Miley Cyrus: bad influence or hero to feminism?

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Whether you love her or hate her, it is impossible to deny the fact that Miley Cyrus has made a huge impact on pop culture and the media in the past year. Miley’s Bangerz tour made a local stop last Wednesday, April 2when she performed at TD Garden in Boston. Her set list included the expected hits from her Bangerz album, such as “FU”, “Do My Thang”, “Adore you”, “We Can’t Stop”, and “Wrecking Ball”. There were also throw back songs including “Party in the USA” and “Can’t Be Tamed.”

While the show was filled with Miley’s usual level of raciness and inappropriate dancing, fans in the audience also say that there was a sadness about the night. Miley’s dog had died the night before, and she actually shed tears while asking the crowd to help her get through the night.

Miley has become much more than a musical artist though. She is now making an impact on college curriculums. Skidmore College, a private liberal arts school in Saratoga Springs, New York, is offering a brand new course to its students this summer. The class is entitled “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media,” and the professor who will be teaching the course, Carolyn Chernoff, said that it will focus on role of race and gender in pop culture. It will also examine the media’s reaction and influence in Miley’s career and pop culture in general.

Miley began working on her new image when she chopped off her long hair in favor of a short, platinum blonde pixie cut in August of 2012. Fans and critics were all shocked at the new look that seemed not to fit the Miley we all knew. Of course, this was just the first of many radical changes coming up in Miley’s life. Next came her split from fiancé Liam Hemsworth in September 2013 after months of breakup rumors. This had a major impact on her music, and seems to have pushed her towards her new image.

The first huge scandal for Miley was her 2013 VMA performance which none of us are likely to forget any time soon. Miley was onstage “twerking” beside Blurred Lines singer Robin Thicke, dressed in nude colored underwear. The media was shocked, and for weeks it seemed that no one was talking about anyone but Miley Cyrus. She again made waves at the 2013 MTV EMAs in Amsterdam for smoking weed onstage while accepting her award.

While Miley has received much negative attention and criticism, she still has quite an impressive fan base. She has 17.7 million twitter followers, and over 10 million followers on Instagram. So, what is it about Miley that is so attractive to her fans? Miley’s disregard for society’s expectations of modest dress has lead many people to say that she is a bad influence on the morality of girls. However, one fan said that “She actually makes me feel good about my body and appearance. A lot of people think she’s gross or disgusting because she usually is in various states of undress. However this is actually empowering for me, I’m glad to see another woman who’s comfortable in her own skin and knows her body isn’t taboo.”

Our society certainly has many taboos when it comes to the body. Whether you have modest or liberal values, it is easy to see that the female body is highly constricted with rules about what is and is not appropriate. In many public schools, there are dress policies that forbid shorts that do not reach beyond your fingertips, shirts that reveal girls’ shoulders, and even yoga pants and leggings. There are almost no dress code restrictions placed on men.

It is more of the same in the media. During the 2014 Super Bowl halftime show, Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, performed shirtless beside Bruno Mars. Lil’ Wayne performed shirtless at the 2012 VMAs. Justin Bieber performs shirtless at almost all of his concerts. For some reason, it is socially acceptable for these men to take their shirts off onstage without anyone giving it a second thought.

However, once Miley or any other female celebrity shows up in a revealing top, everyone seems to have a problem with it. Granted, there are physical differences between men and women, but Miley has never gone onstage without making sure she was covering what needed to be covered. One of the problems here is that the female body is highly over sexualized. There fact that girls are not allowed to wear tank tops and yoga pants in public schools shows that there is a serious issue with the way men view and treat women.

Miley herself said “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything… I’m for anybody. I’m for everybody, for everything. I don’t care what you wanna do in your life, or who you wanna be with, who you wanna love, who you wanna look like.”

There are those who believe that Miley’s twerking and half nudity are a setback for feminism. However, consider the fact that feminism according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary mean “the belief that men and woman should have equal rights and opportunities.” Now consider the fact that Robin Thicke was onstage with Miley during her infamous VMA performance. He danced with Miley, and was a central part of the crazy performance. However, if you ask anyone their thoughts on that performance they likely will not even bring up Thicke’s name. The media focused almost entirely on Miley’s dress and behavior, criticizing her actions and looks. Miley’s twerking became a national scandal, and yet they had nothing to say about the man standing behind her. This in itself proves that society has a double standard regarding gender and sexuality.

Although Miley is clearly no longer the type of celebrity children should be idolizing, with her drug use and nudity, she is having an important impact on sexism in the media. Some may believe that the bad parts of her image outweigh any good she may be doing. However, Miley’s belief that everyone has the right to choose how they live their lives may be one of the biggest things to recently happen to feminism in pop culture.

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