So the web is atwitter with discussions of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the Video Music Awards (VMAs) last night. People simply cannot believe what they saw—including, most famously, Will Smith’s family. And from an everyday perspective it was indeed shocking. But from the perspective of the misogynistic porn-driven entertainment industry, it was both tame and taming. And it is exactly what I would expect to see from the perspective of a girl who was trained to turn her childhood into sexual entertainment. Miley was earnestly, mechanically, angrily giving us what she knows we have wanted all along—her childhood, served up on a plate of sexual objectification while she proves she “wants it” like a “good girl,” as the song goes. She emerged from the mouth of a teddy bear, wearing a teddy adorned with a smiling teddy, sexed up the stage by dancing with teddies, and gave us the finger right where she thinks we want it—between her legs.
This, my friends, is why I never allowed my daughter to watch Hannah Montana. I can’t say I knew this Disney princess would go to this place, but I knew Hannah would morph, and it wouldn’t be positive for Miley or for her girl fans. Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know five years ago: porn is coming for us. And it’s aimed straight at the minds, hearts, and vaginas of our little girls while our little boys watch, open-mouthed.
The word porn is kinda like the word cancer used to be—you can talk about it in a whisper as this thing everybody knows happens, but you can’t really discuss it in polite company. Well, it’s time we started. Because porn isn’t just people having sex (oh, if only!)—most current porn is the sexual degradation, humiliation, and domination of women. While I haven’t watched it and know I can’t bear to, I have read enough descriptions of it—including shows like “Bang Bus” in which men videotape women having sex with them on a bus for promised money, then dump the women on the side of the road with no money and humiliated faces—to get the horrible idea. The women in porn videos are either simulating joy in a twisted alchemy of pain and pleasure or grimacing their way through sex.
“Grimace” fits with Salon writer Daniel D’Addario’s description of Miley’s dance scene with Robin Thicke: “Last night, Miley was singing a song about how good Robin Thicke is at sex. ‘Blurred Lines,’ the song and video, has been read by some as an ode to coercive sex — not an opinion I had shared until watching Cyrus thrust herself all over a tight-suited Thicke. The girls dancing nude in Thicke’s video look as though they’re having fun; Cyrus looked as though she were gritting her teeth to prove a point.”
And what exactly is that point?
That this is what our culture has asked of Miley (and Britney, and Christina, and Demi…)—give it to us like a good girl, and act like you like it.
The question before us is this: are we going to continue to discuss the understandable breakdowns and cultural shockers of our girls-gone-so-wild-they’re-tame as if they are isolated incidents in the psyche of one strange and messed up girl, or are we going to answer the question our girl stars keep asking us with their performances on and off stage: “Am I even a person to you? Or am I just a girl-woman sex toy, a projection for your fears and uncertainties and pain?”
We need to answer this question by affirming our girl-woman stars’ humanity (and, by association, their fans’) when they cross a line, and by examining the cultural cues that are telling them they must cross it to survive. Otherwise, we are creating ourselves in the image of our own sexual nightmares, in which women are props, and all the world’s a stage of sexual degradation.