I’ve had problems with YouTube playing the complete Wrecking Ball video for me, so I read a lot of commentary about it before I ever got to watch it. I read Sinead O’Connor’s letter to Miley, and Amanda Palmer’s response. I read a whole lot of people talking about the sexual component of the video, suggesting Miley is degrading herself, and is a bad influence for women, that sort of thing.
For a few minutes, I want you to ignore the VMAs, and any other context you think needs to be considered when interpreting Miley Cyrus’s change of direction. I want to challenge you to view the Wrecking Ball video differently, because I feel like I watched a completely different video than everyone else.
But first, let me talk about my thoughts that arose after watching it.
People are so quick to judge. I know I’m guilty of it, even when I try not to be. But something that isn’t regularly discussed perhaps as much as it should be is that these judgements say more about ourselves than the person we’re judging.
So I want you to think for a minute. If your immediate response to the Wrecking Ball video is that it was purely sexual in nature… what does that say about you? Or about society at large? I’m not going to offer any suggestions because there are a multitude of possibilities, and I don’t want to judge you.
But here’s the thing. Whilst I can see why people are responding “sex!” to the video, and that may have been a certain aspect of the performance, that wasn’t the overwhelming message I got from the video. Was I the only person who listened to the lyrics?
In all the responses that I’ve seen, nowhere has it been suggested that a woman’s nudity is not necessarily sexual in nature. That Miley’s nudity could be about vulnerability. That the reason she’s acting like people assume is mentally unstable is because the man she’s singing about broke her.
It’s a very emotional song. The opening clip of her face, with a tear running down her cheek, is enough to tell you that.
I just think it’s time that we stop looking at women and automatically assuming choices are made because of sex. Watching Miley swinging naked on a wrecking ball and saying it’s about sex is akin to saying women wearing next to nothing are asking to be raped. Making it about sex says men can’t control their thoughts and urges, that whenever they see a naked women, they’re automatically going to want to sleep with her. Even if that is their automatic response, that doesn’t mean they can’t stop themselves from thinking that way long enough to look past the nudity to see what else is there. I think Miley is bravely trying to challenge that; even if she isn’t going about it in a way too many people think is acceptable.
Now here’s where I tell you how I can relate to what she’s doing, with what I do. I can’t speak for other women, just myself. I have walked around in public in somewhat revealing clothes — particularly tops that show off my cleavage. I don’t do it all the time, but when I do, it’s either because I want to feel sexy, or I want attention. Not “I’m asking for someone to rape me” attention, just “I want people to notice me, and then maybe they’ll come over and talk to me, and listen to what I have to say.” I had the same effect when I used to dye my hair bright colours. Because just talking doesn’t seem to be enough, and when you’re introverted like I am, it’s already hard enough to start a conversation with someone. I wish I didn’t have to resort to that, but dressing or looking a certain way is often the best way of inviting people to have a conversation. And when it comes to Miley – well, look at the conversation she’s started. Look how many people she’s encouraged to talk about her, and feminism, and so much more.
Let’s stop being outraged at videos like Wrecking Ball. If you’re so concerned about it being done for the attention, then stop giving it attention. Stop talking about it.
Or else we can reframe our thinking and start looking past what a woman is wearing, or not wearing, and see what’s beneath her skin. Listen to the words that come from her lips. Stop telling women they need to look a certain way to be noticed. Stop only noticing women who do look a certain way. Pay attention to women regardless of what they look like, or how they dress. Our words are just as valuable as the ones men speak.
Now watch the video again, and look past your animalistic response. Listen.
Surface beauty is fleeting. Words have the power to change the world.