I've had many scattered thoughts about the negative attention Miley Cyrus has received since the VMA Awards. A central question I've pondered is what triggered her descent from wholesome kid star to twerking 20 year old grinding on a married man in front of millions. It didn't start when she was 20. Miley is certainly her own proponent in her sexual exploitation. But I believe older authorities in her life have facilitated it, and the more power and authority someone has, the greater accountability they incur for their influence on others. When did older authorities begin to communicate to her that it was OK for her to be sexually exploited, to sexually exploit herself?
From public articles, a pivotal point seems when her dad organized and participated with her in an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot when she was just 15. According to Miley's twitter feed after the VMA Awards, her dad affirmed her VMA performance and told her he would have done the same if he had known what twerking was back in the day. She has the approval of her dad on this exploitive journey it seems.
She also had the approval of the 36 year old married father, Robin Thicke, who let her grind against him as he sang sexual lyrics to her. Yet, the world's news reports and social media outlets almost universally focused on Miley. I can't really condemn that initial discrepancy, because I did the same. It wasn't until just a day or so ago that I realized this discrepancy about the media response (and my own). Before that, I didn't notice that both Christian and secular responses centered fully around Miley and not Thicke, because I was concerned with Miley and not Thicke. He was simply a minor blip on the screen in my head. Yet when I stepped back and thought about it, he is really the major player. The facilitator. The encourager. Would Miley have performed as she did without Thicke? Would she have been on the stage at all? How has this married father almost twice her age escaped with so little negative attention after his obviously crucial role in such a spectacle?
I think a large part of the answer to that question is benign and even positive. Though I should be burdened for Robin Thicke, frankly, I'm not. But Miley used to be cute and sweet, earnest and positive. Without realizing it, I rooted for her and hoped she would make it without selling her soul to the sexualized entertainment culture. And, since she's only 20, I still hope that for her. On top of that, for many of us, she represents to us our fears for our children, particularly our daughters. See Trevin Wax's two posts on the subject (here and here). He had it right when he wrote of weeping for Miley.
But there is a darker aspect to the discrepancy as well. More often than not, society (Christian or secular) views men's sexuality as a given. Sexualized men exploiting others in Hollywood is accepted as the norm. But when a seemingly sweet young girl exploits herself or others, we're shocked and outraged. A similar discrepancy popped up during discussion on healthcare reform (which I do NOT want to debate, please!). There was a heated national discussion after Sandra Fluke testified in support for coverage for women's birth control. The argument from a negative standpoint seemed to focus on whether we should pay for women to have sex. Yet birth control is a necessary medicine for many women with conditions having nothing to do with avoiding pregnancy (PCOS, endometriosis, painful menses, etc.). There was never any similar discussion on viagra, which is used for very little other than sex for men. I've thought a lot since then about why power structures scrutinize hormonal treatments for women with many important uses without similar scrutiny for treatment for men with the singular purpose of facilitating sexual prowess. I have no problem with someone needing viagra and using it in the context of marriage, yet the discrepancy in what gets funded without debate is curious to me. Men are sexually needy, and it seems that society just accepts that. But we expect more of women. This is not to say that I am either for or against national healthcare. But the tone of the national discussion does give evidence to a larger problem on the issue of gender.
Whether any of us personally have those biases or not, the answer in the Body of Christ is pretty straight forward. Our young women AND our young men need to understand both themselves and those of the opposite sex as image bearers of God with basic human dignity. Individual human dignity stems from understanding the character of our God. It's practical theology, if I may plug the term that has resonated deeply in my heart for years. Knowing God proceeds knowing ourselves. We need to know God, who then opens our eyes to how our minds and bodies were created in His image to reflect beautiful things about Himself. Both men AND women need to own this for themselves, their gender, and those of the opposite gender.
Other good thoughts on the topic (some with strong language)--
How to talk with your sons about Robin Thicke
Dear son, don't let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you
Violence (and misogyny) against women is a man's issue