Last week, MP asked us to see if we could go through an entire week in which we do not “judge” other women. I found myself judging female celebrities mostly, women that I do not know at all. My study breaks often consist of the ritual mindless scrolling through gossip websites—some trashy and sensational, some tamer. These tame websites are my favorites, perhaps, because they give me the impression that I am doing something harmless; they often report the story or post the picture, but without the rude commentary, name-calling or judgment call. But really, that just ends up leaving the judgment calls to me.
And right now, I, along with much of the Internet, am busy judging Miley…from her VMA performance to the “Wrecking Ball” video to her scandalous Terry Richardson photographers to her recent SNL appearance, there’s a lot on which we all seem to have an opinion. Earlier today I read an article that asked what women her age (also our age) think about Miley, an article essentially about judgment. I’d like to share a few of the excerpts from four young women:
“I think it’s hard for her being in the public eye, but she has gone in the wrong direction. She seems to think she’s the next Madonna or something, and doing all this is breaking boundaries, but I think it’s completely different – she’s selling her body and it’s not different because it’s already been done.” – Holly, 20
“I’ve heard the reason she’s so exposed and not wearing very much in her videos is because it’s all to do with vulnerability, but I think she’s taken it too far.” – Sian, 18
“I think she’s gone a bit too far. I don’t get it, I don’t think it’s very attractive and I don’t see why she’d want to portray herself like that…Fair enough if it’s her choice but maybe she should hold back a bit, considering she is a role model.” – Sarah, 19
I picked the quotes above, because something about them seems sympathetic, but not. I noticed the role of the “but” in these statements. It’s as if we can’t help ourselves; we want to give Miley the benefit of the doubt, but then we don’t—instead we judge. Each statement addresses Miley’s behavior. The women assess it and pass judgment on it; the part that interested me is that they assess Miley’s behavior according to who they think Miley is supposed to be (something MP mentioned in class), whether it is a wanna-be Madonna or a role model. They scrutinize Miley according to a culturally created category that they have assigned to her.
The third quote interests me, because Sarah in some ways wants to let Miley be. When she says, “Fair enough if it’s her choice,” it seems Sarah is okay with Miley’s behavior as long as it’s autonomous. However, she immediately contradicts that statement when she follows it with her suggestion that Miley needs to tame her image, because she is a role model.
I think these statements reveal how we have been shaped to judge women, to subject them to our examination and ultimate criticism. Even when we attempt to withhold from judgment, it is impossible to refrain. The statement below gets at this idea:
“I don’t know if her image has been created on her own accord or whether someone is telling her that’s what sells in the music industry. But at the same time it’s her body and she can do what she likes. I don’t think it’s showing a positive image to young girls but I don’t think the blame should entirely go on her – it’s more complex than that. I don’t judge her and I feel she’s being judged a lot. I would judge the reasons why she is doing these things. Hopefully she might realise herself that it might not be the wisest road to go down.” – Megan, 21
I think Megan is trying to get at the complexity of judgment. She grants Miley temporary autonomy in saying, Miley can do what she wants with her own body, but at the same time condemns the image Miley presents. She asks us to recognize that Miley can’t wholly be blamed for her actions, but in saying so, she asserts that Miley’s actions are, in fact, blameworthy. I am not arguing that she is right or wrong in these assessments, but I do find it interesting that she also states, “I don’t judge her.”
Additionally, in asking us to blame, not just Miley, but also the reasons why she is doing these things, Megan again strips Miley of autonomy. Even in thinking Miley’s behavior and image are merely reproductions, shaped by the culture of the music industry, a notion, which is Megan’s opinion diffuses blame, we further objectify Miley. I found this article to be frightening and accurate in its depiction of female judgment—we are programmed to subject women to judgment, even when this judgment is unconscious.