Do you ever feel like the Universe/God/Whoever is trying to tell you something?
A couple days ago I saw Miley’s new photos. Apparently she didn’t kill Hannah Montana hard enough at the VMAs, so she let notoriously gross photographer/video artist Terry Richardson take photos of her topless and in various other compromised states.
Richardson has been accused of inappropriately touching his teenage models and exploiting underage girls. He’s the brains – or some other body part – behind Miley’s disgusting “Wrecking Ball” video, in which she rides a wrecking ball like a stripper pole in a bizarre attempt to prove she’s all grown up and has had it up to here with our rules.
Speaking of beautiful young women demeaning themselves for money, Rihanna. In her new video for “Pour It Up,” she also rides a stripper pole, twerks, and glamorizes the stripper lifestyle.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, becoming a stripper was not something to aspire to. Even actual strippers were at least a little bit ashamed of it. Many did it because they felt like it was the only way to support themselves and their kids, or because they developed a taste for the money.
And if somebody loved being a stripper and reveled in that brand of objectifying attention, you wondered what was wrong with her, what had happened to make her okay with demeaning herself for money.
Not only does the Rihanna video – and everything that resembles it – make sexuality look terribly un-sexy, but it also teaches young women that being viewed as an object is something to aspire to – and not just for struggling co-eds, single moms, and desperate girls who don’t know any better. If stripping is good enough for a billionaire pop star, for whom isn’t it good enough?
Never mind that Rihanna’s video is an illusion. Any naïf chasing the stripper dream based on Rihanna’s video – or the stripper/party girl/porn model dream based on Miley’s antics – will find the reality very different from being a superstar slumming for kicks. A real life in the sex trades comes with significantly less glitz and more risk – of sexual assault and more.
A 2011 Johns Hopkins study of Baltimore EDCs (Exotic Dance Clubs) examined heightened HIV risk among exotic dancers.
Dancers began working in exotic dance clubs primarily because of financial need and lack of employment opportunities, and to a lesser extent, the need to support illicit drug habits. … Drug use and alcohol use were reported as coping mechanisms in response to these stressful working conditions and often escalated sexual risk behaviors.
The financial allure and social pressure to sell sex within EDCs fostered a permissive norm and expectations about selling sex. Sex work was described as so routine and socially condoned that in many clubs not selling sex was an anomaly. Sex work was inevitable for many dancers given the disparate financial remuneration between payment between this and other services provided.
It’s not all body glitter, champagne, and twerking.
The lifestyle Miley, Rihanna, and other famous young women are encouraging is not what it appears to be, but the teenage girls who buy it don’t know any better. It may be fun for Miley and Rihanna to “play stripper,” but the young women who emulate them are fantasizing about activities tantamount to prostitution, and often leading directly there.
Sinéad O’Connor emerged from her hot-mess cocoon recently to pen a heartfelt and surprisingly coherent open letter to MyCy, begging her not to prostitute herself to the music industry. In response, musician Amanda Palmer wrote an open letter to Sinéad, which said this:
Miley is, from what I can gather, in charge of her own show. She’s writing the plot and signing the checks, and although I think it’s tempting to imagine her in the board room of label [expletives] and management, I don’t think any of them masterminded her current plan to be a raging, naked, twerking sexpot. I think that’s All Miley All The Way.
I suspect Palmer’s right. It was totally Miley’s idea. But why? That’s the question. Why do Miley and Rihanna, et al., despite being fabulously rich and literally able to go out and do whatever they want every day, opt to take their clothes off and swing on poles? Palmer answers this:
Sex sells. We all know it. Miley knows it better than anyone: swinging naked on a big metal ball simply gets you more hits than swinging on a big metal ball wearing clothes. We’re mammals. LOOK BOOBS! And even more tantalizing: LOOK HANNAH MONTANA BOOBS! But none of this means that Miley is following anyone else’s script. In fact, what I see is Miley desperately trying to write her own script; truly trying to be taken seriously (even if its in a nakedly playful way) by the standards of her own peers.
So in a way, it wasn’t Miley’s idea at all. Miley has grown up in a culture where a woman is judged based on how sexy she is. Any attempt to explain that away – and Palmer tries, talking about freedom and owning your body and so on – can’t change the fact that Miley, like many of her famous peers, are selling their sexuality because they’ve learned it’s all they are worth.
Eighty-five percent of abortion patients are unmarried women. Young women especially are having sex because it’s fun and it makes people like you. Or, if they’re really “smart,” because they finally met a “special guy.” The idea that one’s virginity is something sacred is now a punch line.
There is nothing rebellious or shocking about being slutty. No one is surprised that a girl named Miley exists who is really trashy. It’s interesting only because she used to be innocent. It’s her downfall people are shocked by, not her actual behavior.
And here’s something I wish I could tell Miley: for every misguided person who thinks “you go girl!” when they see you sacrifice your shame at the altar of super-stardom, there are five who just shake their heads and feel sorry for you.
Also this week, in an apparent attempt to make my point for me, a California punk band called Get Shot! sent their bass player, Laura Lush, to film a solo pornographic scene on the lawn of the Westboro Baptist Church. While about 99% of Americans agree that Westboro Baptist Church is deserving of criticism, Laura Lush is yet another young woman who doesn’t seem to comprehend that when you claim to be using your sexuality as a weapon, the barrel is actually pointing at you. Every time.
Another case in point: the famous Ukrainian fauxminist group Femen, notorious for their topless protests, was recently exposed (ahem) to be masterminded by – wait for it – a man. Named Victor Syvatski.
Said Australian filmmaker Kitty Green:
He hand-picked the prettiest girls because the prettiest girls sell more papers. The prettiest girls get on the front page… that became their image, that became the way they sold the brand.
Meanwhile, the two actresses who play lesbian lovers in the extremely graphic French film Blue is the Warmest Colour were asked if they ever felt like they were playing out a male fantasy. Léa Seydoux’s answer:
Yes. Of course it was kind of humiliating sometimes, I was feeling like a prostitute. Of course, he uses that sometimes. He was using three cameras, and when you have to fake your orgasm for six hours… I can’t say that it was nothing.
Once again, whether it’s Miley or Femen or a Palme d’Or-winning actress, we find that when there are naked women in the public square, a man is either paying or getting paid.
The lesson? If you want to truly be counter-cultural, keep your top on. That’s original. Keep your pants on. That’s shocking.
Abortion doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It begins with seeing the human body as something to use, a commodity, a pleasure-mobile, a receptacle. And it ends with an unintended baby, a murder, and a broken heart.