Can Hammer-Licking be a Feminist Act?

Miley Cyrus - Ain't Pink just adorable?
Miley Cyrus – Ain’t Pink just adorable?
I don’t think that the idea that music and sex go together is problematic. I don’t have a problem with people, men or women, using their sexuality in music videos or in their stage shows. It’s popular music for god’s sake.

When Elvis gyrates his hips I giggle and I remember being transfixed by Kate Bush on Top of the Pops as a child when she floated about in a leotard. However claiming that mass marketed images intended for titillation are an act of individual self expression and therefore can be a feminist act is problematic.

Miley Cyrus was described on the Today programme on November 13th 2013 (mp3 file here) in a debate between Catherine Hakim, social scientist and author of Honey Money and Lia Latchford, member of the Rewind and Reframe campaign as exercising the power to behave exactly as she wants on stage and in her videos and therefore she could be described as a feminist. She was said to be expressing her sexuality in her video for the song Wrecking Ball, and the fact she is able and confident to do so, is evidence that she is a strong woman.

Is Miley Cyrus expressing her own sexuality in her videos, photo shoots and stage performances? Is it a creative, liberating act that shows her in control of her own image and using her own sexuality to her advantage?

I suppose it might be. Madonna has always been credited for the control she has exercised over her image in videos and on stage. Her own vision was at the heart of the images we saw of her. It may be the case that Miley Cyrus is the same – she might be in control here, rather than performing a contrived role created for her by her record company, management team, stylist etc.

The weird thing is, if Madonna had a large hand in creating her persona, whilst Rihanna, Miley et al have their highly sexualised images created by committee, then how come both sets of poses they strike and the writhing and panting, winking and licking things is all so damn familiar? If this is women enjoying the freedom to express their individualism and sexuality, then how come they all look the same? How can individual self expression end up being so homogenous?

The answer is that the poses that the women strike in these videos are not expressions of their personal sexuality. They are repeating the gambits of pole dancers, strippers, porn actresses and glamour models. They are titillating and provocative and can be exciting to watch. But they are not creative acts of self expression; they are conforming to a set of visual clichés associated with the sex industry.

Miley Cyrus is trading on the images of women, often anonymous, that are wank material.
Rather than this enhancing her personal creativity, does it not rather reduce her individuality so that she is just another writhing naked woman?

She is not expressing her own personality when she is up on stage – quite the opposite. She is recycling a set of well worn clichés. Miley is performing poses that women have been doing for a long time in hundreds of different places; ultimately just another pair of tits and ass. It’s the opposite of creative. Miley is a cypher. So, it’s hard to see this as self-expression as there does not seem to be an individual here at all. Without an actual woman at its heart, it’s tricky to see this as a feminist act.

By Dr Sabine Clarke

Meanwhile… here’s another woman singing about another Wrecking Ball – Ed

8 thoughts on “Can Hammer-Licking be a Feminist Act?”

  1. “She is not expressing her own personality when she is up on stage – quite the opposite”

    You know her well, then?

    My problem with the “Miley’s just a poor exploited puppet being made to get her kit off by the evil record company” argument is the obvious one: using what leverage? She made more money and fame out of being Hannah Montana than she’ll ever need. How could anyone make her do anything she didn’t want to do, when all they have to offer is money and fame, both of which she’s already neck-deep in?

    If Miley’s schtick is hackneyed, maybe it’s just because she’s still only about 20, or perhaps she doesn’t happen to be a particularly imaginative individual. I don’t know. Either way, I’m not sure it’s fitting to lecture young people that their self-expression is invalid because it doesn’t conform to what you’d rather they were doing.

    1. Your points about whether her image is her idea or her record company’s , or the fact she is young seem valid if irrelevant. My point was merely to pick up on the fact that a claim was made on the radio that this was feminism.

      1. And maybe it is. Feminism, I’d have thought, encompassed the freedom to do what you want even if it’s cliched and has been done before. So unless we can show that that isn’t what Miley herself really wants to be doing, there’s no evidence to dispute the assertion.

        1. Whilst feminism does embrace the idea of women having freedom to make choices for themselves, it does not follow that all the choices that a woman makes are feminist ones.

    2. “How could anyone make her do anything she didn’t want to do, when all they have to offer is money and fame, both of which she’s already neck-deep in?” Easily.

      Offer more money and more fame, in short, ongoing self-esteem that’s what they can offer.

      Fame and money can be fleeting. Fame and money makers are aware of this. Therefore they only offer certain choices of identity to their products (in this case Ms Cyrus) in order to maintain the stream of revenue.

      They offer the standard drivel of, “Be yourself. Be true you yourself. Everything happens for a reason,” while only presenting limited choices of ‘yourself’ and ‘truth’ to a 20 year old who has been shrouded in fame since she was a small girl.

      And the idea that Cyrus can’t want more fame and money – in fact a constant, live-giving stream of both – is naive at best and trolling at worst.

      As is the low rhetoric of “You know her well, then?”

      1. I do think “She is not expressing her own personality when she is up on stage – quite the opposite” is an awfully presumptuous thing to say if you don’t know the person in question and are therefore in no position to know what her personality is.

  2. Well I thought it was a good blog and am on Sabine’s wavelength. I can’t provide this evidence being asked for here but I would feel naive for saying that someone in Miley’s shoes, with that much money being thrown around would have full creative control. Of course nobody would have been like ‘Hey, Miley do the sexy dancing stuff at the show tomorrow ok love?!’. I imagine it to be a collaboration of people within her team shaping her brand by making suggestions based on successes of other similar artists and current trends. Today to be successful you have to please mainstream society and well, mainstream society is pretty messed up right now. So no, I don’t think her choices can be called an expression of feminism. I really do believe it’s her putting her own unique little twist on an act that was carefully put together by her team. I don’t have evidence for this but really do you need it? Do you really believe if Miley brought up a creative idea for her new video where she piles on the pounds and sits down on an old sofa they would let her? She could do that but she would stand to lose everything because her idea doesn’t conform to what society is told to like.

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