provocative pictures released by sleazeball of the moment Terry Richardson, the public have been distressfully discussing what has happened to ‘Poor Miley’.
Well, mums and dads, girls and boys, I’m here to tell you what has happened to ‘Poor Miley’. Society has happened. The hypocritical, controversy craving public have allowed for Miley to suck a hammer and grind on a wrecking ball. I’ll even go as far as to argue we made her do it. Society constructs norms and these norms, in terms of women and especially young girls are almost always negative and degrading. It is unacceptable for Miley to dress provocatively and act promiscuously, yet it is completely acceptable for society to judge her by this, call her a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore’ and ask the archaic question: what does her father think about this? Surely a girl of twenty years who has been financially independent from her parents for a long time now does not need her father’s permission anymore.
Miley has become a victim to the same plague as so many other young female pop stars (like Rihanna and Lady Gaga) and has become what Laurie Penny calls the ‘Young Women’ commodity. Essentially, Miley’s sexualised performances, videos and lyrics are the only power societal norms grant young girls. As Pharrell Williams states in Miley’s documentary, Miley: The Movement: “Why is she twerking? Why is she doing this? Because she’s a product of America.” Eternally, however, society retains the ability to judge, ridicule and condemn. The ‘Young Women’ are exploited for entertainment, the benefit of music production corporations and TV ratings. No one more than these ‘Young Women’ know that sex sells.
Likewise, why does sex still sell? The young female pop stars mentioned above have all tried to push the boundaries of sexual appropriateness, have all attempted to shock us by sexualising their careers. We lap it up every time, over our calls of slut and whore we are yearning for more. It’s like a fix and the debasement and exploitation of these young girls is our drug.
So if everyone is doing it, from Madonna in the 80’s to Britney in the 00’s, to Rihanna and Miley, then why are we still shocked? We should expect this behaviour and we should be trying to act against it by confronting the norms and changing them; by not allowing sex to sell.
But I say ‘everyone is doing it’ with a barrel of salt – for where are the men? When was the last time a man came out dressed in nude latex, waving a foam finger and performing risqué dance moves? Moreover, when was the last time a man performed in a sexualised, degrading way and people did not laugh, did not praise his humour and ability to be self-deprecating? Miley herself stated, “If I was trying to be sexy, I wouldn’t have come out dressed as a bear.” But the public did not laugh. All they saw was the sex, the exploitation and the shame of a once loved Disney princess trying to shock us. Additionally, where was the uproar over Mr Thicke agreeing to perform in such a way with a girl half his age? Who heckled Mr Richardson over being the one to direct and capture such degrading photos? Society’s double standards are deep and treacherous but they need to be combated.
So the next time something a ‘Young Woman’ does disgusts us or makes the words slut or whore tickle on our tongue, ask the simple question: Are the men doing it? If they are you can bet we won’t be slandering them, we will be laughing along and that’s the most disgusting thing of all.