Is Miley Cyrus Really a Feminist?

What is feminism? In simple terms, I think it is a movement that encourages gender equality. It aims to create an environment where people are neither treated differently nor face judgment because of their sex. One’s gender identity is shaped by society’s expectations and stereotypes; people’s life experiences influence the formation of their sexual identity, and this in turn will impact their place in society. Gender identity affects how a person acts in society, leads his or her life, and behaves sexually. It is in reference to this gender identity that the feminist movement works to minimize sex stereotypes.

 

 

(Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke VMA Performance, 2013)

 

After watching Miley Cyrus perform with Robin Thicke in the MTV Video Music Awards, I began to question Miley’s feminist stance. It seemed she was using her sexuality to gain power in the music industry. While appearing defiant in her stance towards female sexuality, she actually was conforming to the negative female stereotypes that involve the perception of women as sexual objects. Her performance fosters the view of women as beings whose ultimate role is to fulfill the sexual needs of men. She is even dancing to Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” which has a very degrading message towards women. Some of his lyrics include “try to domesticate you” and “I know you want it.” Isn’t that dehumanizing! It’s not ethical to domesticate a person! How do you know that I want it? I feel that Thicke’s lyrics express that rape is socially acceptable. When Miley dances to this song in the VMAs, she is essentially promoting his song’s offensive message. That doesn’t sound very feminist to me! Miley’s performance and decision to support the Thicke’s song almost makes it harder to overcome the negative gender stereotypes that are present in today’s society. Her promiscuous dance reinforces society’s demeaning misconception about women. She is feeding into the gender stereotypes that feminists are fighting against.

I don’t think Ms. Cyrus is a true feminist because her actions are not conducive to creating positive change in a society that promotes equality. Miley is a role model for developing girls, and she should have used her power in a more progressive way. For instance, she could focus on the lyrics of her music and write songs with powerful empowering messages for young women rather than sexualize her performances to gain popularity.

 

 

(Miley Cyrus’ Interview one the Ellen DeGeneres Show)

 

Miley said in her interview with Ellen DeGeneres that Robin Thicke did not face nearly as much criticism as she did, and that there is a “double standard” in today’s society. Aware of this double standard, she should have tried to fight it in her performance. An equally outrageous reaction could have been produced if she included scenarios in her choreography where women displace men and take over the stage. Unfortunately, she seemed proud of her performance as a defiant sex object and did not regret her actions. After all, her music career took off because of the negative criticism she received.

Today, many celebrities are hesitant to say that are feminist. According to the Huffington Post article, “10 Celebrities That Say They Aren’t Feminist”, Carrie Underwood states, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a feminist, that can come off as a negative connotation. But I am a strong female.” Why is being a feminist off-putting? Could Miley have contributed to the negative connotation associated with this word?

I feel as though Miley is using her feminist stance as an excuse to behave inappropriately on stage, and this may have altered society’s perception of the definition of feminism. Miley says, “I felt like I could be the bad bitch I really am” in the gif displayed in this post. She may think that being a feminist means that she has the freedom to act and say whatever she wishes, but she needs to realize that she has a responsibility as a celebrity and a feminist to behave morally. Even the language she uses in this gif degrades women. The word “bitch” is a derogatory term used to insult women. The fact that she publicly describes herself in such a foul way makes the usage of this word more socially acceptable. If women fail to respect themselves in their everyday speech, men have no reason to stop themselves from referring to woman with slurs. Women in general should stop using derogatory terms, but especially Miley Cyrus, a acclaimed feminist.

As a child, I watched the television show Hannah Montana religiously. I remember singing along to her songs “True Friend”, “Nobody’s Perfect”, “Life’s What You Make It”, and “The Climb”. Her music earlier in her career was inspirational. I really looked up to her, but now I am ashamed of who she has become. She was more of a feminist then than she is now. She went from wearing appropriate and tasteful clothing in her music videos, to wearing little to no clothing at all. I am saddened by the fact that the role model I use to respect has fallen so low.  I miss the old Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus from the passed, and I wish I could say that I still look up to her the way I used too when I was younger.

With these arguments in mind, we should ponder the following questions. Why is it acceptable for men to be promiscuous but not women? Was Miley intentionally acting this way to garner attention? If so, did she do so to overcome her good girl Disney reputation? Could she have advanced her career in a way that supports her feminist values? Does Miley have a responsibility as a celebrity and a feminist to behave morally?

5 thoughts on “Is Miley Cyrus Really a Feminist?

  1. Thank you for this post! So interesting. (And it’s our first EA post!!! 🙂 You raise many questions I wonder about too such as: “Does Miley have a responsibility as a celebrity and a feminist to behave morally?” Today in class we’ll discuss, among other things, symbols and social logic. Celebrities are public symbols and we seem very steeped in a celebrity culture at the moment. The question of social responsibility is a big one–I wonder this about writers and other artists all the time. So, what do you think? Does Miley have a responsibility as a celebrity and a feminist to behave morally? And if so, what does “morally” mean in this context?

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  2. I definitely think she has a responsibility to behave morally. I think the issue, like Prof-C pointed out, is that nobody’s totally sure what “morally” means, or what exactly was immoral about her VMA performance. It seems like the question is squished between conflicting ideologies. One person says her performance was too promiscuous, another says the notion of promiscuity itself is an expression of a oppressive, sexist puritan ethic. One person says Blurred Lines is about rape, another person says its about sexual liberation. One person says she’s exploiting her sexuality, another says her sexuality is hers to exploit if she wants to. Depending on your camp, the VMA performance was hard proof that Miley is too-feminist, feminist, or not feminist enough. Maybe this isn’t productive, but sometime I wonder if it might be smarter to just forget about philosophizing over impossible questions and try to stop feeding the celebrity narcissism machine with our attention.

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    • That is a really good point. My interpretation of Miley Cryus’ performance in the VMA’s is only taking into account my beliefs regarding how a celebrity should behave and how a woman should act in society. Some people may feel that dancing in such an expressive way is good because it challenges societal notions. Although my view regarding Miley Cyrus remains the same, your logic makes sense and addresses an interesting point. Thank you for your comment!

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  3. Nice engaging assignment! My thoughts:

    I think there’s always going to be a debate when it comes to celebrities and feminism. Miley Cyrus definitely does do questionable things…hypersexualizing herself and women of color, cultural appropriation, speaks using crude language, etc. But do we know her intent…her motivation? How can we question if Miley is a feminist if she self identifies as a feminist?

    Also, I don’t think she’s a role model though, nor does she want to have that responsibility. She’s just a person who is living life the way she wants. If she claims feminism, then I believe her. The way she behaves and how to expresses herself are her way of expressing her feminism.

    I think feminism is all about individuality and self definition. We all come to feminism for a vast multitude of reasons. It’s really important to stick with the feminist principle of inclusion…You may not agree with Miley, but she’s a voice in the feminist movement one way or another.

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  4. Discussing Miley Cyrus in terms of morality and her role in modern feminism is such a difficult task because, as 18-22 year olds, we have been growing up alongside her. We watched her breakout onto the Disney scene as Hannah Montana, likely own at least one of her early albums, and flocked to the theaters to see “The Last Song”. She was the poster child for Southern values winning out over the influences of Hollywood… until this performance.

    I think perhaps one of the reasons this performance stands out so much against other sexually provocative performances of artists such as Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj is that we originally thought of Miley in a completely different context. To us, she was still a Southern girl who made it big, but was about to settle down with the equally gorgeous Liam Hemsworth.

    Clearly, this image of Miley Cyrus was not one she wanted to keep. Perhaps her behavior at the VMA’s was her overcompensating for years and years in the spotlight as a “good girl”. Or, perhaps she really was showing her true colors and “be the bad bitch” she always thought she was. Regardless, morality as a social construct is extremely subjective and context dependent.

    One of the reasons I think we are still talking about this performance over a year after the fact is because Miley identifies as a feminist. In an interview with BBC Radio 1’s NewsBeat, Miley is quoted saying, “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything… For me, it’s not even that I’m a feminist. I’m for anybody. I’m for everybody, for everything. I don’t care what you wanna do in your life, or who you wanna be with, who you wanna love, who you wanna look like.”

    While I contest the claim that Miley is “one of the biggest feminists in the world,” it is hard to ignore her views promoting self expression and individuality, two values centrally tied to feminism.

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