If you were sitting around anywhere on the internet Sunday night, you were bound to hear about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV VMAs with Robin Thicke in a medley of her song, “We Can’t Stop,” and Thicke’s hot summer hit, “Blurred Lines.” The big question, it seemed to be, was, “When did Miley Cyrus become such a slut?” Well, I hate to break it to you, but Miley Cyrus is a grown woman who can decide when and where she expresses her sexuality in any way she pleases. And as a performer, she is allowed to explore other varieties and forms of herself beyond her “Hannah Montana” days in order to evolve into a pop icon. But this isn’t to say Cyrus’ performance did not have problematic elements consisting of poorly made decisions. In fact, a lot of the performance with Robin Thicke made me cringe for a variety of reasons, although none had to do with her freely expressing her sexuality.
Actually, all that secondhand embarrassment I felt as I covered my eyes was a derivative of Miley’s learned racism, her sexualization of childhood and childlike elements, and how, yet again, damaging gender roles were reaffirmed within the frame of sexual expression and exploitation. And thus, I present to you the top five reasons you should (and can) legitimately hate Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance (without slut-shaming).
1. The Hyper-Sexualization of Young Girls. Two words: teddy bears. It’s not accidental that teddy bears are suddenly a thing in Miley’s video and performance. They’re representative of that line – the girl becoming a woman line. It’s the line that symbolizes a girl coming into her sexuality and engaging in the act of sex itself; the deflowering of a child in order to enter adulthood, if you will. And those teddy bears are depicting childhood – innocence, virginity, and play – and a pretty common staple of comfort and safety but also the break that comes with entering adulthood. As a result, Cyrus subvert the childlike quality of the familiar teddy bear and sexualizes a toy associated with much nostalgia because she is embracing her newly recognized sexual prowess. She is, as many before her, playing off of that “Lolita” fascination. Even her outfit pushes this notion; the teddy bear’s ears are the cups holding up her breasts. However, in trying to capture and grip onto her new found sexuality, Cyrus is sexualizing childhood innocence as she grinds and gyrates on the teddy bears. All that dry-humping of the teddy bears can be a side effect of the Molly she apparently pops or it signifies the undeniable sexualization of childhood and subversion of childlike innocence which plagues young girls today in pop culture today.
2. The Reinforced Gender Roles of Sexual Expression. People are bringing it to the internet about how inappropriate it is that Miley, a 20-year-old, was nearly naked and grinding on the 36 year old married man, Robin Thicke, but why is no one questioning the man? Not only is Thicke sixteen years older than her, but he’s married – married. But this society condones older men who can bag the barely legal “hot chick,” and double congratulate men who can juggle more than one woman. Men are rewarded for being promiscuous, but women are reprimanded. So as it goes, Miley is the typical conquest in her performance – another notch on Thicke’s belt. And although Cyrus does stick a foam finger between her legs as a phallic representation, she still plays the role of the submissive female when she bends over for Thicke. Even by acting like a man – the phallic foam finger between her legs – she cannot come full circle into her sexuality and dominance over it until she finds the other half of it: the man. Not only is this dangerously heteronormative that a woman needs a man to accurately portray and explore her sexuality, but it reasserts the idea that sex is merely an activity found within the male gaze. Miley’s nude latex outfit is blatantly a play on the naked women in Thicke’s music video for, “Blurred Lines,” and, just like those women, Miley is merely an accessory to his masculinity and sexual drive. And yet, because Robin Thicke is married and Miley is doing the grinding, Miley is the modern day vamp out to destroy and corrupt innocent and unsuspecting married men. Please.
3. Miley Cyrus Fetishizes Oppressed Cultures for Personal Gain. I hate to break it to all you white girls out there uploading your Youtube videos, but you did not invent “twerking.” Miley, as many privileged young white women do, turned to other cultures for “creative” and “innovative” ideas with which she could reinvent herself with. Newsflash: it’s actually really inappropriate to use other cultures’ creations, beliefs, and expression as an adorable and fashionable new way to gain a sense of self. You cannot find yourself by exploiting others. And in the case of Miley Cyrus, she took to liking the dance craze of “twerking” – a style of dance which, to be honest, is not really all that new. In fact, before young white women started posting their videos where they attempt the dance, I clearly remember twerking being seen as dirty, slutty, and “ghetto.” It was something white girls just did not do merely because it was “gross” – it was an activity done only by “hip-hop video vixens.” Well, Miley must have found it to be cute because now she “won’t stop,” and in between her music video and MTV’s VMAs, she takes another culture as a cute way to reinvent and change her wholesome image. Or, in other words, Miley Cyrus is cashing in on another culture’s creative invention to help herself create a new image separated from child stardom and bring in more cash. It’s a gimmick at the cost of another culture’s creativity, and yet again, thanks to white girls bringing it to the mainstream (white culture) and making it their own, only they profit from it whereas black women receive no credit.
4. Miley Uses Black Women as Accessories. There are black women on the stage with teddy bears literally strapped to their back as they dance with Miley. I’m not kidding. Go watch the performance again and note that there are black women with teddy bears strapped to their backs. And, acting as if they’re her friends, it’s easy to see that Miley not only finds this culture “cute” and “fun,” but sickeningly “endearing” in a way a child sees a puppy in a window. These women are her props; they’re not people to her, they’re just another part of the stage and another commodity to solidfy the fact that she is totally in with the “twerking crowd.” It all just seems like a sad attempt on Miley’s part to say, “These are my friends! I fit in with these guys! See, I can be hip-hop too!” Except, Miley, people are not accessories, and their cultures are not a fun game for you to pick up and play when you’re bored with yourself.
5. Miley Reestablishes the Stereotype of the ‘Sexually Deviant Black Woman.’ I am a little bit more than disappointed that Miley Cyrus actually finds it appropriate to literally motorboat a black woman’s ass as she dances. What does this say? This says two things: (1) A black woman’s ass is the most important and most attractive part to them and (2) A black woman’s ass is the only part of them that matters. This perpetuates the stereotype that black women are sexual deviants of sorts who, unlike white people, cannot control their sexual urges. And, as it is commonly understood as a racist notion, black women’s sexual power is found in their asses; it is the part of them that is completely fetishized and demeaned, leaving black women as people dehumanized and victimized.