In her quest to swing a big dick, Miley Cyrus made other women the objects, says Emily Heist Moss.
On Sunday, Miley Cyrus wracked up all the headlines a fame-pursuant 20-year-old could ever dream of with an epically awful performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Her segment has already been picked apart from one end of the Internet to the other, with pundits and bloggers arguing that it was so gummed up in racist and sexist tropes that whatever campy value she might have added was lost in a web of isms.
Like the rest of you, I watched Miley’s show in horror, cringing when she buried her face in the ample butt of one of her black back-up dancers, covering my eyes when she twerked into the crotch of Robin Thicke, silently begging her to put her tongue back in her mouth.
Me and Miley, we’re not friends. We have a relationship only as deep as there are pages in a tabloid at the drying station of the nail salon. But I see what she did here, and though I don’t approve, I understand. This was not a case of accidental stereotype baiting; it was intentional mimicry of the signifiers of “success”—decorative women, black people as props. This was a performance about power, who has it, who doesn’t, how to obtain it.
If I had the chance, here’s what I’d like to say to the performer…
Hey girl, how’s your week going? Twitter blowing up? Journalists banging down the door for a quote? Photographers hoping for a smirk of self-awareness or the downcast eyes of a young woman embarrassed? Bet it’s been rough out there, a lot of virtual fingers wagging in your face.
Do you even know why the tsk-tskers are all up in your grill? Do you know why they’re invading your digital space with so many opinions and scarlet M’s for misogyny and R’s for racism to tack on that non-existent dress of yours? You might think they’re just jealous, of the abs, maybe, or the platform you stumbled onto the minute your dad’s “Achy-Breaky Heart” went platinum. You might think they’re just old and crotchety, in need of a lay and a laugh; don’t take everything so seriously, Grandma, it’s just for fun!
But I’m no Grandma, Hannah Montana, and I’m not a prude. I know you think you broke some ground up there on that stage, that we old-timers can’t roll with the young guns, that we’re afraid of the future. But damn, girl, this is not our first rodeo and you are not the first woman to think that the fastest way to the grown-up table is to climb there are on the backs of the rest of us.
You’re at that age when you’re looking around and you’re starting to notice unfairness; you’re already exhausted by how heavy it is. You’re young and rich and beautiful, but you’re observing that there’s one thing all the power players have that you don’t. They’ve got dicks, baby girl.
You’re noticing that the dicks always get to be the subject in a sentence. The dicks have the gaze that determines worth. The dicks are the Christmas trees and they decorate themselves with an ornamental entourage. You don’t want to be an ornament; you want to be the goddamn Christmas tree.
Ever since that photo shoot with your dad and the sheets, you know it what feels like to be on the object side of the verb. You are looked at, gawked at, poked, pulled, prodded, desired, disdained, discussed. You are sick of this bullshit, and you want to own the stage. The dicks own the stage, so what do you do? You find yourself a big foam finger and stick it between your legs. You hire some big-bootied dancers and grope their asses. Look at you go! You’re not one of the girls, you’re the star, the hero, the actor in your own play. You and that phallic foam finger are going to dominate.
This isn’t new, Cy, we’ve tried this trick before. We say, better to be the objectifier than the objectified and we take each other to strip clubs to watch other women take it off. We shrug, if we’re going to be objectified, better to objectify ourselves and we lift our shirts in front of cameras, pimp ourselves out. At least this way, we did it to ourselves. There’s some power in that, right?
But don’t you see what you did there? In your quest to swing a big dick you made other women the objects. You made them bend over to you, just like you bent over to Robin Thicke. You grabbed them, leered at them, and diminished them to build yourself up. You traded on the privilege you already know you have going, your whiteness, to create further distance between yourself and the kind of woman that is treated the way you treated your dancers.
You look around and you know there’s an us and a them. There’s a lot of shit the us puts up with, and you know because you’ve put up with more than your fair share. You want to be the them for a while, just to see what it feels like. You take off your own goddamn clothes because you’re your own woman. You grab your crotch because you’re a badass and badasses grab their crotches. You hump the women on your stage, because that’s what the big boys do. Maybe they’ll let you in their club. Maybe, for a while, you get to be the subject instead of the object.
It’s not your fault that you think this is the only way to way to win. We’re telling you now, though, OK? It’s not about the skimpy clothes, I promise, wear whatever you want. You think that wagging your tongue at the ladies makes you one of the fellas. You think that if it’s your choice to grind your semi-naked butt into the groin of Robin Thicke, then at least nobody made you do it.
And you’re right, it is your choice how you parade yourself in public, so make better choices.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.