Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

She Pop: Are You There, God? It's Me, Miley: On Privacy, Teen Sexuality, and the Miley Cyrus Twitter

So: I went to the zoo today. I thought it would be nice! I live in New York City! It is hard to see animals bigger than squirrels or lap dogs out here, so I imagined it would be very fulfilling and grounding, in some sort of hippie Earth Mother way, to actually see some of those and remind myself that I do not live on a planet entirely composed of Pinkberry outlets. But here's the thing: zoos, if you are not seven years old, are very depressing. There's nothing nice about captivity. Even if you wouldn't wish to see some of these animals out and wandering around in your neighborhood - even if they are dangerous or gross or otherwise undesirable - there's something deeply sad and wrong about seeing them stuck behind glass walls, with nothing to do, just waiting for someone to come by and look at them.

It was under these circumstances, then, that I began to think about Miley Cyrus deleting her Twitter. 

She did! She did delete the Twitter! And she released some sort of terrifying "rap video" about it, too, about how she is not "living for the tabloids," but rather, living for Miley. The thing is: I felt far more sympathetic to this than I had intended to be. And I need to tell you why. 

As I wrote yesterday, Taylor Swift creeps me out, not only because of the strangely slut-shaming and pro-abstinence undercurrents of her videos, not only because her public persona is so self-effacing and submissive and meek and coy and Betty Draperian, but because her entire career is about pretending to be a "normal teen girl." Which she's not. I mean, sure, she's technically a teenager - 19, to be precise - but, at 19 years old, you can drive, smoke, have sex with anyone you like, and vote in a Presidential election. Most 19-year-olds do some or all of these things, and often add in a little underage drinking or living away from home, along with other notably adult-like pursuits. Taylor Swift is a woman who wants to be seen as a little girl. And her whole performance of "little girl" is, weil... not that convincing. It seems entirely too adorable and wholesome and sweet and palatable (and meek! OH, GOD THE MEEKNESS! THE "INNOCENCE"! THE WHITE DRESSES! Make it STOPPPPPPP) to be anything remotely like the realities of most teenage girls, which are just too awkward and inevitably obnoxious to go over that well. She seems less like a child than like an adult with a great marketing team who has been coached to do a very convincing impression of a child. But impressions aren't realities, and adults pretending to be children are freakshows, and the whole Taylor Swift phenomenon sort of crashes and explodes in the Uncanny Valley. 

Miley Cyrus, on the other hand... Miley, I believe, is an authentic teenage girl. Despite the fact that she's far more famous than Taylor Swift, and has been in the business far longer (for all her life, in fact). Somehow, despite being raised in the zoo, behind the glass wall, in front of all those spectators, she still seems like the real, undomesticated thing. How do I know she's a real teenager, you ask? Simple: I can't stand her. 

One of the benefits of being asked to do a column on pop music is that you may wind up realizing you know far less about it than you supposed, and will eventually, out of sheer necessity, open yourself up to all kinds of things that you had previously been able to avoid. I had always stayed away from the Miley Thing. Because Miley Cyrus seemed - forgive me as I use some unkind words here - vulgar, crass, stupid, hollow. Oh, and also, racist! And the music was terrible, so really there was no reason to explore further. 

Well: I wound up having a reason, and I wound up exploring further. And one thing I have learned by, say, watching her Youtube video blog (Helpful Hints For Readers: NEVER DO THIS, EVER) is that I was substantially correct. She does seem, for lack of a better word, vulgar. She does come across as shallow and uninteresting. She is loud, being one of those people who mistakes volume for humor. Her parents originally named her "Destiny Hope" (yeah, I KNOW) and she generally seems like the product of parents literal-minded, unimaginative, and unsophisticated enough to name a poor defenseless baby this awful thing. She makes jokes that aren't funny. She thinks she's far cuter than she is. She's un-self-aware enough to, for example, make a video in which she cleans out her closet (it's bigger than my bedroom) and creates a pile of clothes to throw away that is several feet high and covered in expensive-looking items that still have price tags on them. And she's already developed an early, alarming case of Celebrity Dead-Eye - that totally understandable, totally tragic affliction that happens to people who realize, for whatever reason, that their personalities have become products, and that they have become the recipients of more attention and love than they can ever adequately return, and who therefore go through the motions of performing the most marketable aspects of themselves even as they become more and more alienated from them, which inevitably results in someone like Miley mouthing the words "love youuuuuuuuu" and making kissy faces to her fans in the camera while her eyes are empty and dull and her real self, whatever that is, is clearly a million miles away from the girl saying and doing these things. But the weird thing is, even with the Celebrity Dead-Eye, she still feels far closer to being a real girl than any of her Disney peers. Because teenagers, generally, are not that sophisticated or classy or tasteful or (sorry, teens!) "smart" in the same way that adults tend to be. The ugly side of Miley is the side of Miley that lets me know she's still alive in there. 

And here is where this becomes relevant to feminism: the side of her that has been scorned most roundly, and by the largest number of people, is her sexuality. Miley poses with her back exposed: people throw a hissy about its "unwholesomeness." Miley does provocative, pop-star like dances in her stage show: people throw a hissy about her no longer serving as a good "role model." Miley stands next to and/or holds on to a pole in a dance routine: people's heads just generally explode over the POLE DANCING! DIRTY FILTHY POLE DANCING! And, friends, I have known pole dancers, and the stuff they are required to do is generally a lot harder and more athletic and theatrical and complicated than whatever it is that Miley did (expert analysis, after watching video: she held onto a pole). But the point is, whatever shreds of sexuality Miley shows in public are interpreted as far huger and sluttier and more significant than they actually are, and she keeps doing them anyway. Which is how I know she's a real live girl.

Here's the thing: teenagers are sexual. They just are, despite the many powerful cultural messages which tell them not to be. And, for teenage girls, in particular, sexuality is a minefield, given that all the images they see of "sexual women" consist only and entirely of their sexuality, and the fact that the sexuality displayed by those women is generally dude-approved and performative. The role model of a woman who is multi-dimensional, accomplished in many different fields, totally accepting of her body, and fucking hot as hell because she knows she likes sex and is ready and willing and eager to have sex in the ways that are most fulfilling and least compromising for her... well, we don't have that yet. The best solution is to be that role model for yourself, I find. But it's natural to try to take on the many (incomplete, often messed-up) roles that are offered to you, if even for a few minutes or days at a time, to see how they feel. And, eventually, out of all those models of sexuality, you cut and paste and assemble a little collage that represents your unique sexuality. But while you are a teen, you are going to experiment with as many as you can. Sometimes in goofy or embarassing ways. And, when Miley, say, takes a picture of herself in underwear and hiked-up T-shirt, making a kissy face, she's doing precisely that. Which is normal. What's not normal is to have that process observed by several million people who are wayyyyyyyyyyy too invested in it, and willing to pass judgment on you for it. I get why people are uncomfortable with acknowledging teen girl sexuality, too: the fact is that young women are often targeted for sexual assault, have fewer means to defend themselves from it because they know less about the world than adults, and are correspondingly fetishized by way too many creepy, misogynistic men. But to make the whole thing about whether teen girls should be allowed to be sexual, or whether they are Bad Girls for being sexual in ways we do not approve, places the onus on teenage girls and their sexuality. Rather than, say, predatory dudes. And that's a problem.

It shouldn't be a problem to assert these two things, simultaneously: first, that teenage girls are sexual, and want to express and experiment with their sexuality, and second, that their desire to express and experiment with their sexuality shouldn't be exploited by predators. But it is, for some reason, and the end result is that we end up with role models as asexual and one-dimensional as Taylor Swift. Because a girl can't be sexual and innocent, for whatever reason. Because we've constructed a worldview wherein desire and innocence can't occupy the same space. 

What does any of this mean for Miley's deleted Twitter? Well, for one thing, she has one more area of privacy in her life. If those (god-awful) video blogs are any indication, she lives in a generation wherein it has never not been an option to broadcast your entire life. And she's grown up in the zoo, behind the glass: her father was the "Achy Breaky Heart" guy, for God's sake, and she's been acting since she was a very small child, which only exacerbates the problem. Miley is used to being a spectacle; it's what she's been raised to be. But the conundrum of teen girl sexuality, or teen girlhood in general is that (being female sexuality) it will always be shamed and judged and feared, but (being female) it is also always desired and sought out for observation. And it's one of those spaces that I identify as sacred: it shouldn't be put on the public stage, shouldn't be available for public examination, for the exact same reason that you don't rip open a chrysalis to see what kind of butterfly it's turning into. It isn't a butterfly, at the moment: it's a bunch of goo, hoping to find its shape. And if you don't let it find that shape, on its own, then it may never be anything more. 

So, yeah. Miley. You deleted the Twitter? Good for you. Have fun having moments of your life and/or personality that aren't available to anyone else. Have fun being a kid. Because it's what you are, and what you should be allowed to be, terrifying teen stardom notwithstanding. And, while you're at it, can I suggest that you get rid of the video blog? Because, kid, that isn't doing you any favors.  

 

 

Enjoy reading this article? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today!

Subscribe to Bitch

Comments

23 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Wow.

Amazing piece. Excellent job. *nod of approval and hearty round of applause* You seem to understand the psyche of a teenage girl really well, too (this coming from a 17-year-old!). Yes, it's because you were a teenage girl too, once, but a lot of people forget what a stage in their life was like after they've exited it.

Anyway, this is great stuff. Keep it up.

"Betty Draperian"

Comparing Taylor Swift to Betty Draper? Total insult to Betty Draper.

No but seriously -- excellent post! The ShePop blog is just wonderful in general.

Wonderful!

This was so well written that I had to read it again, just to allow myself the joy of reading it and to relive the little feeling of 'yippee' that I got when I read it the first time. Great POV and a wonderful post.

What a great, fantastic

What a great, fantastic article!! I actually feel so bad for Miley because like you said, she is a TEENAGED GIRL and its normal for teenaged girls to be sexual. It always sickens me every time Perez Hilton would slut-shame her while praising Taylor Swift (who does seem more like a child than a 19 years old woman).

Miley is just like many girls I knew from high school in the 90s, but with the Internet (Twitter and youtube), it makes her life much more scrutinized. I wonder what JODIE FOSTER would have been like in the 70s if the Internet had existed back then. Jodie was also a Disney teen star but without Twitter/Youtube/nasty blogs, she was put under a smaller microscope.

Oh Sady!

Sady. You are the living end, the bee's knees, and the cat's pajamas. I'm so glad you got this gig at Bitch, because more lady folk need to be exposed to your genius. This is one of my favorite pieces of yours yet. I would never go back to being a teenage girl for anything.

And, eventually, out of all those models of sexuality, you cut and paste and assemble a little collage that represents your unique sexuality. But while you are a teen, you are going to experiment with as many as you can.

Yes! This! Oh geez, did I do some wacky, embarassing things between 13-19. Whoo boy.

Sadly, the problem with

Sadly, the problem with Miley being at all sexual or teen-like, is that her target audience is made up of 5 year olds (I used to work at a preschool, and we had 4 and 5 yr old girls wearing Hannah Montana concert t-shirts from when they went to see her with their parents). So when she promotes sexuality (healthy for a teen girl) she's promoting sexuality to 5 year olds, too (not so healthy). Of course, this whole trend of kids looking up to teens as their role models is the much bigger problem....

Re: Sady, the problem with

This. When my niece was 9 years old, she came to stay with us for the weekend and we watched Hannah Montana and a Bratz movie. Both of these "products" are sexualized in various ways and at the same time designed to appeal to audiences as young as kindergarteners. These shows disturb me because they promote an image of wholesomeness in some ways that is contradicted by the overt sexuality they also promote. It's terribly confusing for young girls to feel they have to fill the virgin and the whore role.

I also hate the Hannah Montana show because it's so anti-learning. Seriously, watch a few shows sometime and see how the different characters hate school, try to blow it off, and generally promote a message that school is lame. I love learning, and it makes me sad to see a show try to convince kids that school is lame.

I should prepare my proposal.

I thought I wanted to marry the Taylor Swift post, but apparently I want to marry this entire blog series. GROUP MARRIAGE!

Seriously, these posts have been great, and I just wish I had some more substantial (less creepy) feedback to give on them.

From a predatory mysoginistic creep, apparently.

An interesting article, and I roundly agree. A point of friction though: teen girls _are_ sexual - usually a delightful and wholesome thing - but if a man should notice suddenly that's creepy, predatory or misogynistic? Of course there are creepy and predatory men out there, but it's really not uncommon for males to be attracted to young women, and not all are monsters. I certainly don't feel the need to apologize for noticing or being attracted to hot teen girls.

it's my biological imperative to stare at your boobs

Oh I don't know. I see some really good-looking high school boys around sometimes but I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm attracted to them. I've never felt compelled to approach them and tell them they're pretty and ask them their names, and I don't sit there silently leering at them - all of which I've personally experienced when I was a teenaged girl and seen many many other teenaged girls subjected to by grown men who regularly argue that it's perfectly natural for them to be attracted to tenth-graders.

THIS. So fucking annoying.

THIS. So fucking annoying.

Heaven forfend I say you're pretty

I'm afraid I'm not sure what age a 10th grader is (guessing about 16 if school starts around 6?), but 'natural' or not people don't get to choose who they are attracted to. I'm sure many men are awkward or crass in their attempts to flirt with women of all ages, and some don't respect others as much as they should. But not all sex across an age gap is abuse or exploitation, viewing it as such is just the other side of viewing young women as the property of her father until she becomes property of her husband, with no legitimate sexual desire or agency of her own.

Neither male desire or teen precociousness are going to go away; simply dismissing either as unacceptable will not change people's behavior. Abuse is the problem, not sex. Viewing young women as pure innocent angels who must be protected from men and their terrible penises isn't honest or helpful either.

"But not all sex across an

"But not all sex across an age gap is abuse or exploitation."

Um, yes, it is, when you are talking about an adult "having sex" with a minor. Which is why we have statutory rape laws.

"Abuse is the problem, not sex."

The issue is, when you are talking about an adult (who has been living with the responsibility of caring for himself for some time, who has gathered a fair bit of knowledge about the world, who simply has more power and competence as a member of society) wanting to sexually interact with a person who is still in many major respects a child (who is transitioning into adulthood, but who still lives as a child, knows comparatively less about the world, and is undergoing a fairly fragile, crucial stage of physical and emotional and sexual development) the power imbalance is so large as to render the child vulnerable: to abuse, to coercion, to exploitation. You prey on the child's implicit understanding that adults know better than they do (which most teens do have, on one level or another, no matter how rebellious or world-weary they may be at the ripe old age of sixteen) and their in-transition need to be accepted as adults, as well as their emotional immaturity and unknowingness of certain key facts about the world (such as: guys who can't forge emotional and sexual relationships with people their own age tend to be fucked-up in the head region, and pretty freaking creepy, and should trigger your "danger! Danger! Run away now" response, even or especially if that adult tries to groom you with special niceness or favors). It IS predatory, and, again: why we have statutory rape laws.

"Viewing young women as pure innocent angels who must be protected from men and their terrible penises."

Oh, sweet Jesus, do not even TRY to pull this "the desire to have sex with teenagers as an adult is feminist because AGENCY" bullshit in my thread. Do not. This isn't about circumscribing the agency of women, nor is it about denying their sexuality. This is about protecting MINORS from ADULTS WHO WANT TO FUCK THEM, which is AGAINST THE LAW. (Is it any less creepy when an eighteen-year-old dates a dude in his thirties? No, it's not. It's legal, but it's still fucked up. And the dudes I've met who have done this are also the dudes who, for example, talked about how the only adult women they would date were Asian immigrants because "their culture teaches them to take care of men," and "they might have to marry me so they would be especially grateful for what I gave them." It's a power-imbalance thing, not a physical attraction thing, no matter how much people may try to disguise it by claiming that adult women are just so UGLY.)

"people don't get to choose who they are attracted to."

If you literally cannot get a boner from a woman who is an adult, and within your age group, and can only be attracted to minors, then you need to seek counseling, because that's a serious problem. If you can, then it should be no problem for you to do that, and stay away from teenage girls. And maybe still get the counseling, because considering statutory rape as a potential option for your life is still some scary, worrisome shit.

Uh Huh

Yeah, rather resent the assumption that the attraction must be based on power or a desire for submissiveness, and confusing happy, consensual sex with reap or coercion is just messed up. It's been nearly a decade since I had sex with a teenage girl, and I'm happy in my sex life. Having known a great many teenage girls over the years many of them do have and enjoy sexual encounters with older men, and I'm open to that as is my partner. I also have a hard time seeing attraction to teen girls as being a problem. I pass a young hottie on the street, notice one out of the corner of my eye at the the mall, and my day is a little brighter.

As it happens, the age of consent in my country is 14.

Heaven forfend you keep your opinions to yourself.

Any dude who thinks he has a right to tell me I'm pretty, I have a right to tell him he's skeezy and repulsive.

Um, yeah. I don't think

Um, yeah. I don't think anyone is arguing that young people can't be attractive (although, honestly? I live next to a high school. One thing high-school age girls don't tend to look like is adults. Then again, most college students don't tend to look all that adult to me any more either). I think what we're arguing is that FETISHIZING young people, and having adults try to interact with them sexually, is uncool. There should be a safe space for young people to express and experiment with their sexuality, while being given support and education by the adults in their lives. What there should NOT be is a surplus of creepy, predatory older dudes who get off on power imbalances (there's where the misogyny comes in: men who do this can't handle a woman who's as powerful or more powerful than they are, in my experience; it's about fetishizing helplessness and "innocence"/unknowingness that makes the lady less likely to be able to identify their BS or call them out on it) trying to strike up "relationships" with them or interact with them sexually or even flirtatiously (since that can, as other posters have mentioned, feel really gross and like a violation).

"Everyone wants to -- young girls."

Roman Polanski reads your blog, apparently.

So THAT,S Why My Skin Crawls in The Presence of Taylor Swift

TY! TY! TY! I could not figure out why the sight and sound of Taylor Swift on SNL a few weeks back had me feeling so bloody hostile! I had heard the name, just sort of floating about in the ether so I watched her sing. I was just feeling pissed off at the "lil' girl voice", the "pretty baby dress" the hyper slickness of it all. I wanted to transport myself through the t.v. looking glass and shake her. I wanted to tell her that it would be ok, even preferable for her to knock her head back, find some vibrato and sing her tits off. Belt it to the back of the room! Just say no to one more homogenized, "daddy, am I a good girl now?" soul-less tune for the Disney Machine and SING damnit.....and please ditch the headband. You however, haver put it into a much broader context that i have found to be illuminating. Thank you, and please keep writing this well.

yes/no

great article, great analysis, bad stereotyping. thanks for standing up for teen girls having healthy sexuality, but while simultaneously calling them names and saying they aren't smart? yuk. i'd forward this article on if it weren't for that part.
also...i hope everyone can keep the hatin' on taylor swift to a minimum and direct most of it to her publicists and managers, since those are the folks who are pushing the image on her. yes, she has some agency in the matter, but let's remember that the whole thing is a group effort, and not just her fault.

Sorry if you felt I was

Sorry if you felt I was stereotyping; I was just saying that most teen girls don't behave exactly like adults. They're, by definition, immature when compared to adults. And they also tend to be going through a lot, in terms of physical and emotional changes. And they tend to know somewhat less about the world than older people - again, for the entirely understandable reason that they've been around for a shorter time and (for many of them) their experience of the world has been a fairly sheltered one. I don't judge - I feel worse for kids who grow up too fast due to LACK of sheltering than I do for kids who have been protected and are therefore kind of clueless about stuff. So I don't necessarily hold a teen to the same standard of behavior to which I hold an adult. I have more sympathy for them for being weird or goofy or even obnoxious in ways that I wouldn't tolerate from someone who has been around long enough to know better, because I remember being weird or goofy or obnoxious in the same ways. I don't look down at teenagers, or expect them all to behave in precisely the same way, but I don't expect the same things from them that I would expect from an adult, either.

Predatory dudes ARE the problem, not girls expressing themselves

"But to make the whole thing about whether teen girls should be allowed to be sexual, or whether they are Bad Girls for being sexual in ways we do not approve, places the onus on teenage girls and their sexuality. Rather than, say, predatory dudes. And that's a problem."

This is so true. So much of the recent panic about sexting and teens sharing info and pics on myspace seems to blame the girls for any bad things that could potentially come of this. Like when a girl takes a naked photo of herself and her boyfriend later distributes it without her permission, they both get charged with child pornography felonies--how does that make any sense? We need to hold these men and boys accountable for sexually harassing young women.

It's sad to me when teen

It's sad to me when teen celebs (in general, and of either gender) appear in fashion magazines because it reinforces to them-an ultimately readers-that you don't need to be thoughtful or intellectual...you just need to have and know about "stuff."
Yes, she looks absolutely gorgeous, but frankly speaking, Pamela Anderson looked prettier in her Tool Time days with less make up. But you could never convince her of that.

Great article, once again. I

Great article, once again. I have a question, though. I'm wondering how we distinguish between a teenage girl expressing her sexuality (read: GOOD) in natural, if teen-typical, ways, and that same teenage girl PERFORMING a certain sexuality (read: BAD) artificially and for male pleasure. As a feminist, I get a little ticked off when I see straight girls getting into girl-on-girl makeout sessions for the pleasure of their horny, onlooking boyfriends, and I've read more than a few articles and books expressing annoyance about the same subject (i.e. bashing Katy Perry for "I Kissed a Girl," etc.). We discount them because we know they are not expressing their real sexuality, so why don't we feel the same about Miley Cyrus getting up and "dancing" on a pole, or posing "provacatively" on the cover of a magazine, or making kissy faces in her underwear? If Miley made out with a girl and it was on the news, do we praise her or condemn her? How can we selectively applaud some women, whether teenagers or not, for their courage to show their sexuality, while disregarding others because it's performative and for male benefit?

I'd love input on this, since I'm not trying to argue with anyone, just struggling to get it all figured out in my own head...thanks!