We all want to have control over our bodies and how we conduct ourselves sexually; the people with whom we engage in sexual activity, the time, place, acts, etc. In Elisabeth Sheff’s article, “Polyamorous Women, Sexual Subjectivity, and Power,” Tolman would name this sexual subjectivity and expand it to mean:
“a person’s experience of [them]self as a sexual being, who feels entitled to sexual pleasure and sexual safety, who makes active sexual choices, and who has an identity as a sexual being” (Sheff 4).
This seems like a pretty simple concept. But what happens when sexual subjectivity crosses the lines into more troubling waters?
Miley Cyrus is an American pop sensation. Her transformation from innocent, Disney Channel child star to sexy, mature entertainer has been documented and broadcasted all over the country, maybe even the world. There has been much debate about whether or not she has grown up too fast, if she is a feminist, her cultural appropriation, and her perceived sexual promiscuity. Even more debate has sparked after she wore a large, prosthetic butt during her performances in both Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Most people would categorize this as a young woman just having fun. Miley Cyrus is a famed and beloved musical performer who is trying to do her job: entertain her audience. Her choice to wear this prosthetic derrière was just that – her choice. She is further exploring her sexuality, as can be seen from her behavior in previous performances. As these people see it, Miley is taking control over her image, and should not be penalized for that.
However, what Miley is actually doing is playing into the hyper-sexualization of the bodies of women of color – more specifically, black women. By wearing this large butt during her performances, she is reducing black women to what U.S. culture both fames and devalues black women for – their butts. This can also be seen as a continuation of her objectification of black women’s bodies. In her previous performances, she has used black women as props in her performances showcasing what she thinks they are good at – having large butts and twerking. If this is indeed an appreciation of black women’s endowments, Miley is walking a fine line between that and objectification.
Does an artist have the right to wear whatever they wish during their performances? What happens when their costumes exemplify cultural markers of communities to which the artist does not belong? How do we know when an artist has gone too far? Do you see Miley’s form of dress as an appreciation of black women’s bodies, or an appropriation and objectification of their bodies?