Are you offended by Miley’s skimpy outfits, outlandish sexual gestures, or her suggestive tongue action? Good! Because every time she offends, she strikes a blow for a woman’s right to offend. Miley knows that her success and power lie in being the most controversial, sexual siren she can be. Every time she’s pilloried by the media, she is advancing a woman’s right to express her sexuality in the most provocative way, and there’s not a damn thing any politician or preacher can do about it. Plenty are appalled, but her sales are up, up, up. Her album, Bangerz, sold a million copies as of May, 2014. In contrast, her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed sold only 350,000 copies.
Beyoncé, that beautiful woman who exudes raw sexuality while bowling us over with her tremendous talent, causes not only conservatives, but some feminists, to cringe. The criticism seems to swirl around the idea that prominently displaying her breasts and shaking her booty diminishes women. If that were all there were to Beyoncé, feminists might have a point. But I contend that Beyoncé’s success should be cheered by feminists. After all, Beyoncé has enjoyed record-breaking career success and has taken control of a multimillion-dollar empire in a male-run industry, while being outspoken about gender bias and the sacrifices women are required to make.
Let’s define feminism once again: “Advocating women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
In the Feburary, 2013 issue of GQ, Beyoncé is quoted as saying, “Let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”
So how can feminists have a problem with a woman who is looking to level the playing field, and even beat men at their own game, simply because she exhibits sexuality on a grand scale while she’s playing their game?
Miley will never be the intellectual or sophisticated equal of Beyoncé, but she is a genius in her own right. She does brand marketing better than anyone, hands down. At the 2013 VMA awards, she twerked Robin Thick and followed up on that blatantly sexual act by riding a wrecking ball like a well-endowed lover to introduce her song, “Wrecking Ball,” which is on her Bangerz album. The upshot of all of that? Despite the media’s attempt to bring her to heel through insults and shaming, Bangerz sales soared and the “Wrecking Ball” video won video of the year at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. The more outrageous her behavior, the more albums Miley sells. The more albums she sells, the more money and power she has to run her own show.
Forbes Magazine writer William Arruda had this take on Miley’s performance that night: “She was expressing her sexuality just as she was about to turn twenty-one. She was defying authority and showing her indifference to what the generation above her thought. She seemed to revel in the controversy. In other words, she was showing her fans, also entering their late teen years that she was exactly like them.”
I can only hope that Miley’s and Beyoncé’s generation of teen fans will want to express their own individuality, to shake off constraints constructed by men, to defy any authority that seeks to repress their natural talents or to demean their sexuality.
If the tide is ever going to turn, it has to surge now. If teens-becoming-women are going to claim the right to make decisions about their own bodies, they better assert themselves quickly.
And if bold and smart and hard-working and successful women like Miley and Beyoncé are mentors in that regard, I say, hoorah! With the Christian right and Republican legislators trying to shame women into giving up control of their own bodies and reproductive choices, it is more important than ever that women who command a lot of attention due to their talent and showmanship keep their independent, fiery, sexual selves front and center.
Feminists can be their own worst enemies. I know, because I am one. But I’m also proud of my sexuality and the color it brings to my life. Maybe it isn’t money or power or fame, but it is empowering, nonetheless. When a woman knows the power of her sexuality—as Miley and Beyoncé do—her self-confidence ascends, and takes her to daring heights. Feminists should be applauding Miley and Beyoncé for keeping the griddle hot even as righteous men are trying to douse the fires that make women sizzle.
I say, turn the hose on them, and support women like Miley and Beyoncé, who keep the fires of feminism stoked in their own powerful way.