Last night, the 2013 Video Music Awards (VMAs) aired on MTV. I won’t get into how ironic the awards show is given that a real music video hasn’t aired on television in I don’t know how many years. I won’t even be blogging about the eyebrow-raising, shocking, lack of taste that the VMAs have become known for over the years. I don’t even want to talk only about how awful I felt after seeing the Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performance during the show, even though I almost feel a duty to talk about it. What I want to address is the grossly imbalanced amount of blame I have noticed being placed on Miley Cyrus in the wake of the trainwreck everyone wanted to look away from but couldn’t.
We’ve known Miley Cyrus since she was about thirteen years old and the star of Disney’s Hannah Montana. Her loud, contagious humor, along with the relatable story line of a girl trapped in a life where no one can know her real identity, captured the attention of young girls across the country. People related to Hannah Montana’s feelings of being unknown for who she really is, and the lighthearted show remained popular on Disney until Miley was ready to move on and become an adult both in real life, and in her career.
I think we all expected a little rebellion from her. It’s what most child stars do as they grow up with the added pressure of having the world watch them traipse through the delicate and awkward phase of life called “young adulthood.” Most people I have talked to wanted to show Miley Cyrus some grace as she experimented with racy outfits, ridiculous fads, and provocative new endeavors. And then, last night, it became abundantly clear to many people (if it hadn’t already at some point before), that Miley Cyrus may not be experimenting anymore. She might be going down in flames. We watched, horrified, as someone who had once seemed lovable and relatable now appeared completely out of control of herself. She didn’t look confident or edgy. She didn’t seem to be merely pushing the envelope of what was socially acceptable. She wasn’t innovative, Madonna-esque, or only continuing to rebel as she tried to find herself.
She was desperate. Desperately trying to rely on a sexualized image of herself to seek attention, to secure a place for herself in a world that is merely a projected image on a screen. She got our attention, for sure. But what got my attention more than her performance was the world’s reaction to it.
My twitter feed filled up last night with comments such as:
“Miley’s publicist should be fired.”
“Tell her to put her tongue back in her mouth.”
“How did Miley go from good girl to this so quickly?”
“Someone needs to tell Miley that she’s better than this.”
And many more comments about her physical appearance and attire that I simply won’t share because they are too demeaning to post.
If the internet uproar is any clue, it seems as though most people fault Miley Cyrus for the desperate and disturbing performance.
To which I want to say: What about Robin Thicke?
Let’s be clear. Miley Cyrus is 20 years old. Robin Thicke is 36. Both are legally considered adults. Miley Cyrus is single and clearly in some kind of rebellious phase that is going way too far. Robin Thicke is married and has children. Even though Miley Cyrus is technically “of age” to make decisions for herself, I question whether or not she is adult enough to understand exactly what kind of lasting impact her actions will have on her life, her reputation, and her career. Robin Thicke should be old enough and have enough life experience to draw the line and refuse to exploit someone who is clearly not in complete control of herself.
We applaud when men sing songs that degrade women. We encourage them by downloading their songs. And then, when women are sexualized and demeaned, we blame the women. I believe men are better than this. We are all better than this. Men can respect women and still have long-lasting careers. They can refuse to glorify abuses such as rape, and still be desirable in the public eye. They can stand up and refuse to participate in the glorification of sexual violence and perversion, and still have an audience. Yes, Miley Cyrus is an adult and will have to deal with the consequences of her actions. But, Robin Thicke should have enough life experience and enough wisdom to refuse to contribute to the spontaneous combustion of a young women who is making some really terribly choices for herself.
Instead, he enables it and views it as a publicity stunt.
Or, like a billboard in a city near me says, “Just because you help her home… doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.” Just because Miley is throwing herself at Robin Thicke doesn’t mean participating is the right thing for him to do.
And what about all of us? We aren’t exempt from blame either. Until we stop buying music that sexualizes and exploits women, people will keep selling it. Until we refuse to watch shows like the VMAs until they stop televising filth, they will keep on producing it the way they do because it gets the attention of the world.
And then we wonder why sexual assault, human trafficking, prostitution, and child sex abuse are so common. We glorify it in the media, and then are horrified when it happens in real life.
Men, the way you treat women in your life is sending a message to young boys all around you about what is acceptable. Women, the way you let men treat you is sending a message to those men about what you will tolerate, and it sends a message to young girls about what kinds of things they should find acceptable when they get older.
Who is to blame? All of us. And I hope that we can use this as a painful example of why we can no longer remain silent and allow the media to glorify the abuse of women. We will get what we tolerate, and we can’t tolerate this any longer.