THOUGHTS & MUSINGS ON POLITICS & THE UNIVERSE

A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER

The “S” Word

How recent, seemingly vapid, tabloid fodder makes a strong sociological statement indicating the extent to which  “Slut Shaming” has infiltrated our culture – and that  words can be far more damaging than nearly any public display of sexuality might be.

sinead-miley-feud-650

Image by Getty

New life has been breathed into the practice of slut shaming by an unexpected source.  In fact, while it is claimed that this hot air was delivered with the intent to resuscitate, it would appear that the self-described “motherly” rescuer inhaled helium in hopes of ascending her relevancy prior to offering mouth-to-mouth resusc… er, a “slut shaming” open letter to a young female artist with a Top 100 #1 hit whose fame is amidst a meteoric rise.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of this scenario (and there are many) is that this open letter was purportedly composed in response to the young woman’s public praise of the talent and artistic expression of the “motherly” artist who slung profanity-laced insults, thinly disguised as advice, at her – and subsequently called the young female artist a prostitute.

(For the benefit of those who are completely removed from exposure to pop culture “news,” the supposedly “motherly” female vocalist who authored the open letter is Sinead O’Connor – and the young woman who was the target… er, recipient of that letter is Miley Cyrus.)

It becomes evident that things have gone terribly awry in our paradoxical society when an ostensibly feminist female vocalist – one who is no stranger to controversy, who once defiled and destroyed an image of Pope John Paul II during a stint as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live almost exactly 21 years to the day prior to penning an open letter to a young woman who was a few weeks shy of having even been born when the Pope-gate incident occurred – decides to later publicly condemn that now 20-year-old young woman for having exhibited somewhat controversial behavior during a live performance, a performance given a few weeks shy of her own Saturday Night Live stint as host.  Better still, the young woman responds to the condemnation by publicly ridiculing the older woman’s struggle with mental illness.

(Still with me?)

And, so begins yet another public battle with no possible victor other than those who would delight in adducing yet another example of women who are unable (rather, unwilling) to work together, support one another, compliment one another or be happy for one others’ successes.  It also is another example of a woman judging another woman, and using a female’s openly expressing her sexuality as ammunition to extend that judgment as far as possible in an attempt to discredit her character or virtue for having done so.

Slut. Shaming. Has. No. Place. In. American. Culture.  A woman’s sexuality is hers with which to do as she pleases – be it in private, on a public stage or somewhere in between the two.  One of the foremost tenets in the founding of our nation was that of free speech. Our First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

While perhaps not phrased as eloquently, Miley Cyrus’ own lyrics echo the sentiment, “Remember, only God can judge ya’.  Forget the haters ‘cause somebody loves ya’.”

Though Ms. Cyrus’ displays of her sexuality might have been displeasing to some, they were her right – and for anyone to publicly shame her for it reduces the efforts of women’s rights activists all over the world who are trying our hardest to fight the “rape culture” in which women are viewed as anything other than equal participants on the sexual playing field.

Conversely, to ridicule Ms. O’Connor’s struggle with mental illness – while we are attempting to combat a societal stereotype that women are all “crazy” is almost (though not quite) equally as damning.

If women have any hopes of truly becoming equals, we must stop trying to tear one another down.  When one of us wins, we all win – and we’d better start getting on the same page about just what “winning” means.  (It is not advisable to ask Charlie Sheen for advice on this topic.)  Winning means personal fulfillment.  Winning means professional success.  Winning means inherently receiving the respect of other human beings.

If tasteful nudity in a music video, however gratuitous one might view it as being, becomes something for which a woman loses the respect of others; if dancing in a provocative manner during a performance wearing nothing less than what a woman wears on the beach becomes something for which a woman loses the respect of others; if battling depression and reaching out for help becomes something for which a woman loses the respect of others; if owning her sexuality and willfully expressing it in any manner she deems fit becomes something for which a woman loses the respect of others – WE ALL LOSE!

Written by Shannon Fisher

 

10 comments on “The “S” Word

  1. Rachel Sapyta
    October 9, 2013

    Fantastic. Absolutely. I agree 100%. It’s what I’ve been saying all along.

    Like

    • fishershannon
      October 9, 2013

      Thanks, Rachel. I think a lot of people are missing the point that regardless of whether or not they like Miley Cyrus, or whether or not they were offended by her live performance or music video, it is her right to express herself in whatever way she chooses. AND – her sexuality is her own to claim and assess; who are we to say she is right or wrong? There is nothing immoral about being a sexy woman, owning it and loving it!

      Like

  2. maga_bee
    October 10, 2013

    But I think that was the point Sinead was making. Since she had lived as a young woman in the entertainment industry, she knows that it’s probable that Miley isn’t “owning” her sexuality, she is being subtly coerced into being a sex symbol by the patriarchal system that has put her on a pedestal. That record execs have a very insidious way of convincing Miley that what she’s doing is “expressing herself in whatever way she chooses.”

    I didn’t think for one second that Sinead was slut-shaming. Not at all. I read her letter as a heartfelt warning to Miley, and to other young women rising through the ranks, and hoped that it would be taken seriously.

    Additionally I didn’t think Sinead was telling her she was wrong (correct me if I’ve forgotten the exact words Sinead used in her letter; I’m going off memory here). She told her to think about what she was doing (and why she was doing it), to watch out for those who pretend to care about her, and that she is talented and beautiful. That’s not slut-shaming. Those are the kinds of messages all young women need to hear, especially those of us who get wrapped up in what everyone else thinks of us.

    I remember being young. And I remember how easily it was for me to become convinced that in order to gain popularity, to amass love, to have respect, I should “own” my sexiness, my this, my that. And in this society, a woman learns very quickly what that really means. Now in my late 30s, I can honestly say I am not ashamed but wish I had made some different choices. (And as a side note, I am very, very appreciative that Instagram and Facebook were not around while I was “owning” my sexuality, ha ha.)

    Like

    • Sleeping Realities
      October 10, 2013

      I agree, maga_bee. Miley’s performance wasn’t fully her choice. (She’s only 20, hasn’t reached full frontal lobe development yet, even.) What if she’d “decided” that she wanted to dance on stage in a turtleneck, cardigan, and long denim skirt? Do you think the producers would have let her? Of course not… sex sells, and continuing to promote patriarchy does nobody a service except the greedy execs who benefit from the ticket sales. Therefore, the idea of Miley (and many other young female artists) being a prostitute (by definition–selling her sexuality) may have insulting connotations, and maybe a more tasteful word should have been chosen, but it’s definitely accurate.
      I don’t think she’s owning her sexuality. I think she’s being dragged along in a mad current of greed and exploitation that is the music business today. (IMO, we should boycott the mainstream music industry until they learn to be more humane.)
      No, hurling insults doesn’t help anyone. But warning a newbie about what the people above her REALLY want is an act of kindness.

      Like

      • fishershannon
        October 10, 2013

        Sleeping Realities, I agree that a warning from a veteran artist about the perils of potential exploitation is kind and appropriate, but the delivery just plain stunk in this case – both in content and in venue (in my opinion).

        Like

    • fishershannon
      October 10, 2013

      As am I, mega_bee! I think that is part of the issue here is that the women of Sinead’s (and my) generation didn’t have the Internet on which to share realtime photos, videos, commentary,etc. Back then, we could get away with much of our “exploration” without the world watching – famous or not. I do agree, in reading O’Connor’s letter, that she has genuine concern for Cyrus – but the way it was worded came across as being very confrontational. I think a good editor might have been able to prevent some of this debacle. 😉

      Like

    • theuncommontater
      October 12, 2013

      I disagree. I too am in my late 30s and I was more Miley than Sinead at 20. The only thing I look back on with regret is the people who tried to force me to be ‘a lady’ in whatever contrived, pseudo puritanical, socially acceptable way they saw fit. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) sex and my sexuality. I took full advantage of my freedom and autonomy. I can’t say that my choices were all perfect or even that they were fully conceptualized but, most important of all, they were MINE. I do have a teenaged daughter and I hope that she will be loved and accepted for the wonderful person she is, even if her shorts are a little short. I also hope all the busy bodies in the world would stop judging her and other young women and focus all that judgmental, negative energy on something constructive. Instead of wasting your time trying to change others with chastisement (however gentle or motherly, it’s still criticism) change yourself, improve your life, work for societal, political, global change that benefits everyone. After all, focusing all the worlds energy on trying to get one chick to cover her navel isn’t really a goal worth the effort.

      Like

      • fishershannon
        October 12, 2013

        I’m with you, theuncommonater.

        I feel somewhat protective of Cyrus because I think about myself as once having been that 20-year-old girl, experimenting with my identity and dressing up in outlandish outfits (mostly tasteful and appropriate – but not always – LOL) and going out on the town with my girlfriends seeking harmless fun. We didn’t want to attract men; we didn’t want attention of any kind other than for our fun-loving natures; we just wanted to have a good time.

        The clothes were all a part of developing how we wanted to (and wanted not to) express ourselves and get in touch with our own identities as adult-ish sexual beings. We weren’t doing anything wrong; we weren’t hurting anybody; we weren’t judging our worth by sexual attention…but we certainly received some judging looks from older women who, like those in your life, wanted us to be a “lady.”

        I think we should let Cyrus embarrass herself if need be (VMAs – facepalm – LOL) and grow from all of this as she matures, both as a woman and an artist. It’s a rite of passage of sorts.

        In my opinion, her Wrecking Ball video, the one about which O’Connor wrote the letter, is very tasteful and powerful, I think!

        Like

  3. Christy Birmingham
    October 12, 2013

    While women do have the right to use their sexuality as they please, I do worry about the audience of Miley’s shows/videos/etc. If they are not expecting her over-the-top moves and plenty of skin showing, then they may be exposed to damage. It sickens me, to be honest, that Miley is popular. I see her burning out soon – how can she possibly keep upping her game? I am hesitant to wonder what is next for her…

    Like

    • fishershannon
      October 12, 2013

      I’m not a fan of her work, but she seems to be a talented vocalist, performer and song writer. I think where she goes from here will depend on the quality of her work from here on out and whether she goes crazy from the pressure of fame and scrutiny. Wrecking Ball (written by someone else) is a great song. If she keeps writing good songs and recording great songs written by others – the sky is the limit, provided she can stay sane. I think she needs to kick the shock value stuff, but as far as her clothes – I say, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” She is likely the new Britney Spears.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: