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Friday, October 4, 2013

Why Sinead O'Connor's Letter to Miley Cyrus Was Sexist

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 9:30 AM

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Yesterday, a hefty portion of the Internet exploded with support for Sinead O'Connor's "motherly" letter to Miley Cyrus regarding Miley's recent penchant for nudity and sledgehammer-licking. O'Connor's letter was lengthy and somewhat repetitive, but it essentially told Cyrus that: (a) she was allowing herself to be exploited by men in the music industry, (b) taking her clothes off in the course of her career would ultimately damage it and that (c) Miley's recent sexually suggestive behavior was the result of other people's desires and not her own.


O'Connor's letter complimented Cyrus on her talents, but essentially told her that she didn't have her shit together, and even suggested that Cyrus was allowing herself to be prostituted. The immediate response to the letter on social media was that it was a feminist call for sanity -- a righteous plea for women in pop to not allow themselves to be exploited by an industry that has always relied on selling young female flesh to thrive. But O'Connor's message to Miley was ultimately patronizing, misguided, and -- whoops -- deeply sexist.

O'Connor's letter was prompted by Miley's recent cover story in Rolling Stone, in which she compared her (awful) video for "Wrecking Ball" with O'Connor's classic clip for "Nothing Compares 2U". "It's like the Sinead O'Connor video," Miley said, "But, like, the most modern version. I wanted it to be tough but really pretty -- that's what Sinead did with her hair and everything." Cyrus, of course, is way off the mark with this assertion, since the only thing the two videos have in common is that there's facial close-ups and crying in both of them.

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If O'Connor's open letter had merely said: "Sorry, love, but we're nothing alike. I don't get naked and ride balls, because I am an artiste," it would've been one thing. But O'Connor used her letter as an opportunity to treat Miley Cyrus as a helpless little girl with zero control over either her body or her career. If O'Connor had bothered to read the whole Rolling Stone piece, she would have been rather surprised by quite how savvy Cyrus is when it comes to both.

What's worse, when O'Connor asserts repeatedly that Cyrus is being exploited by men for their own gain, she isn't just ignoring this young woman's very obvious public exploration of her newfound sexuality, she is roundly assuming that every time a woman takes her clothes off, it's the decision of a man. Which harks back to the incredibly sexist notion that only men are sexual creatures and women are driven, not by their own primal

urges, but merely by a need to please males. Which is, of course, ridiculous.

"Wrecking Ball" wasn't an awful video because Miley Cyrus was naked in it, "Wrecking Ball" was an awful video because it had an exploitative creep directing it. Had this thing been edited differently and shot from less stark angles, it could have been quite beautiful (except for the sledgehammer licking -- that would've been terrible from any angle, obviously). But we don't think Terry Richardson got away with cutting the video that way because he's a man. We think he got away with it because he's a "name" and he's supposed to be hip, so Cyrus probably just rolled with it because -- if that girl's desperate for anything right now -- it's more cool points.

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Was the "Wrecking Ball" video Cyrus' finest moment? Nope. It was creepy and weird. Is Miley naked a lot lately? Sure. But accusing her of hating herself because of those things is absurd. Actual O'Connor quote: "No one who cares about you could support your being pimped... and that includes you yourself. Yes, I'm suggesting you don't care for yourself." Everything about Miley Cyrus right now implies the opposite: has anyone else noticed how much fun she's having? How she's more in control of her image now than ever before? How she's realized she's actually one of the cool kids?

O'Connor was right that young women are frequently exploited by the music industry. She was right that the showbiz industry makes "money off youth and beauty". And she was right that "females in the industry are role models... for other women". But what O'Connor has failed to notice is that Cyrus is actually one of the best in the pop bunch -- because, as we pointed out a few weeks ago, Miley is one of the few that isn't afraid to do "ugly." She isn't afraid to be vulgar and funny and cartoonish and silly. And onstage, she is more concerned with having the time of her life than hitting her best angles.

Miley Cyrus' current image is actually the product of other people not having control of her. This young woman is doing in the public eye what a lot of young women do when they first go off to college: they find themselves, they party, and they're not afraid to go off the rails a little. And you can bet your ass that if men were controlling Miley's every move, she wouldn't have a shaved head and tattooed fingers, she wouldn't have a grill in her mouth, and she wouldn't have been permitted to run amok all over the VMAs stage wearing two decidedly unsexy outfits and chunky creepers on her feet.

So O'Connor has missed the point of Miley entirely. She's ignored all that over-excited youthful exuberance and reduced an artist finding her own voice to the realm of victimhood. Most of all, O'Connor has done the most anti-feminist thing in the world and publicly scolded another woman for not being perfect. Cyrus has since hit back at Sinead on Twitter and done the exact same thing, which is both entirely unhelpful and not a little childish. However, if you are going to tell a rambunctious 20-year-old girl that her body "is for [her] and [her] boyfriend," these things are to be expected.

-- @Raemondjjjj


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