Leopard

Column: The Ideological Readings of Miley Cyrus’s Butt Cheeks

 

Here at Leopard Print in the Ivory Tower, we take a look at what pop-cultural artifacts reveal about the prominent discourses in our society.

And there is little that illuminates our discourse around sexuality more clearly than the reactions to Miley Cyrus’s quivering ass. (If you’ve been living under a pop-culture shielding rock, Cyrus shocked the world with a raunchy performance at the VMA award ceremony on Monday night, wherein she “twerked” vociferously, or in layman’s terms, “shook her butt with much enthusiasm.”)

To unpack said derrière, I would like to introduce you to one Judith Butler: the big mama of gender studies.

Yes Judith, we like theory.

The slogan on this guy’s t-shirt should indicate the degree of veneration that Butler’s theories have accrued within the gender studies field.

 Judith Butler: this guy’s goddess.

Butler put forth the idea that there’s actually no such thing as gender.

According to Butler, gender is not something we are born with, it is a series of behaviours that we perform.

“But what about my vagina/penis?” I hear you say.

Well according to Butler, it is not the penis (nor vagina) that maketh a man (or woman). It is the performance of either “feminine” or “masculine” behaviours that inscribes gender. Thus, gender is a performance which you “do”, not something that you “have”.

And sometimes, when you “do” gender, it looks like this:

 In shaking her rear on that pinstriped man, Miley is performing femininity as it has been taught to her by Western culture. We learn the behaviours that we must perform to classify us as “female” or “male” from culture. And in our culture, to perform femininity means to perform certain displays of sexuality that are attractive to men, e.g butt-shaking, tongue-licking and the (above pictured) like.

And yet, though it is our own culture that attached these behaviours to femininity, we are somehow appalled by Miley’s VMA performance.

Now the twerking detractors at this point will say something like, “But I don’t think dancing like a ho maketh a desirable woman.”

And maybe you don’t. But a lot of people do. This is evidenced by the fact that the song “Blurred Lines” by the pinstriped man (aka Robin Thicke) has been number one in the world. If you’re unfamiliar with the song, “Blurred Lines” is about a good girl who actually, deep down, wants to copulate maniacally. Well, we don’t know that she does, but Robin feels like she does, and therefore, he should go for it, right?

In this way, to quote The Daily Beast, “Blurred Lines” transforms “that age-old problem where men think no means yes into a catchy, hummable song.” As the title “Blurred Lines” suggests, the song registers the inability of some to grasp the idea of consent as concrete. Yep, Rapey Robin is one of those guys who thinks consent is a “grey area” full of “blurred lines”. In other words, no doesn’t always mean no. Sometimes, no actually means “I want to have your babies.”

These lyrics buy into a larger idea that women are always up for crazy sexy-times, they just don’t say it. And given this song has been number one in the world, it looks like that’s a socially legitimate idea.

So why then, when Miley performs this version of femininity (the hyper-sexual woman), do we find it gross? I’m not saying that I am immune from this: I too reacted with mild disgust at the sight of her parading in that pleather bikini. But how is it okay to legitimize the secretly sex-crazed woman when Rapey Robin is singing about her, while criticizing her real incarnation (Miley)?

In a life-mirrors-art fashion: Miley is the literal incarnation of Robin Thicke’s “good girl who wants to get nasty.” She’s gone from cutesy Hannah Montana to depraved Miley Twerk-a-lot.

The double standard in our reactions to Miley and Robin is laid bare in the response from Rapey Robin’s mum. Watching the VMA performance, Mama Thicke was totally okay with her son singing his date-rape anthem to thousands of people, many of them young and impressionable. Though she had no qualms about the naked girls dancing in the “Blurred Lines” videoclip, she was appalled by the almost-naked Miley dancing.

“I just keep thinking of her mother and father watching this,” she cried. “Oh Lord have mercy!” Miley be breaking poor Billy Ray’s Akey Breaky Heart.

The squirrel concurs.

Well, in the words of this squirrel, Lord have Mercy on you, Mama Thicke, ‘caus Miley ain’t the only one sustaining this lascivious version of femininity that so irks you. Take a look at your own son.

Miley may have picked this form of femininity to perform when there were less carnal versions available, but in a world where “Blurred Lines” is the number one hit, can she be blamed for equating this particular performance of femininity with desirability?

 

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Annika Blau is a freelance writer from Sydney with a lot of opinions. Her writing explores what pop culture tells us about ourselves, and pairs the teachings of academia with those of the supermarket aisle. She wants to know why we don’t examine Kanye West with the same academic rigour as The Cantebury Tales, and finds Lady Gaga as revealing as the census. More of her writing can be found at annikablau@blogspot.com.au.

Read the rest of ‘Leopard Print in the Ivory Tower’ here.

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(Banner image from Quinn Dombrowsky)