Changing Miley: Should we even be trying?

Continuing my theme of pop singers vs. others, this blog gives us one match up that I’m sure many have heard about already. Miley Cyrus has recently been in a bit of a feud with singer/song writer Sinead O’Connor. The two have been in an email/social media battle for the past few weeks, but for this blog,  I’ll be talking about some of the overall implications presented in O’Connor first email (due to length you can find the full email here).

Long story short, O’Connor warns Miley against selling off her body for the benefits of others. She expresses her distaste for Miley’s nudity in her most recent music video, “Wrecking Ball“, especially after hearing O’Conner’s, “Nothing Compares 2U” was her inspiration. O’Connor writes:

I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way “cool” to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.

Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.

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The letter continues more along these lines, but ends with O’Connor expressing her beliefs in Miley’s talents as she pleads with the artist to relocate the attention back to those talents and away from her body.

I personally did not find myself overly offended with Miley’s video. I was a little disturbed by the sledgehammer licking, but brushed it off. I didn’t find her nudity necessary, but was not up in arms about it. With that said, I did find myself agreeing whole heartedly with O’Connor’s passionate letter.  I found it hard, especially after watching Dreamsworld 3,  to disagree with the assumption that Miley’s body was being “prostituted” out for the people’s enjoyment at her own hindrance.

O’Connor wants us to believe that Miley’s body is no longer under her control. I believed this idea, but the comments section started suggesting otherwise. The commenters made the bold claim: What are the implications if we consider that Miley is indeed in charge of her own body despite our beliefs? Taking it a step further: Has O’Connor engaged in slut shaming despite her seemingly genuine intentions? This remark by commenter, bethi200, on the issue brings these questions to mind:

Listen — I agree with a lot of what Ms. O’Connor said, including the likelihood that Miley is being exploited and has been in many ways encouraged and rewarded for being complicit in her own exploitation. However, the idea that “young women need to be protected” and that “your body is for you and your boyfriend,” along with a lot of the other things she writes, can easily be interpreted as slut-shaming. Anyone who wants to celebrate their sexuality, man or woman, should not be shamed for doing so. When you say “she looks like a prostitute or porn star” and claiming that she’s going to hate the “bad example she set,” while arguably correct, DO feed into the double standard that exists in which women are made to feel ashamed for their bodies, clothes, sexuality, etc. It’s a tricky line to walk, and I think we need to be aware of both sides and avoid condemning women, especially when it comes to blaming the way they dress and act for the “dangers” in the world…we should be blaming the rapists.

The commenters words brought this debate into a new light for me. Whose place is it really to question Miley on her decisions? If questioning must be done, How do we go about it in a way that does not imply slut-shaming to any degree? What do you, the people, think?


4 thoughts on “Changing Miley: Should we even be trying?

  1. I agree that many of the comments against Miley have been rooted in a slut shaming mentality. I also have a problem with O’Connor’s insistence that Miley has been convinced that she wants to exploit her body and that this decision is not her own. O’Connor insists that Miley’s actions are inspired by the executives who profit from her exploitation. It is frustrating that there is no way to believe that Miley acts with agency. Miley wants to redefine her image and she has every right to decide how to present herself. It reminds me of the section of Dreamworlds 3 that addresses the simultaneous exploitation of women by the male rappers and the rappers themselves by the white, male executives. Jhally proposes that these executives encourage the rappers to represent themselves in a certain way in their videos for their own purposes. It does not seem possible that these record producers have the ultimate power in determining what these artists choose to create. Maybe it is naive but it is hard for me to imagine that these executives are as evil, manipulative, and all knowing as we credit them to be.

    • But isn’t agency in this context unknowable? It is certainly possible that Miley is making these decisions and these calls herself, and has the full support of her management to do what she pleases. Yet, it is also possible that she’s in a position that no-one would say no to her. Her reaction to the VMA controversy was basically to say that her act wasn’t racist because she’s friends with her dancers. But how much agency do the dancers have when Miley is their employer? Miley herself is also an employee – without actually being in her position, it’s impossible to say, but I have no doubt that record executives and producers do have a substantial amount of influence on the artists in their rosters.

    • Thanks for your response, Meghan. I saw an article on buzzfeed that particularly addresses the problem with Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley, which many media outlets praised. While Sinead praises Miley, she simultaneously condemns her–unable to withhold judgment. She claims Miley is devaluing herself through her sexualized behavior, but in slut-shaming Miley (which I think she definitely does), Sinead, in fact, devalues Miley and objectifies Miley’s body, telling her it’s not hers to do with what she wants. In Sinead saying Miley (her body included) “ought be protected as a precious young lady,” she attempts to take away Miley’s autonomy. Miley may be working within the confines of the contemporary music culture, but I also think it’s wrong to automatically assume Miley isn’t conscious of these constraints and instead, that a bunch of music execs are the ones telling her to how to behave.

      The buzzfeed article is here:

      and an article I just read today and may comment on more later includes Gloria Steinman’s response on this issue:

  2. Pingback: Whose Agency Is It, Anyway? | Girlpower

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