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In Defence of Miley Cyrus on her Birthday

Criticising Miley Cyrus for being inauthentic effectively says to women: "you can't be who you want to be". By Courtney Sanders.
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Dominant society doesn't really want women to be in control, so it tries to destroy women, like Miley Cyrus, who are.

A few weeks ago Miley Cyrus came to New Zealand and Australia as part of her Bangerz world tour. Unfortunately I couldn't attend the Sydney leg of the tour, but the editor of our brother publication, Sneaky magazine did, and he thought it was excellent and very Miley Cyrus-y, which is pretty much what everybody I know who had gone to one of the shows said.

There were giant inflatable versions of her dog, a dwarf dressed as a joint, and giant rainbow writing that declared "Thanks for Cumming", because of course. And then there was Miley: wearing a glittery, high-cut leotard with marijuana leaves all over it, grinding all over the aforementioned set and promoting getting fucked up to her fans, quite a lot of whom are quite young.

She apparently sings and performs really well, too; by all reports – as well as by numerous YouTube videos – she belts out her hit singles like someone who has been doing something similar for most of her life, probably because she has.

But a lot of local reviews during that tour – and one in particular – focus on Miley's inauthentic persona, and the negative effect her sexually explicit messages will have on her fans. To complicate their dislike for Miley Cyrus, they criticise her under the guise of feminism: that Miley has had to turn herself into a sex symbol to become popular, and that she is sending the message that woman have to be sexy in order to be successful.

Well, that's bullshit: I believe Miley Cyrus is in complete control of her image, and knows exactly what she's doing. Lily Allen, whose single Hard Out Here, detailed the ways in which women are treated in the music industry, agrees. She writes some of her songs and not others, but, like most pop stars, her talent is in performing those songs – not in writing them – so this is a kind of redundant metric. She seems legitimately into Hip Hop. She seems legitimately into partying, and kissing girls, and smoking weed, and I'm unsure what the metric for measuring her authentic interest in these things would be, other than her doing them, which she does.

But whether Miley Cyrus is or isn't in control of her image and work isn't really the question. The question is: why did we start questioning her authenticity in the first place? We certainly didn't have a problem with her authenticity during the first decade of her career, when she was performing as Hannah Montana, a character with good, and pretty traditional values, constructed by Disney to be adored by and sold to a teenage audience (merchandise!). No, we began to have a problem with her when she, like most teenage women everywhere, grew up, and started embracing her sexuality and newfound emancipation as part of her image.

Earlier this year Meredith Graves, feminist and frontwoman of Perfect Pussy, gave a speech before her band performed at Basilica Soundscape. You can read the full thing here, but she compared two music icons who have been constructed by the industry, Andrew WK and Lana Del Ray, and how their authenticity is perceived. She argues that because Andrew WK is a man, he has received no criticism for the fact that Andrew WK was invented in a boardroom, whereas Lana Del Ray has received criticism for absolutely everything she does: her music, her looks, her messages (admittedly the messages in her songs are pretty problematic). Here is a great outtake from Graves' speech:

"Tavi Gevinson put it brilliantly when she said that Lana Del Rey "has many different qualities that women in our culture aren't allowed to be, all at once, so people are trying to find the inauthentic one." Early on, when Del Rey was asked if she was enjoying her new success despite all the backlash, she said, "I never felt any of the enjoyment. It was all bad, all of it..."

If the main reason the world thinks Miley Cyrus is inauthentic, and therefore bad – which seem to be considered the same thing so frequently with discussion to Miley Cyrus, as to actually be the same thing – because she is promoting subversive (read: progressive) ideas about sexuality and female behaviour in her work, like, are we serious? Firstly, it's 2014 and every teenager who is watching Wrecking Ball or following Miley Cyrus on Twitter has simultaneous access to everything else on the Internet.

Secondly, what this means is that the dominant members of society – baby boomers, business owners, bankers, politicians (who are mostly conservative worldwide at the moment) – are promoting traditional, backward, misogynistic attitudes about women and the behaviour they can and cannot possess, arguably so they can sell shit to us and control us. As Naomi Woolf said in The Beauty Myth: "As women demanded access to power, the power structure used the beauty myth materially to undermine women's advancement". This is exemplified by the messages mainstream media sends to young women today.

Take women's fashion magazines, that tell them what they can and cannot wear, how they should and should not maintain hair all over their body, how they should and should not act when going on a date, how they should and should not act when having sex. Take reality television and shows like The Bachelor, in which carefully edited, two-dimensional constructs of women are horrifically pitted against each other in service of entertainment and of finding a husband (because that's something we should all be very concerned about). Take the Miss World Pageant, in which beautiful women are still paraded around, compared, and then judged for the strength of their bikini bodies. Take the recently release of the Pirelli calendar, in which women's bodies are employed to sell tires because there is a relationship there, right? Take Tim Elliot's recent misogynistic feature in one of this country's national daily newspapers, about Abbey Lee Kershaw, in which he argues that the relative strengths of Miranda Kerr and Abbey Lee's careers is a direct result of the differences in their breasts. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The dominant members in our society destroy Miley Cyrus for being who she is because who she is an independent, free-thinking women whose value system doesn't fit with their completely redundant vision of what a women's value system should be. Miley Cyrus is an effective distraction away from those dominant members of our society who are doing the real damage, so let's try to turn the spotlight away from her, and onto them, for a while.


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In Defence of Miley Cyrus on her Birthday
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