So the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) aired on Sunday night here in the U.S., and the highlight of the night was the strippers. Not that they were the high point, mind you. In fact, quite the opposite. This is the low point we as women have worked so hard to achieve:
They say: take me seriously as an artist. Gaga, with her ARTPOP album on the horizon, is quick to defend her antics as artistic presentations. And then, what do these artistes do?
They strip on stage and dance. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Miley’s tongue suddenly cannot stay in her head as she touches herself (Madonna did it eons ago), touches Robin Thicke, and proceeds to thrust, grind, and twerk her junk (wish that term could just die, already) to the “shock” of the nation. Gaga stripped to two strategically-placed shells and a thong. A THONG. Really?
I wasn’t personally offended when I watched a replay of Miley’s twisted mix of teddy bears and T&A. I thought it was sad. As I wrote above, this kind of shock-value performance was done by Madonna (Blond Ambition tour, 1990), when it actually delivered a jolt to our collective psyche, and Madonna was making a statement about women owning their sexuality, and owning it blatantly. She called it “musical theater,” and at the time it was so bold and offensive it was actually illegal in some cities and countries.* It had impact. And Madonna was 32, not 20. She had struggled and worked hard for her fame and platform. She was a woman with life experience making clear choices, not a girl blaming/claiming “puberty” for her incongruous behavior as she transitions from a gilded life of childhood stardom.
Which is why I think we found Miley’s performance all the more disturbing. Her display was neither theater nor art; it was a gratuitous attempt by a girl fresh out of her teens to be overtly sexual, controversial, and outlandish—without the life experience, societal oppression, or real struggle that informs most art. It smacked of cheapness and desperation. And immaturity.
As women, we have said: Take us seriously. Pay us equally. Give us the same opportunities. Don’t treat us as sex objects, because we are more than that.
And the best we can do after all feminism and women’s rights have done to level the playing field is strip off our clothes and present ourselves as sex objects. On and off the stage. And before you all jump on me, I know it is feminism that paved the way for Miley to don her flesh-toned, latex bikini and writhe onstage (or on Robin) as she pleases. I know it is feminism that gave her the right to do that.
But now that we can do that, why would we?