How Miley Cyrus might challenge the values of feminism

Door Joy Diy gepubliceerd op Thursday 29 May 14:36

Since I'm not the most interested in Hollywood, the Top 40, or the general wellbeing of the world's current celebrities, I was only recently introduced to teen star Miley Cyrus, the former Disney actress who has grown up now - and how. That growing up famous can affect somebody is clear, the world has seen Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and Justin Bieber, and my conclusion is usually nothing more than that I couldn't care less. This time, though, I was slightly shocked by reading that Miley Cyrus claims to be ''one of the biggest feminists in the world.'' Many media outlets picked up and published articles about this statement.


Miley Cyrus, who I have been watching online, performing at events, 'twerking' with her tongue out, dancing almost naked, with her extremely skinny, perfectly waxed legs and one of the most flat, non-existent vaginas I have ever seen, basically completely sexualizing herself in order to...attract attention for her music? Compensate for her lack of singing talent? Survive in a showbusiness that is overly dominated by men and their standards? Or does she actually feel liberated showing off her body?


As a feminist, I have to admit that seeing this representation of a twisted western beauty ideal say that she's one of the biggest feminists in the world confuses me.

Isn't she exactly that phenomenon that feminists are fighting? Yes, but isn't she also free to do whatever she desires, and isn't that the main goal of feminism?


It's horribly easy to bitch on her, but she is challenging us on an ideological level.

Should we, feminists and citizens, reconsider our values?


She is doing exactly what she wants, though you can say that 'what she wants', is influenced by the norms of the business that employs her; the norm that a woman’s value is mainly located in her looks. We are dealing here with a conflict between the apparent exercise of autonomy, that women should be free to do as they please and that Cyrus is doing this, and, on the other hand, the structural, systemic influences of patriarchy that might be shaping women’s choices in a way that is undermining their freedom.

(Also, she doesn't seem to be a very intelligent or strong individual and is therefore a good representation of society.)


Sadly, I can understand that women become pragmatic about this fact, on many different levels. Which girl never (ab)used her looks in order to get something done, even if it's something small like getting a free beer?


The issue with this argument is that, getting a free beer because you're beautiful has nothing to do with responsibility. The question is: do those in a position of influence have a greater responsibility than others to uphold positive values and representations of gender? As an idol, Cyrus is an example for many young people, especially girls. If she had any sense of responsibility she could at least consider their wellbeing and maybe even use her power to make a positive change in society.


The outbreak in cosmetic surgery amongst young girls is partly caused by stars like Cyrus conforming to a present-day western beauty ideal, making young girls insecure about themselves. This fabricated insecurity is then used by corporations to sell pointless, arbitrary and illogical beauty products, feeding the capitalist economic system.


It seems quite clear to me that these practices are the fruit of an extremely unhealthy, unrealistic, unachievable beauty ideal. The sexualized behavior of stars, including Cyrus, also provides an unrealistic example of how a girl should behave in general, and even worse, how a girl should behave in order to achieve success. But when you turn it around, Cyrus would probably never have become a star if she hadn't conformed to societies standards, and this is the tragic paradox of the issue.


Disney created Miley Cyrus as a role model for kids. What they didn't take in account is that she'd grow up in this unnatural environment, and as history has shown us, that doesn't always turn out well. Taking these environmental factors into account, it’s clear we can’t place all the responsibility on famous people. I’m not advocating that they always have to behave correctly because they are, at all times, role models, but that perhaps they need to consider the impact their action might have on others.


The upside of Miley's relationship with Disney is that by breaking with them and becoming her adult self she serves to undermine the old-fashioned Disney values and messages about females, such as being innocent, waiting for a prince, maintaining monogamy, etc. Just the transformation from a Disney teen star to a complete slut has at least some emancipatory value.


Historically speaking, we are now in an era where women are almost equal to men, and new questions arise around feminism: principles or individual freedom?

Is it legitimate for a woman to be in absolute freedom if she's harming the utopian principles of feminism, or at least feeding todays anti-feminist standards?


Is there any hypocrisy in claiming to be a feminist but failing to act with care for fellow women or women to be?


Cyrus embodies the western beauty ideal feminists oppose. However, I know that I feel great showing off my body. It's not like Miley's, but my own body is coming very close to the western norm of beautiful. Though I barely shave, don't wear make up, eat whatever I want, have an actual vagina and absolutely don't identify with the girls on the advertisements, I have fine features and I can't help that.

It seems that a mistake some feminists can make is to reject the body that is similar to the mainstream beauty ideal, even if it's a natural body into which a woman has been born.


One of the basic feminist ideas is that all women are beautiful and great the way they are, not just the ones that deviate from the beauty ideal. So the skinny, barely-pussied, make up-wearing women are just as free to be feminists as the rest of women who don't look that way. Given this we can't really say that looking a certain way is indeed undermining feminist values.


But here it gets tricky.


When a woman looks like what most people define as beautiful, it's difficult to find out the reason why she does, while this is, to me, the deciding factor of how beautiful somebody really is.


Does she look good because she just looks good, or does she look good because she has been indoctrinated all her life with images of beauty and feels pressured to look the same? This is a question almost impossible to answer, since also the women supposedly liberated from those unhealthy images, may have unconsciously swallowed them, preventing them from being completely liberated. What I'm saying is that everybody’s taste is culturally influenced by social constructs, which play a part in imposing beauty norms.


So when we weigh the personal freedom of Cyrus against the horrible influence she has on many young people, I am, unlike in other situations, on the libertarian side, choosing her freedom. In my opinion, a society in which your value is decided by your appearance is unfavourable. However, to claim people adjusting to the situation are the ones to blame is perhaps inappropriate. I'd rather not adjust to it, but can you really reject someone who uses this simple structure to get what she wants?


Cyrus caused quite some fuss with her statement, and many reactions for and against her were expressed. In Cyrus' defense, famous feminist Gloria Steinem stated a few days ago: "I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists."


I agree, though I think that, now she's achieved what she wanted, Miley could consider using her position as a star to make a change in the only game that exists, and act more like a responsible adult. After all, she's all grown up now.

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