Everyone seems to have some sort of opinion about Miley Cyrus, and even within broader categories of loving her or hating her, there are smaller, nuanced opinions that different people hold. There’s a lot to sift through out there so let’s take a look at some of the most common opinions and what they mean for feminism:
That girl has changed and is teaching bad morals to those who look up to her.
Many people (especially on the conservative right) believe that Miley Cyrus is a role model to young girls everywhere and that this means she has a duty to maintain her status as a symbol of purity and perfection. It’s probable that a lot of the initial shock that was a consequence of some of her more recent, risqué behaviors is a function of growing up right alongside her. We watched as she transitioned from child to adult and from innocence to evil. There are a few problems with this line of thinking. Most importantly, promiscuity in a vacuum is not inherently bad. The narrative that her choices are bad for the sole reason that she is choosing to own her sexuality is dangerous and frighteningly common.
For seemingly forever, people have been equating female sexuality with evil and wrongdoing. To be fair, it is terrifying to the privileged class to recognize that the patriarchal structure that provides that privilege is under attack. Sorry about that. There are many feminists who are speaking out about this and have taken quite the opposite view of Cyrus’s actions.
Let Miley be! Own your sexuality, girl!
From the more progressive side of things, we have the anti-slutshamers. This group of people is generally for Cyrus’s antics, pointing out that she is a grown woman who deserves to be in control of her own life. At one point in her life she was a child star, but she isn’t anymore so she should get to enjoy life as an adult. She should get to wear whatever she wants and act however she wants. Stop freaking out about the way she owns her sexuality!
This side of Cyrus supporters is not devoid of flaws. While it is true that there is no problem with women being sexual in a vacuum, there are problems with it in real life, the reason being that we simply don’t live in post-patriarchal society. The assumption behind the anti-slutshaming argument is that Cyrus is acting of her own accord, entirely independent from the pressures of a hegemonic patriarchy. It is entirely possible (and for that matter, probable) that Cyrus is acting in this hyper-sexualized manner to appeal to the wants of a society that has raised her to believe that the only attribute worth praising in a woman is her ability to become a sexual object. Appeasing that which the patriarchy asks of you is not generally the best way to subvert it.
Racist, racist, racist.
White feminists have a terrible habit of forgetting that there are other identities besides sex/gender. At least in mainstream media (because it’s run by white people), there has been significant silence surrounding the fact that Cyrus has used black women (as well as little people) as props and has shamelessly appropriated black culture. Regardless of what an individual believes about Cyrus’s body, there is no justification for her racism. This is something that an embarrassing number of people don’t seem to care about. But, as much can be expected from a society that still thinks it’s ok to dress in black face for Halloween.
Miley Cyrus is one specific example, but she serves as a template for the rest of our culture. The nuances of her actions and the implications for feminism is a great way to show the difficult path to the end of patriarchy. Not everyone is going to agree on the best way to go about it and most people probably won’t even care. But actions to constantly re-examine our place in the power structure and how we affect others is of the utmost importance.