From Our Teen Readers
June 17, 2015 3:43 pm

The music industry and the media have always been critical of women for gendered reasons. When women begin to do the same thing to fellow women, the issue becomes paramount.

As a prime example, take the endlessly-discussed Miley Cyrus: From articles on her “Wrecking Ball” video and revealing Instagram photos to her recent submission to the NYC porn film festival, people love to write about her. It seems her body is a battle field which is constantly under attack. As a feminist, I’m a little ashamed at my initial response to it all; my reaction was generic, to say the least. As my feminist views progressed, I changed my thinking to a very simple line of reasoning: If I believe that women should be able to dictate their own choices, have the same human rights as men, and wear as much or little clothing as they want without being respected any less, then what did Miley Cyrus do wrong?

So, let’s go through the list. Is it the fact that she has a predominantly young fan base, and so could be accused of influencing her fans as a role model? Well, going by that logic, many female singers in the music industry be guilty of being “bad influences,” as well. Rihanna and Beyoncé both have young girls in their fan base, much like Miley Cyrus. Just like Miley, they both explore sexual ways of performing, yet in contrast to Miley’s media reception, Rihanna and Beyoncé are admired for those very same traits (as they should be, as talented and hard-working musicians.) What causes this difference? Is it the shock of Miley Cyrus’ change from the squeaky-clean Disney star on Hannah Montana to a performer in her own right? It’s understandably surprising for young girls who have grown up watching her to witness her change; but the adults who seem to obsess over — lo and behold — a girl changing from young teen to young adult seem a broken record.

It’s not just Miley who receives criticism; other female musicians who venture out of societal norms find themselves faced with the same commentary. The sharpest criticisms often seem to come from older female singers who deem it their place to point out the differences in music culture now compared to less progressive times. Ariana Grande, another subject of scrutiny for her body-hugging outfits, was criticized by none other then Bette Midler, who herself was no stranger to media examination of her “risqué image” back in 1970. In an interview with The Guardian, she called Grande out for “slithering around on a couch” and making a “whore out of herself.” Ariana Grande responded with a tweet showing a shot of Bette singing in a fabulous sequined number, questioning her “feminist stance” on the situation. Rising above the insults, Grande ended on a good note, saying, “Always a fan no matter what my love.” Bette eventually apologized.

Some say that feminism is progressing and those who joined the movement around the second wave (for example, Bette) cannot be expected to have views in line with the current wave. However, calling out other women with nasty comments is not only a feminist issue, but a moral one. The open letter Sinead O’Connor wrote regarding Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” video was a shame to read, especially as a fan who adores Sinead’s music. With lines like “don’t let the music business make a prostitute out of you” and “you unwittingly are giving the impression you don’t give a fuck about yourself,” slut-shaming is prominent in the letter. Of course, Miley’s response was equally inappropriate (comparing Sinead to Amanda Bynes and speaking about mental health in a far from tactful manner), but it did bring attention to the recurring theme of women shaming women for what they consider to be ‘un-feminist.’

No matter what your personal opinion is about the music of Miley Cyrus or Ariana Grande, it’s important to be aware of the underlying tone of misogyny behind certain arguments. Let’s not forgot who the nation shamed when Cyrus joined Robin Thicke in a performance and proceeded to dance with him in what was deemed a sexual manner. Despite Thicke’s reputation as a real-life sleezeball, headlines the next day went something along the lines of “Miley Cyrus strokes Robin Thicke’s crotch” and “Miley Cyrus dry humping Robin Thicke” (a particularly lovely one from the Daily Mirror). As Miley so eloquently put it in an interview on Ellen, “No one talks about that. No one cares about the man behind the booty, they just care about the one who’s shaking it. Double standard.” When Ariana evolved from red-haired Disney star to something a little more mature, she provoked a barrage of scrutiny; if she was a man, like Robin Thicke, would existing as a sexual being have brought on the same backlash? It seems that when our society sees a woman behaving in what is deemed to be a sexual way, it is immediately assumed that she doesn’t have respect for herself and needs some hardcore life lessons. Newsflash: It is actually possible for us ladies to love and respect ourselves, and wear a tight dress, show cleavage, and also be talented and ambitious. 

Being a women is complex; being a feminist and a women is even more complex. I think it’s safe to say we’re all working toward the same goal: equality for men and women. Whether we approach that in different ways, or look upon it in different perspectives, it’s essential that we work together to achieve equality. Although the media tells us that a healthy relationship between two women is attacking each other’s personal appearances, fighting over boys, and taking each other down, it doesn’t mean we have to listen. When we fight for women to be able to govern their own lives and their own bodies, we talk about how we need to be fearless in the face of what’s ahead of us. Miley herself summed this up in one sentence: “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women not to be scared of anything.”

Leila Levy Gale is fifteen years old and lives in London. Her hobbies are writing, reading, and acting.

(Images via here)

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