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