So even if you didn’t watch MTV’s annual pop culture recap called the Video Music Awards, you’ve likely heard about or saw footage of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s performance that evening. The attention that this performance received via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter was especially impressive, considering the myriad other “news-worthy” events happening worldwide. But I digress. The performance itself was, in my opinion, an atrocious display of black culture appropriation and bad pop music, and although I could write a piece about how terrible Miley’s dance moves were or how unfortunate it is that the hottest single right now is about blurred lines of consent (read: rape), I won’t. Instead, I want to draw your attention to the way in which people responded to the whole event and the glaring double standard Miley is held to as a female in both the music industry and life in general. A sampling from the tweets, Facebook posts and comments on the YouTube video of their performance reveals how differently Cyrus and Thicke have been treated. The phrases dealing with Cyrus were judgmental and shaming - “poor pathetic girl” and “what a slut!” - while most people just “feel bad” for Thicke.
Ladies! Gentlemen! This is what harmful stereotyping looks like! Cyrus defied your idea of how a lady should act (Madonna and the whore, anyone?) and Thicke received no backlash because he was just being a dude. Both performers are products of the music industry, in which people spend outrageous amounts of time and money to encourage women to take off their clothes by promoting specific ideas of “sexiness,” only to grossly criticize them when they actually do dress provocatively.
I’m not defending Miley’s performance or trying to justify her actions - I think it’s pretty clear that her routine was more awkward and racist than edgy and shocking. But while everyone was busy commenting on her crude foam finger and nude latex underwear, they neglected to mention the inappropriateness of Robin Thicke’s participation in the whole thing. People are quick to call out women performers who choose to dance or dress provocatively, while their male counterparts don’t have to face the same criticism. It takes two to tango, and Thicke was in full compliance with Cyrus twerking all over him. Maybe if he didn't truly expect or want Miley to twerk on him, he should consider his own lyrics. After all, what if Miley "knew (he) want(ed) it" even though he wasn't acting like it? You know, because of blurred lines and all. But no one seemed to care that he was the other half of this outrageous spectacle.
In fact, all other aspects of the VMAs, including an NYSNC reunion, were overshadowed by our need to slut-shame a woman whose song actually contained lyrics involving independence, agency and individuality. This is because we live in a society that perpetuates the objectification of women, and when women make it hard for people to objectify them, things get messy. Being able to imagine a sexualized Miley as a child and watching her exhibit agency through her sexuality is a deadly combination since both make it harder for us to objectify her. It’s Miley’s mouth, she can say what she wants. She can also dance and dress however she wants just like all of the men that performed that night. And as an audience, we can say whatever we want about the performers and how bad they are, as long as we hold them all up to the same standards.