|Posted by Guest Blogger|
August 12th, 2009
By Guest Blogger Cara Lisa Berg Powers
I don’t care what Miley Cyrus’s parents think. But if you have “tween” daughters — or if you are a tween or teen girl — you probably should.
Not only did Monday night’s Teen Choice Awards feature Miley Cyrus atop an ice-cream cart in booty short and high heeled boots, but she was perched alongside what can only be described as a stripper pole. It is difficult enough for women in today’s society to have control over their own sexuality. Imagine how much more challenging this is for girls, when corporate male fantasies make their way into performances by teenagers at awards shows created specifically FOR teenagers. As if that weren’t enough, early Tuesday, pictures and video surfaced on many websites, featuring Miley’s 9-year-old little sister, Noah, playing with, dancing around, and posing astride her own stripper pole backstage at the awards.
One commenter defended the little Cyrus, saying that her pole dance was no less innocent than any 9-year-old circling a support beam in their parent’s basement. There are, of course, two critical differences: (1) a support beam has not been constructed socially to symbolize the male fantasy of striptease, usually in the context of sex work, and (2) no one that I have ever heard of has ever posed proudly with a support beam in pictures that then turned up on the internet.
And here’s where the rubber meets the road — the complete apparent lack of understanding on the part of the entire Cyrus clan on the effects their parenting decisions have on the social norms constructed for 5-16-year-olds all over this country. While Miley Cyrus is getting scattered internet, women’s magazine and Entertainment Tonight coverage for dating a 20-year-old (who reportedly lived with the Cyrus family), and sending him suggestive cell-phone shots of herself, teenagers all over the country are getting criminal records for similar behavior. While Noah Cyrus’ parents think it’s cute for their 9-year-old to pose alongside a stripper pole in a dance costume, my parents and many others have had to find out that their 9-year-old and younger daughters have been forced or coerced into taking even more exploitatively sexual pictures by predatory adults.
How many of us have heard, “I don’t care what your friend’s parents say, I am your mother and I have a good reason for doing what I am doing.”
Not the case with the young Miley Cyrus. I do, in fact, care what Tish and Billy Ray Cyrus think, because ultimately, it sets a social standard for parents all over the country, who, Spike TV’s website speculates, will have their tween children begging them for stripper poles this Christmas. I have defended similar acts in their ’20s (like an older Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera), noting that while I thought that they should understand their role of influence on young girls, as young women in their ’20s they should also have the right to express their sexuality. However, in the case of Miley Cyrus, as in the younger Ms. Spears (think the “Baby One More Time” sexed-up-schoolgirl-in pigtails-video or the 1998 Rolling Stone cover), we are talking about a minor participating in explicitly sexualized behavior at the behest of adult handlers. This isn’t about girls getting in touch with and developing healthy pride in their own sexuality (a great resource to that end is Scarleteen). This is about calculating adults and corporate entities who profit by shaping tween and teen girl icons into pop culture Lolitas.
Britney Spears turned 18 within a year of releasing her first album. In contrast, Miley Cyrus’ first run-in with the morality police came over a year ago when pictures from a Vanity Fair shoot showed the then 15-year-old wrapped in a sheet, lipstick smeared and hair tousled, with her father on set.
Since then, pictures intended for her 20-year-old boyfriend have popped up on the internet almost every other month, mostly taken herself (like much of the so-called MySpace generation) and featuring her in wet clothes, exposed bra, and even in her underwear, as well as half naked, strewn across the lap of (hopefully) a boyfriend. But, asVanity Fair notes, her Disney handlers probably don’t want her name anywhere near the word “sex” even while the tabloids follow her around “praying for her to pull a Britney.”
Well wait no longer, tabloids. While the ice-cream cart antics of the Teen Choice Awards may have reminded some in the TRL generation more of Mariah Carey, the sexy showmanship was all Britney. From here on out, any comparisons to the fallen Ms. Spears are warranted. Most of all, “Where are this girl’s parents?” The sad answer, in both cases: cheering them on from the sidelines with younger sister in tow. I hate to make anyone’s life into a cautionary tale, but if the breakdown of Britney Spears isn’t enough to make showbiz parents want to shield their kids from this sort of harmful pressure, then maybe the teen motherhood of her younger sister Jamie-Lynn would make a parent think twice about exposing a nine-year old to the same too-sexy too-soon culture. But… no on both counts for the Cyrus parents.
Sexual abuse, stranger rape, date rape, and domestic violence are some of the very real consequences of this sort of distorted sexualization of your girls (see: Journal of Social Sciences). It is hard enough to build healthy relationships as adults in such an oversexualized media culture that consistently undervalues women AND men as whole people. We, as a society need to push back on dangerous sexual images of young girls and boys, but especially in cases like this we need to ask the parents to consider the very real consequences of their actions, not just on their children, but on all of our youth.
Guest Blogger Cara Lisa Berg Powers is an organizer, educator, and activist for youth empowerment through media. She co-directs Press Pass TV, a Boston-based youth media organization, is the author of By Any Media Necessary and is a candidate for her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Change with a Media Studies concentration.