Miley Cyrus vs. Rashida Jones: What is Feminine Power?

16 Dec 2013

cyrus and jones

Actress/Producer Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”) has gotten blowback from some feminist groups for complaining that “stripper poles, G-strings, boobs, and a lot of tongue action [are] all now normal accessories for mainstream pop stars” and “2013 was the Year of the Very Visible Vagina.” 

Jones wondered if she could just like the music “without having to take an ultrasound tour of some pop star’s privates?”  Prachi Gupta of Salon.com criticized Jones, defending Miley Cyrus’ “twerking” flesh-fest as experimenting with sexuality and sexual power.  But is the behavior of Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and others industry or artistry?  Power or objectification?

Salon.com’s Gupta lambasted Rashida Jones for being condemning, anti-feminist and “judgy” by telling female pop stars to #stopactinglikewhores. Jones tweet was not the best choice of words, but I would argue that pop stars who appeal to the lowest common denominator are conformist, not feminist. 

How can we maintain that these women own their sexual power or any power when they are gyrating about the stage nearly naked in front of men who are fully clothed? See Robin Thicke.

In the NewStatesman.com, Sarah Ditum states:

From Miley grinding Robin Thicke to smacking her backing dancer’s buttocks, the VMAs showed that, once again, white men run the show, black men play support, all the women get mostly naked, and black women get to hold up the bottom of the objectification pile.

Clearly, Ditum agrees with Jones, who has “had enough” of the “pornification” of these women:

“[I]t is one of the only roles that’s available to female pop stars – certainly for Cyrus, who’s trying to get away from the country-pop sweetheart persona of Hannah Montana that Taylor Swift now occupies. “You’re a good girl,” croons Thicke ironically over Cyrus’s jiggling heiny, and what do ironic good girls do? They get nasty in exactly the way boys want them to, while the boys stay neatly clothed. It makes it drearily obvious just who’s in charge.”

And who got the blame for this behavior?  Cyrus. To most, Robin Thicke was just a bystander, even though he wrote the nasty lyrics.   Contrary to this, Salon.com’s Gupta posits: 

“[F]emale pop stars still have a long way to go in order to bridge the gender gap. But is it fair to tell them that they are “acting like whores” when they gyrate their hips, that they should cover up, that they’re part of the problem?”

Exhibitionism and poor imitations of sexuality are hardly expressions of a woman’s power, sexual or otherwise.  Ms. Gupta unfortunately glosses over Cyrus’ disrespectful ass-slapping treatment of the other female dancers on the stage.  Hardly a feminist maneuver.  Gupta also complains.

…Female sexuality is, as Jones noted, complex, but it’s also incredibly intense and largely unexplored. Telling women to stop displaying their bodies isn’t the way to reclaim the female form. In fact, that’s the only way to ensure that nothing will change about how we perceive it.”

In discussing women’s sexuality, Gupta links up to work by journalist Daniel Bergner, whose research offers that “gender stereotypes have shaped scientific research and blinded researchers to evidence of female lust and sexual initiation throughout the animal kingdom, including among humans.”  The article states that “society’s repression of female sexuality has reshaped women’s desires and sex lives.”

There is no doubt that women endure a double standard in our society; the madonna/whore complex is alive and well.  But the way to cure those stereotypes is not with pouty gyrations and nearly nude, awkward, posturing.  Nothing will change in how we “perceive” the female form or the genuine desires of women as long as we restrict ourselves to parading around in ways that fourteen year old boys think we do.

Offering up the female form as something prurient while a man stands “smug” and fully clothed just sends the message that women are objects – and female pop stars who participate are also helping ensure that those perceptions will not change.  If we are talking feminism, with that goes responsibility.  Is it fair to put this responsibility on women and not ask that men participate in creating the change Ms. Gupta asks for?  No.  But awareness needs to start someplace.

Don’t we also have to ask why women are displaying their bodies?  If it is simply to sell records, to please men or bow to an industry which wants to use them in a prurient fashion, that is not growing our understanding of women’s sexuality, but only ensuring that we will continue to see women as objects of desire to be used.

Teens and ‘tweeners’ emulate these stars’ every move.  Research has shown that in the name of earning popularity, young girls are imitating a casual sexual behavior damaging to their self-esteem, encouraging glib sexual action when they are too immature to understand the consequences. And as Jones points out:

Every star interprets “sexy” the same way: lots of skin, lots of licking of teeth, lots of bending over…. in pop culture there’s just one way to be. And so much of it feels staged for men, not for our own pleasure.

While women are not to blame for an industry controlled by men, women cannot seek empowerment on the one hand and pretend they are not possessed of free will to say no on the other.  You will not get empowered by acting like an object of pleasure but by objecting to that treatment.

Beyoncé, for example, is a powerful, talented artist and does not need to gyrate or parade around like a Victoria’s Secret model or pole dancer in order to sell records.

Doing a bit of research to see alternatives to the work of Mylie Cyrus and Nicki Minaj, I came across the knockout talent of rising Billboard star, Janelle MonaeHer compositions are stunning, as is her voice and dance.  While she meets the music industry’s standard of beauty, one watches her videos appreciating her music, sense of individuality, empowerment and yes, sexuality – without the need to show her privates.

Yet Miley Cyrus was the #1 Yahoo-search this year – along with being a contender for TIME’s person of the year.  What message does that send? Sensationalism and objectification won out over artistry.

Is there room for women to have freedom of artistic expression, including nudity, if they so choose?   Of course.  I’m just not convinced that the displays we’ve gotten this year are getting us any closer to the kind of empowerment Rashida Jones’ critics are aiming for.

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Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé deconstructing the biased media narrative plaguing women who dare to lead.  Available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. #1 on Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.

Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.

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