Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley Cyrus--Girl Gone Wild?

I have seen the Miley Cyrus photo and heard it described, alternately, as soft core porn and as a publicity stunt. Either this 15 year old girl has been taken advantage of by all the adults around her, or she has taken her first step toward becoming the next tabloid train wreck.

I'm conflicted about this. My own 7 year old, like 7 year olds around the globe, is obsessed with Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana. My knee jerk reaction was to be appalled that her parents allowed the picture to be taken, that Annie Leibovitz would even think to take such a picture, and to lament the hypersexualization of young girls in our culture. Yet...

I've also just returned from a conference where I (along with Alison) delivered a paper that argued, in part, that women's sexuality is marginalized/ignored/pathologized by mainstream society. We are deeply uncomfortable with female sexual desire and pleasure. Yet, paradoxically, it is exactly sexual pleasure and desire, or at least the performance of it, that we offer young girls/women as the means by which they assert their autonomy. I'm reminded of Jessica Simpson talking about how empowering it was to wear Daisy Duke's shorts in the Dukes of Hazard movie; of Anne Hathaway wanting to take the breast-exposing role in Brokeback Mountain in an effort to shed her Disney princess image; of Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart as she attempted to move out from under Bill Cosby's shadow; of Halle Berry's Oscar for Monster's Ball. One can easily imagine that Miley Cyrus, in the thick of her hormonal adolescence, perhaps feeling the claustrophobia of being a star in the Disney machine, fearing losing herself in the squeaky clean image of Hannah Montana, jumped at the chance to work with Annie Leibovitz and create the kind of sexually provocative images Leibovitz is known for.

Who knows? I do feel sorry for her, though. Not only will the outcry about this be huge (already prompting Cyrus to deliver an Obama-style repudiation of Leibovitz), but I also feel like we've ruined whatever kind of joy or power or solace she may have found in the picture, or by extension, her burgeoning sexual self.

1 comment:

Alison said...

Yeah, I feel your ambivalence. As a culture we're especially conflicted (even pathologically conflicted, I'd say) about girls' sexuality, both terrified of it and desperate to enhance and exploit it. At the conference you and I both referenced a kind of teenaged girl sexuality--something we both identified as being potentially powerful, unruly, able to challenge the restrictive roles of our culture. And here is Miley Cyrus, a fifteen-year-old girl who is almost certainly experiencing herself as a sexual being, trying to chart some sort of path in this very inhospitable terrain. She doesn't have much useful stuff to work with, culturally, and she's going to be blamed horrifically no matter what.