It’s been two days since the VMAs now, and this week has been buzzing with news of Miley’s latest sexual awakening, which seems to have happened in conjunction with her video, “We Can’t Stop,” and come to a disastrous head during her questionable performance this past Sunday. Everyone was shocked and appalled as Miley ran up and down the stage pretending to masturbate and awkwardly grinding on Robin Thicke’s crotch while surrounded by stoned bears. The scene was like a fever dream where the only real evidence now is in hundreds of pictures where Miley has her tongue out.
There’s a lot of talk as to whether Miley’s display of overt sexuality is authentic, or if she’s doing it as some sort of rebellion. There’s a lot of talk as to whether she was making a feminist statement, a declaration about her owning her sexuality, or if she was simply pandering to a male audience. If you pressed me, I’d say it’s the former, though it has problems that I will address in a moment. Most men would have been happier if she had remained good-girl Miley. Instead she killed many boners that night, so I’m going to place my money on the idea that she came up with this stuff all on her own.
I’m all for Miley embracing her sexuality, even if meth-head chic is a look I don’t personally find sexy. It’s her party, she can do what she wants to. And whatever, you go girl. Girl power, rawr [makes clawing motions at the keyboard]. What I’m not really down with is the fact that Miley’s reinvention has her constantly fetishizing black people. Let’s not forget that Miley doesn’t have the best anti-racist track record, having once posed in a picture pulling her eyes back and pretending to be Asian. Can I get a HELL NO. Now, whether it’s asking for a “black sound” for her new single, mugging for the camera, or talking about how she loves “hood music,” Miley has forced entry into ratchet culture and is determined to create a legitimate place for herself there. And while she isn’t the first white female popstar to do this (I mean, I guess the grill is becoming the next thing for white female popstars), I’ve never seen anyone try so damn hard.
Those guys hanging out with Miley, those ladies dancing with Miley, who are they? Trick question: It doesn’t matter who they are. They exist to legitimize this new Miley. Somehow she feels that by absorbing other performers’ blackness, through osmosis and proximity, she will become Miley 2.0. She will become wholly empowered. In response to critics who say she is losing herself, Miley says:
“That’s been kind of a trip: It’s not like I’m losing who I am—I actually found out more about who I am by making this music. I’m going on a journey, and that’s more than a lot of 20-year-olds can say. And I’m still going to change so much. Because I’m not the same person I was six months ago—I’m not even the same person I was two weeks ago.”
So you see? She’s actually finding herself and opening herself up to the young sexual being within. It’s a journey that every young woman must go through, isn’t it? Well, no. In a world of sex memoirs like Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life, Ophira Eisenberg’s Screw Everyone, or Abby Lee’s Girl With A One-Track Mind, these stories mirror Miley’s journey where young white women experiment with their sexuality, become bold and brash, and, in turn, find out who they ultimately are. But there’s a reason for why all these stories are about white women. This luxury is reserved for white women because black women, as well as other women of color, are already constantly fetishized and perceived as more sexual. It’s part of the reason for why lots of women of color are reluctant to reclaim the word “slut” in the way that many white women have. Whiteness affords white women the ability to try on different identities while their racial privilege remains intact. And while the word “slut” is used to denigrate your everyday “neutral” middle-class white woman, it’s hard to make a public declaration of your sexuality when everyone sees you, and your race, as a sexual object by default. White women can have a sexual awakening. Black women can’t.
Miley seems to have caught on to the stereotype, though, because it’s becoming really clear that she only has a concept of black people as they exist in entertainment. And her sexual empowerment is actually running headlong into her racism. Like a vampire, she draws on these stereotypes that have constantly surrounded black women—that they’re “fierce,” and sexual, and freaky, and loud, and wild n’ out all the time—and tries to absorb their powers so she, too, can be free and fierce and freaky. Meanwhile, they’re there to make her look good. They’re accessories. You know, like a chain, or a purse, or maybe Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls. As long as there are enough black people in the frame going “Look at Miley’s booty!” maybe she can make us forget that her twerking is only mediocre. If there are enough hard looking black dudes willing to hang out with Miley, maybe she can trick us into thinking she’s a real thug. If she puts on a bandana, like Tupac, maybe we will think that she is Tupac!
So it’s fine that Miley is discovering her inner-raunchy lady and showing it off to the world in a way that kills boners. If media could kill more boners instead of constantly pandering to them, I’d be plenty OK with that. And it’s already funny that Miley repulsed so many people by just being as crazy sexual as she could possibly be, thereby upsetting the delicate balance that is the “sexy but not too sexy,” Madonna-Whore complex. But it’s not okay, never okay, to do all this at the expense of a group of people by way of dehumanizing them and turning them into props. In the end, it’s white women’s feminism that doesn’t play into the all-important aspect of intersectionality: that feminism is for all women. Miley’s journey toward sexual empowerment is at the expense of women of color. It’s impossible to think that we’re all in this together when you could be stepping on your sisters. You can’t fool us, Miley. We already know that booty don’t twerk.