e-WAVES Issue #2 November 2013: MILEY WOMEN, CULTURE AND REBELLION

MILEY: WOMEN, CULTURE AND REBELLION by Mikhail  Rosli

As I watched Miley twerk herself sillily at the VMAs, I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth pop culture had arrived here. It’s as if raunchy acts are the only legitimate way to gain attention. The worst part is, it’s true – it is the only way to get attention in a culture with the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel.

To those wondering what “twerking” actually is, it’s the bizarre physical act of swinging the buttocks in a vertical pendulum, and this is supposed to be “cool”. But you have to hand it to Miley, her VMA stunt didn’t just get the world talking, it dragged feminist intellectuals into the conversation. Yes, Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance inspired a lot of feminist literature; from racial to ethical. (Ed note: Watch the video here and tell us what you think. Email comments to e.waves.awam@gmail.com).

Still, an important part of the conversation needs to be highlighted. Is sexual exhibitionism a good way to express feminist liberty? Or in looser terms, should Miley’s actions be considered a freedom or a vice for womankind?

Before you draw your own conclusions, we really need to start thinking about this question because oftentimes this debate gets sidelined or overshadowed by the immense criticism that comes for these acts. Of course, we all have a sense of why she pulled the VMA stunt, with reasons ranging from breaking away from her Disney past to exploring her newfound identity, but we need to separate the act from the message, and concentrate on what her stunt tells us about society rather than label her disgusting and forget about her in the coming weeks. Regardless of what you think of her stunt, she came with a strong message to send, “we can’t stop”, we can do anything, be it shaking our behinds to fame. Although she might have aimed more towards teenagers, her message is a powerful signal to women that women can do anything, a rallying cry you seldom hear anymore. But unfortunately, the message is watered down; solely because of the way she delivered it.

Now, sexual exhibitionism is a complicated thing, it interferes with the common notion of what women should be, especially so in a conservative country like Malaysia – but what you see as excessive, I see as equality. How different on a scale of sexuality was Robin Thicke, also on the stage, with his song “Blurred Lines”? If you’re still perplexed, have a go at reading the lyrics for “Blurred Lines” and imagine what it’s like being a woman listening to that song.

Take “I know you want it” as an example, it literally means whatever reaction women have to sexual advances means she welcomes it, or as popularized by meme-based humor,“she wants the D”.

This is rape culture, an attitude we’ve popularized to the dismay of women. If you’ve ever thought or uttered the words “they want it just as much as we do”. Then you should know that’s a terrible way to approach how women see sex, and has in the past resulted in rape. And it also typifies how pervasive this sentiment is.

“It says a lot about the society that we live in when women have to sexualize themselves to gain attention and that only women are subjected to scrutiny when male artists can do the same [sexually exhibiting] without the same level of uproar” said my friend Kamilia, (ed note: Kamilia Khairul Anwar’s article is also featured in this issue of e-Waves), in a late night Facebook chat. Despite it being the wee hours, she struck a serious point. We treat women with a double standard, a glaring one; we freely denigrate sexually active women while sexually active men have no such negative pressure.

So, as an observer, you’d have to hand it to Miley, if she was trying to garner attention towards feminism, it worked. Not only has it succeeded in sparking conversation, it also succeeded in drawing attention to the double standards that we practice. For that, bravo Miley, your butt-shaking made us think.

Still, not everyone would agree to that. Some see that sexualisation weakens a particular gender since it focuses attention to physical attributes of women instead of much more vital traits like personality [otherwise known as objectification]. Plus, subjecting women to such a demeaning and submissive position is something that should be shunned.

“It’s horrible, how can her father let her do such a thing, that’s not empowering at all, pop culture is making us women into sexual objects.” When another friend of mine, Farah, another self-proclaimed feminist, gave this reply it was to refute my earlier points made when we discussed this thoroughly. She also made a key point when she said this: sexualizing women made them sexual objects, which places a serious damper on what I said earlier. Plus, it gives us an idea of the chasm even amongst feminists about Miley.

But the disagreement amongst feminists is rooted in the fact that they made no distinction between sexualisation and double standards. Sexualisation and double standards are different things. You don’t need a sexualized culture to have double standards. ey don’t cause nor result in each other. Sexualisation in general is bad for any gender.

Seeing this, it gives the debate much more room to maneuver and react to Miley. So, despite the raunchiness of Miley’s performance, Miley exposed a serious thing we should look at, “why are we setting a different bar for women?” One thing Miley taught us was that if we want to create a climate where being a certain gender doesn’t come with necessary connotations like “menshould be strong” or “women should be composed” we have to start dismembering our preconceived notions of gender.

Another thing Miley callously showed us was to what extent have we created an environment in pop culture where women are measured by their sexual value. Again, although we can disagree on how appropriate the shake-butt-naked-to-fame model but we can agree on how influential the acts are and how increasingly close we are to unanimously agreeing that when 20 year old girls start twerking onstage in latex underwear, we should all facepalm.

WRITER’S PROFILE: “A unicorn”, as a good friend would describe. Regardless of how inaccurate the adjective might hold to describe a 20-year old male first-year PPE student at the University of Warwick, the label is able to capture the rarity of aspiring writer-activists, eager and passionate in everyday causes. But unlike unicorns, to think that Mikhail Rosli has a point to make against the idiosyncrasies of the world requires no faith.

Click here for the full publication and other articles.

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