By Tala Nashawati ’17
Licking a sledgehammer, swinging around on a wrecking ball while naked and wearing as little as humanly possible are all prominent aspects of Miley Cyrus’s newest music video, “Wrecking Ball.” From her performance at the VMAs to this sexually explicit music video, Miley Cyrus has undoubtedly become a favorite topic of conversation in pop culture. It’s practically impossible to avoid reading a joke at her expense if you spend more than 15 minutes on the Internet. Whether the source of our fascination is her newfound twerking abilities, her violation of a sledgehammer or the tongue that she can’t seem to keep in her mouth, Miley Cyrus has succeeding in shocking the world—especially Sinéad O’Connor, a famous Irish pop singer.
After learning that Miley cited her as an inspiration for the “Wrecking Ball” video, O’Connor took it upon herself to write Miley an open letter in the “spirit of motherliness.” O’Connor warned Miley against allowing the music industry to exploit her for her body, urging 20-year-old Miley to not let her sexual exploitation overshadow her “obvious talent,” thereby implying that she has much more to offer than simply her body. O’Connor goes on to say that Miley’s rampant sexualization of herself is not empowerment, but rather a message that women should be valued more for their sexual appeal than their talent. Overall, O’Connor tells Miley that what she’s doing is wrong, and that what she’s doing empowers no one, including Miley herself. O’Connor tries to help Miley. Yet the message she ultimately sends is one that is detrimental to young women growing up in today’s society.
Sinéad O’Connor’s intentions are evidently good. Her goal is to protect Miley Cyrus from a music industry with which O’Connor, who began her career before Miley was born, is quite familiar.
Then again, O’Connor probably knows little to nothing about Miley Cyrus’s decisions.
Telling Miley to stop allowing other people to “make a prostitute” of her makes the immediate assumption that the choices made in the production of the video were not Miley’s—that someone else must have made them for her. More specifically, Terry Richardson, the director of “Wrecking Ball,” and, yes, a man, must have made them for her.
Instantly, a problem arises with the message of O’Connor’s letter. While she implores Miley not to allow others to take advantage of her body, she is indirectly disregarding the fact that as a young woman, Miley has control over her own body and what she chooses to do with it. Not even the male director of her music video could force her to take her clothes off or very passionately lick a sledgehammer. In the end, the decisions could have been no one but Miley’s, considering she is 20 years old and a legal adult.
O’Connor writes to Miley, “You have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you.” Another problem arises here: our society’s separation of women as people and as sexual entities.
The website “Sex and the State” asks a very important question on this point: “I guess her ‘natural beauty’ is separate from her sexuality. How does that work, exactly?” When loving, concerned parents and people like Sinéad O’Connor tell young girls that their sexuality is something they should hide because men will not take them seriously, they are strongly encouraging these girls to objectify themselves. According to the Huffington Post, when girls hear that others will stop looking at them like human beings if they wear short skirts, the girls stop seeing themselves as human beings too. O’Connor encourages this separation of sexuality and identity throughout her letter, and thus encourages Miley to objectify herself and mask her sexuality for the sake of making others see her as “talented.”
Sinéad O’Connor’s letter was not meant to slut-shame, and no explicit slut-shaming truly occurred. Many argue that her letter’s actual target is the music industry, not Miley herself, and that therefore O’Connor cannot be criticized for her well-intentioned letter. When parents tell their daughters that they shouldn’t sexualize themselves because they will be viewed more as prizes than people, they too are merely trying to help their daughters. Both O’Connor and modern parents believe that they are promoting ideals of feminism, when in effect they are doing the opposite. They are telling girls that it’s their own fault if they’re objectified.
Although Miley Cyrus’s performance in “Wrecking Ball” and at the VMAs was distasteful, aesthetically displeasing and inappropriate for her younger fan-base, she did what she wanted to do. She swung around naked on a wrecking ball because she wanted to. She licked a sledgehammer because she wanted to. She twerked and stuck her tongue out because she wanted to. Even if Miley ends up regretting her decisions later, as O’Connor claims that she will, at least she can say that they were her decisions.