If you missed Miley Cyrus’s “performance” at the VMAs on Sunday night, count yourself lucky. You’ve probably read about it by now, or been unfortunate enough to see clips, pictures, recaps or the ever-dreaded GIF.
In short, Cyrus sang her runaway hit “We Can’t Stop” clad in a teddy bear-themed one-piece and then proceeded to strip down for a duet with Robin Thicke on “Blurred Lines,” this summer’s biggest song. In summary, it was offensively atrocious, hardly constituting any legitimate artistic aspects, and quite frankly, kind of disturbing.
Cultural watchdogs will be glad to hear that the reaction to Cyrus’ performance was almost universally negative. And still, when Twitter almost broke on Sunday night, it was mostly to harangue Miley Cyrus’s actions on stage. Little attention was paid to Robin Thicke’s involvement.
To be fair, Thicke has received a decent amount of reprimand for his video “Blurred Lines” over the course of the summer. Jezebel, the most revered feminist website on the Internet, just about exploded with eviscerating commentary, and women across the country were disgusted and offended by his exploitation of naked girls in the video (Thicke is a 36-year-old man married to his high school sweetheart).
And yet, Thicke, in regards to the Video Music Awards, has emerged relatively unscathed in all of the media attention. He has escaped the throngs of hatred other anti-feminist characters—like Chris Brown or Kanye West—have attracted. While he was an equal participant in Cyrus’ juvenile glorification of delinquency, no one has written him off as a pariah to popular culture and society.
But Miley Cyrus is another story. There are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of posts venting anger and outrage at Cyrus for her actions. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski called her “disturbed,” “disgusting” and “embarrassing.” Vulture said her show had racist undertones. Gawker called it “hideous.” Huffington Post said it was a display of “idiocy.” All of these assessments are accurate, and let’s hope they serve as a wakeup call to the troubling path Cyrus has found herself on.
All the while there was little outcry about Thicke’s involvement in the VMA “dancing.”
The fact that the blowback is aimed solely at her shows a flippant double standard so frequently on display in the judgment of women in our society.
In our society (particularly in celebrity culture), women are repeatedly encouraged to be sexy, to draw attention. When it comes to MTV and the VMA’s, the envelope has to be pushed further each year in order to achieve the same overwhelming response of shock, awe, disgust or whatever else—it doesn’t seem to matter if the feedback is positive or negative, as long as there’s a lot of it. America is predictably easy to stun. And so, women are pushed into a corner where they need to be skinnier and sexier—wearing outrageous outfits (or none at all), dancing provocatively, doing whatever it takes so people will stop and look.
We all know this—and if we don’t, the VMA’s serve an annual reminder of it—but what often gets forgotten is that men are pushed into the same corner. Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is a cesspool of dangerous, objectifying sexuality and Thicke himself shared equal billing with Cyrus. His role may be more subtle because he wasn’t the one stripping, but it also may be more prominent because it was his song, his lyrics and, frankly, he is the adult on stage. And yet, Cyrus is the one held to task for it.
Robin Thicke knew exactly what was going to happen during that set Sunday night. It seems unlikely that Cyrus just decided she’d drop down to the floor and he just stood there all surprised.
He stood up there like Beetlejuice just escaped from jail, apparently not complicit in any of this hot mess. Is it because he’s the one who actually isn’t doing any of the dancing? Is it because nothing about his movement is overtly sexual? Is it because he already had the totally inappropriate video so nothing he does at this point is really a surprise?
Or is it because he’s a man and he can get away with it?
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that Miley Cyrus and her new idea of “performance” is warranted or excusable or anything of the sort. But if our society is going to hold one gender accountable for its offensive lack of respect for social norms, dancing and self-awareness, then can’t we hold the other gender equally accountable?
Women are the first to take the brunt of all criticism for this, and they are often the scapegoat for all things “overly sexualized” in our culture.
As Christians, trashing and cutting women down for crossing a line isn’t the way to reach people. We can condemn the culture and trend that Cyrus took part in without resorting to shameful name calling and hateful finger pointing. And instead of being so quick to admonish each other and destroy women in their own exploitation, it is high time we held everyone to a higher standard. Christians can set the tone for treating women with respect by holding them responsible for their actions, but recognizing the the hyper-sexualiation of or culture is a problem for both men and women, and both men and women should be held responsible for their part in it.
You can be sure Miley Cyrus isn’t regretting her VMA appearance. She has ensured her place in the spotlight, in what may seem to her the most effective way possible. Everybody loves a good train wreck. Nobody at MTV, least of all her, is surprised by any of these reactions.
But holding men accountable for what’s happening is an unexpected, but equally necessary reaction. And it’s not a bad idea.