Freedom to Make Our Own Decisions: the Miley Cyrus vs Sinead O’Connor row and why we have to be allowed to get it wrong

speech bubble message cartoonMiley Cyrus has recently exploded into the media consciousness in revised form: making headlines with her raunchy twerking at the VMAs, with her Wrecking Ball video where she appears naked and licks a sledgehammer, and with her ever more revealing outfits, in stark contrast to the innocent Hannah Montana character that she played as a girl.

This week though, saw a somewhat surprising response to Cyrus’ latest antics in the form of an open letter from Sinead O’Connor. Following Cyrus’ comparison of her Wrecking Ball video to the Irish singer’s Nothing Compares 2 U video, O’Connor wrote “the music business doesn’t give a s*** about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth and cleverly make you think it’s what YOU wanted”. She went on to add “Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you”. Strongly worded as these statements might be, they were clearly meant in a protective way with O’Connor professing her letter to be written in “the spirit of motherliness”.

Yesterday Cyrus responded by mocking O’Connor’s mental health on Twitter, comparing her to the actress Amanda Bynes who is reportedly in rehab, and posting screen shots of O’Connor’s past tweets about her bipolar disorder. This response regarding mental illness is clearly an offensive and immature one whatever one’s opinions about Cyrus, but that is a separate issue. The row looks set to continue as O’Connor has now threatened legal action saying “Taking me on is even more f***ing stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism”.

Is Miley Cyrus an exploited sexualised product of the music business or is she a savvy young woman who knows exactly how to get attention and makes her own creative choices? By way of a more thought out approach to O’Connor’s statements, the singer Amanda Palmer wrote her own open letter, expressing her love for the Irish artist and her music, but disagreeing with her on the idea of Cyrus being a record label’s puppet, stating “Miley is, from what I can gather, in charge of her own show…and although I think it’s tempting to imagine her in the boardroom of label assholes and management, I don’t think any of them masterminded her current plan to be a raging, naked, twerking sexpot. I think that’s All Miley All The Way”.

If indeed a woman has chosen to exploit her own sexuality, rather than being a music industry’s victim, does this mean that her actions are to be celebrated? Personally I do not believe that stripping our clothes off and being sexually provocative helps the feminist cause as it draws attention away from so much more valuable attributes that we possess as women. Granted, feeling physically empowered and proud of our bodies and our beauty is very important, but to me, it is our intellect, our creativity, our talent and our personality that should be given prominence. However, although my initial reaction was to wholeheartedly agree with O’Connor’s letter, I think that Palmer has a point when she expresses in hers that “we gotta give Miley (and every female) space to try on her artist’s uniform. It’s like a game of cosmic dress-up but the stakes are high. If we’re allowed to play it, we’re empowered. If we’re not, we’re still in a cage”. However much we might like or dislike Miley Cyrus’ latest incarnation, her having the freedom to experiment with her image and not be dictated to is important if we do not want women to be pigeon holed and put in safe neat boxes. This is not to say that she is necessarily right in her decisions, which after all is a matter of opinion. It is to say that she should have the space to be wrong or right. That we should all as women be allowed to have that space, and the freedom to challenge the expectations of our society.

This blog is also available to view at http://www.the-dutiful.blogspot.co.uk/, a collaborative blog with a fresh take on feminism.

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