Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Wrecking Season

It's been hard to avoid seeing, if not following, the recent debate over pop singer and actress Miley Cyrus and her media antics. Citing Sinead O'Connor as an influence dragged the Irish singer, who enjoyed her own 15-minutes of controversial fame in the past, into the fray. O'Connor publicly warned Ms. Cyrus that she was simply being exploited by a misogynistic music industry that cares not for the rights and well-being of artists. That exchange has set off a flurry of debate on female sexuality. For example, Sociologist Dr Lisa Wade, on her blog, shares her 'two cents' on the issue, saying Cyrus and O'Connor are "both right, but only half right."

Wades conciliatory contention is interesting, but I think ultimately wrong. Her entire thesis hinges on one line, one postulation: "Is Miley Cyrus a pawn of industry patriarchs?" Wade says no. But, she offers no evidence that Cyrus has not been manipulated, either overtly or subconsciously. Indeed, based on everything we've seen, she lacks the maturity and depth to be making the sort of long-term decisions that would infer that her behaviour is a valid of expression of feminist power and privilege in the 21st century. What she appears to be doing is selling her body for money. As Occam's Razor suggests, sometimes the simplest answer is the truth.

More important, in my opinion, is the disturbing lack of debate on the infantilism of sexuality. We've accepted as a norm that forty year-old women wish to look twenty-five, as an affirmation of beauty and fertility. Now, we're seeing 20 year-old women looking - right down to the Brazilian wax - and dressing like 12 year-olds, in order to be, in their minds, arousing. But are they?

Cyrus's appearance in her music video 'Wrecking Ball' is not remotely sexy. What she presents is a puerile caricature of sexiness: there's nothing provocative or enchanting; no sense of feminine mystique or sensuality. Cyrus comes across as a little girl play-acting, not a mature woman seducing. The fact that so many men, and more importantly, women buy into this reduction of sexuality to children's theatre is, frankly, very disconcerting.

There's been a sense that feminism, as a movement and ideology, has taken (at least) two steps backward the past few years; whether true or not, this is an issue worth open discussion. I suppose we can at least thank Cyrus for invigorating a debate on feminism and female sexuality that has needed to enter the mainstream for a long time.