Miley Cyrus Is Trying to Tell Us Something About Objectification

 

 

She shouldn’t over-sexualize herself because it undermines her talent, her accomplishments, and her natural beauty – and it reverses the conversation about women back to their bodies.

That’s the thrust of a take on Miley Cyrus from the conservative Independent Women’s Forum.

Coupla issues here. First, when does sexualizing cross the line into over-sexualizing? This line is a pretty important one to identify, since crossing it apparently “undermines [a woman’s] talent, her accomplishments, and her natural beauty.” I guess her “natural beauty” is separate from her sexuality. How does that work exactly?

As far as reversing the conversation about women back to their bodies, that ship has sailed, and slut-shamers are at the helm. If you’ve decided you can dismiss what a woman is saying based on poorly-defined-but-rigidly-enforced rules about what she should be putting in or on her body, you’re part of the problem of objectification, not the solution.

I’m loathe to use Miley Cyrus as a touchpoint to criticize slut-shaming, because to me her performance was pretty disturbing from an aesthetic and racial standpoint, see Jezebel for more on that point. But, having been asked to comment on Mileygate, I’ll try to use her performance to clear up some misconceptions about feminism.

When you objectify someone, you stop considering them as a full person with agency who deserves respect. Objectification is wrong. Some people have a difficult time seeing someone as a sexual being and a full person at the same time. One solution to men who can’t see a woman as a sexual being and a person at the same time is to hide away women’s sexuality from these men. See burqas in Africa the Middle East. Another solution is to encourage women to wear what they want, even if it’s a teddy-bear teddy at the VMA’s, and educate men and women that inside that teddy is a real person with real thoughts and feelings.

It really is that simple. And if you can’t see which is the better option, for women and for men, I don’t really know what to do for you.

7 Comments

  1. George Apostolopoulos

    First of all, for “slut-shaming” to have any sort of meaning, it /must/ carry with it the implication that the “slut” being “shamed” has agency. If it didn’t, then it wouldn’t really make any sense. One cannot both deny agency and ridicule someone for being a “slut”, so I don’t know what you’re clamoring about there. Secondly, having agency is not an automatic qualifier for respect. Given the way you’re using the term, I’m assuming that you think everyone has agency. I sincerely doubt that you think everyone needs to be respected at all times and in every action. The reason for this is twofold. One, if you respected everyone in everything they did, then respect would not mean much of anything at all. Respect would just be a given. Two, I doubt you think everyone’s actions are always worthy of respect. To get the Godwin out of the way: Hitler. You don’t even have to go that far, though. I have a feeling that you don’t respect the agency of “slut-shamers” when they use their agency to “shame sluts”.

    Another thing that I don’t particularly understand is how you make the leap from “what Miley did was slutty” to “EVERYONE WOMAN MUST WEAR A BURQA AT ALL TIMES”. I know that they’ve made a bridge that crosses the Grand Canyon now, so you might want to look into how they constructed that if you want whatever point you were trying to make to survive the leap over the chasm in thought that you’ve left unaccounted for.

    “Another solution is to encourage women to wear what they want, even if
    it’s a teddy-bear teddy at the VMA’s, and educate men and women that
    inside that teddy is a real person with real thoughts and feelings.”
    Wat? Underneath that short mustache, swastika and genocide is a real person–a tortured, starving artist–with real thoughts and feelings (welcome back, Godwin). Seriously, though, you what does this have to do with anything? Maybe you should just leave slut-shamers alone, too, since, deep inside, they have real thoughts and feelings. 🙁

    • Erin

      You certainly can ridicule someone by using a derogatory word that denies agency (hence people being called “assholes”. Literal assholes have no agency).

      Cathy never implied agency equals respect; agency and humanity grants a moral agent respect (wherein respect is a manner in which a person is treated, not a personal opinion of another’s preferences) UNTIL that moral agent does something morally reprehensible (e.g. Hitler, slut-shamers).

      I also find it interesting that you accuse Cathy of making leaps and bounds by saying slut-shaming = burqas (which is not that far a leap), but you then immediately compare her evaluation of a sexualized Miley–who has done nothing to violate anyone’s rights or harm people– as a person with feelings to an evaluation of Hitler–who has harmed countless people and violated the NAP like few others– as a person with feelings. You’d need a land bridge from Maine to Chile to justify that illogical trek.

      You hypocrisy, however, interests me far less than why you mask your obvious disgust/anger at a girl being openly sexual with sophist arguments that prove nothing except that you don’t like the author’s use of the word “agency”.

        • Erin

          A rule? No. But it speaks to your character if you compare someone acting in a way that hurts no one to Adolph Hitler. I think it also puts the criticizer in the position of having to defend why they are entitled to critique the lifestyle of others when said lifestyle does not impact them (especially if that person purports to value individuality and personal autonomy).

  2. Seth MacLeod

    Regarding over-sexualization, I would think that people have different expectations as to what amount of sexuality is relevant to a performance, and also what actions are even considered sexual in nature. It seems that Schaeffer considers “sexual tongue moves, ‘twerking’, and almost non-existent costumes” to not be relevant for this performance. I think an interesting question would be if Schaeffer would have a similar opinion about The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  3. Andrea Castillo

    Late to the party, but here are a few quick thoughts.

    “First, when does sexualizing cross the line into over-sexualizing?”

    P sure it’s kind of like pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Of course different people have different thresholds, but it’s not hard to gauge the societal range. Needless to say, Miley exceeded it.

    I liked Camille’s take on this question: “Subversion requires limits to violate.” http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/27/pops-drop-from-madonna-to-miley/

    “As far as reversing the conversation about women back to their bodies, that ship has sailed, and slut-shamers are at the helm.”

    Yawn. Throwing around a catchphrase like “slut-shamer” doesn’t really constitute an argument. No one is “dismissing what she is saying” – she wasn’t saying anything! Miley was not reading poetry or making a statement about foreign policy, she was writhing around on stage with Mr. Blurred Lines himself. This isn’t an issue of sexuality undermining voice, but of a young woman solely *milking* hypersexuality to her own detriment.

    “When you objectify someone, you stop considering them as a full person
    with agency who deserves respect. Objectification is wrong. Some people
    have a difficult time seeing someone as a sexual being and a full person
    at the same time.”

    It is certainly possible to respect the target of your objectification! Porn stars are often worshiped by their adoring fans.

    Question: what reaction do you think Miley was intending to provoke, if not sexual desire? Do you think you have the right to tell a woman how she should or should not conduct herself with regards to those who are objectifying her? What if a woman *likes being* or *wants to be* objectified? Why should your moral opinions matter more than that individual’s?

    “It really is that simple. And if you can’t see which is the better
    option, for women and for men, I don’t really know what to do for you.”

    ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it,’ eh? Looks like you are more interested in moralizing than discussion. -_- Anyways, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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