In the pornified music world populated by churned-out female pop stars pumping and grinding to a sexualised script, cavorting semi-naked and presented as sexually insatiable, we see Miley Cyrus simulating sex acts while denuded of real sexuality.
While many around the world condemned what was seen as an overtly sexualised performance at the recent MTV music awards, her crotch-centred routine – which included rubbing the groins of herself and Robin Thicke with a giant hand possibly stolen from a Coles ”down, down, prices are down” ad – was one of the most desexed stage performances I have seen.
Miley Cyrus is a business. Her mostly male management would have scripted every plastic fake sex move. In an industry dominated by men, Cyrus thrusted and writhed because these same men thought there would be money in it.
The view of some young people whose thoughts I sought in schools last week was that it was less an expression of sexuality than of ugliness. For them, Cyrus’ performance represented a distorted version of female sexuality. And if Cyrus’ management thought the act would shore up her fan base, they have misjudged.
Almost without exception, the girls groaned and rolled their eyes when I asked them about it. Grace, 13, says: ”The performance portrayed a negative image of women.”
Alex, 13, drew attention to the shaping of boys’ thinking. ”It shows boys that’s how we are, our image.”
Megan, 12: ”She thinks it’s cool, she’ll attract more people, but she hasn’t.”
Emma, 11: ”I felt overexposed to something I shouldn’t have watched.”
These girls noted that the women on stage wore less clothing than the men. They wanted to know why this differential nakedness was acceptable. It troubled them that Robin Thicke – whose Blurred Lines song has been condemned as justifying non-consensual sex, is almost twice Cyrus’ age. (Defined Lines, a parody by three female University of Auckland students sending up Thicke’s song, was temporarily removed from YouTube for displaying sexually explicit content, while his clip containing topless women can still be viewed in full online.)
X-rated artificial sex routines have become banal. The girls expressed a desire to enjoy female talent free of predictable objectified routines. They want to see an emphasis on the song more than the body.
Lady Gaga pulls a machinegun out of her vagina, Katy Perry shoots whipped cream from her breasts and Rihanna offers S&M and bondage themes. It may be porny, but it’s far from erotic.
And, of course, there is a contrast in the judgment afforded to women compared with men. Men are so often let off the hook. US rap artist Tyler, The Creator, who sings about rape being fun, raping a pregnant woman and calling it a three-way and raping female corpses, was given a visa to perform his live misogyny at ”all ages” Australian concerts recently.
Flo Rida’s Can’t Believe It, at No. 7 on the top-40 charts, also enforces the female-artist-as-porn-performer theme. The song opens with, ”Damn, that white girl got some ass”, and the video features objectified, headless women with oversize backsides. Women are depicted visually as ice-cream and in porn-style poses.
Justin Timberlake’s Tunnel Vision clip has him in a suit surrounded by naked women whose sole purpose is to writhe around him. It is a complete double standard. We don’t see male artists gyrating their bums before the cameras.
The female students I spent time with wanted to see more female performers who defied limited visions of womanhood. They saw Adele and Taylor Swift as women who respected themselves, were devoted to their voices and who refused to conform to the standard expectations of women in the music industry. For a truly beautiful and sensual performance, give me Sade Adu, the British singer touring this country for the first time in 25 years in December. Here is a woman who understands you don’t have to take your clothes off for a lads’ mag to prove you are a real woman.
Churning out one manufactured fantasy after another, in which women are always presented as ”up for it”, doesn’t constitute an expression of female independence or agency. The girls I spent time with saw it as co-operating in your own exploitation. ”Miley exploits herself now,” says one student, 13.
They wanted something more than a singing, dancing sexual puppet. Why can’t the music industry give them that?