In defense of Miley: third-wave feminism and the importance of body reclamation

After reading staff writer Julianne Vallera’s article “Miley Cyrus sets bad example,” I thought I should launch into a socio-historical analysis of feminist thought and discuss the ways that society has placed women’s bodies under an almost-non-metaphorical lock and key.

Then, I thought that I should launch into a very delicate analysis of the language of oppression in Vallera’s article, highlighting the problems associated with slut-shaming and assuming one is addressing a homogenous audience (which, hint: one never is).

But mostly, I just felt like I should grab my closest latex underwear, crop top and foam finger and go to town.

You see, the problem with Miley Cyrus’s new image is that it’s bold. And we’re not used to or comfortable with women being bold.

Third-wave feminism is a pretty new thing. First-wave feminism, which happened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was the earliest feminist movement and faced some pretty obvious opponents. First-wave feminism focused on de jure, or legal inequalities. It primarily focused on gaining voting and property rights. Looking back, it is more than apparent that there were great inequalities during this time.

Then, second-wave feminism happened from, roughly, the early 1960s until the 1980s. It started in the United States and had much broader aims than its first-wave counterpart. The goal of second-wave feminism was to establish social equality. It focused on issues like sexuality, family, the workplace and the role that women play in all of these arenas. It also focused on reproductive rights and sexual assault issues.

Now, we find ourselves in third-wave feminism, a specific brand of feminism that is hard for a lot of people to stomach–probably because third-wave feminism attempts to truly make women equal.

Third-wave feminism began in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has continued until the present. One of the main aims of third-wave feminism is to push back against essentialist ideals of femininity and what it means to be a woman, embracing instead the varied and diverse category of woman, if such category can even be said to exist.

Post-structuralist thought, in general, attempts to look into language and examine how certain binaries–such as male/female, masculine/feminine, insane/sane–certain binaries that we assume to be real, natural and normal are actually created, regulated and maintained in order to privilege certain sides of these perceived natural binaries.

A large aim of third-wave feminism is that of reclamation, taking back that which has been taken away for many years.

I would like to, for a moment, suggest that maybe Miley Cyrus’s display of sexuality is working alongside these goals. That, maybe, the reason that we react negatively is because we are not used to such an upfront, powerful display of sexuality coming from a woman.

Cyrus’s display of sexuality is not passive, is not merely allowing herself as a site of sexuality, being acted upon by her “masculine” counterpart. Her display of sexuality is, instead, bold, aggressive, strong.

This is not a particularly “feminine” sexuality.

I would like to suggest, for a moment, that maybe the problem with Miley Cyrus isn’t so much about Miley as it is about us.

Admittedly, this article is entirely too short. I have not claimed to support Miley Cyrus’s cultural appropriation in many of her videos. Miley’s use of a culture that is not hers both exoticizes and trivializes a very large group of people.

Miley’s use of people of different ethnic backgrounds as merely props in her “We Can’t Stop” video or her iconic VMAs performance is entirely inappropriate and should face strong criticism.

Finally, the fact that Cyrus chose to sing “Blurred Lines”, a hit single which promotes, glorifies and perpetuates the harmful language of rape culture, with Robin Thicke during her iconic VMAs performance, is appalling.

But let us criticize Miley for the right reasons, taking a careful, critically thought approach and never failing to dive deeper and deeper into the history of thought.

In conclusion, to quote Jay-Z in his single “Somewhereinamerica”, “twerk, Miley, twerk.” And then twerk some more.