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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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Why It’s Time to Stop Blaming Miley For Being a “Bad Role Model”

Why It’s Time to Stop Blaming Miley For Being a “Bad Role Model”

| On 22, Oct 2013

I almost feel like I’m beating a dead horse whenever I talk about the performance by Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s. When most people talk about that performance, they omit that Robin Thicke was also a part of it, and they talk about how bad of a role model Miley Cyrus is for the young girls of America.

It’s true that Miley used to be America’s sweetheart; she quickly rose to fame on Disney Channel’s hit show Hannah Montana, along with tours as her alter ego and even a movie that reached number one at the box office when released.

She wasn’t always a “bad” girl. Hannah Montana’s song “Nobody’s Perfect” used to be my anthem when I was having a bad day or feeling down about myself, and her show was just another typical sitcom for adolescents.

But in just a few short years, things began to change. Her image shifted from sweet Disney girl, to lead in a Nicholas Sparks’ film adaption, to then a girl who “Can’t Be Tamed”. After that came “We Can’t Stop”, grinding on Robin Thicke, and every other detail of her life documented on YouTube and in the tabloids.

So now she’s a bad role model, right? I do agree that her “We Can’t Stop” video is extremely inappropriate, mostly for her exploitation of “ratchet” culture, and because she was quoted saying she wanted her songs to sound “black”. As a woman of color, I find this offensive, because what exactly does “black” sound like? But aside from her ignorance, for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was so frustrated that everyone was labeling her a “bad role model.” She danced suggestively on a married man, but no one was saying anything about the man, so the feminist in me wasn’t too upset about her actions. And if everyone is right and Miley Cyrus is a bad role model for young girls, who out there is saying that Robin Thicke is a bad one for young men? Anyone?

Then I realized I was mad because why is she even in the running for being a role model?

Celebrities don’t ask to be anyone’s role model. You may say, well, they put themselves in the public eye. So what? They sing, they dance, they act, which is basically putting on a facade for a living. So why we choosing these women for their daughters and ourselves to look up to?

Beyonce+RS+SBH2013+1And this isn’t just happening to Miley Cyrus. After Michelle Obama cited Beyoncé as a role model, one mom wrote to her outraged. In the letter, she wrote that Beyoncé “wears sheer bodysuits and high heels, singing about making money and being independent”. Her main problem with this is that type of outfit is the kind that young girls and women who are sold for sex all over the world wear those types of outfits. Because, you know, all girls that dress like that just end up selling their bodies for sex.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a creative case of slut-shaming. Beyoncé owns her body, owns her sexuality, and owns her performances, but all this mom can reduce that to is young girls who will see that as a chance to put themselves on the street.

I am a huge supporter of sex workers; if a woman, or man, wants to do that work because they want to, then I cannot and will not ever be against it. I hope one day that it becomes safer and thatthere are laws to protect sex workers from all the risks that come along with that work. And yes, forced prostitution is a huge problem in our country and around the world, but Beyoncé dancing on stage is not the cause of it. We can place that blame where it belongs, in the hands of people that force others into that line of work, and the johns that prowl the streets keeping the supply in demand.

There are also problems with looking up to “good girl” celebrities. Taylor Swift is often said to be a wonderful role model for young girls. It’s great that she writes her own songs, and I really couldn’t care less how many boyfriends she has had; she’s young, she should be able to date. But when you get into writing about how a girl that stole your boy is “better known for the things that she does on the mattress”, then I have a problem.

So no one really wins here, do they? We have the good girls, the ones who slut-shame, or we have the bad ones, the ones who show off their body or dance with foam fingers.

How about this: stop labeling celebrities as role models. Period. Our daughters need to look up to women who are empowered, and REAL. Not airbrushed or photoshopped or always looking picture perfect, because that is not life.

If your daughter wants to be a singer, an actress, whatever, there is nothing wrong with her looking up to a certain figure. But there are careers outside of entertainment; ones that are not only easier to aspire to, but also valuable to society. Ask a young girl who she looks up to. How many young girls are going to answer with Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, or even ones from the past like Amelia Earhardt, are role models? Not enough.

So tell your daughters to turn off the television and get off Facebook for just ten minutes. Watch a TED talk. Or open a damn history book.

Written by Laila Corbeau

  • Sully

    When I was reading the part about no one saying Robin Thicke will be a bad role model for young boys, I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a parents referring to a celebrity as a role model for their sons period. So like you said, why is it so common for celebrities to be considered role models for girls?

  • Curmudgeon

    This is so fucking on point except for that one weird ageist line about Taylor Swift: “she’s young, she should be able to date”. So “old” people shouldn’t be able to?

    • Laila

      “Old” people can date, as well. I hope that’s not all that you took away from this article.

  • Lily

    I agreed with everything in this article, up until the end. I am a ‘young girl’. I’m friends with ‘young girls’. Frankly, I’m insulted. When I asked my friends about their female role models, I got a list including family members, Rosalind Franklin, Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller (as an adult), and yes, Amelia Earhart. Personally, I think Malala is very inspiring, and I’m certain I’m not the only teenager who thinks so. I don’t know how this article went from valid points about people shaming celebrities, to shaming teenage girls. Yes, I watch TED talks. Since I’m a ‘young girl’ and therefore a student, I’m required by law to open a history textbook on a regular basis.

    And yes, the list my friends gave me did include Jennifer Lawrence and Lady Gaga (I myself do think that Miley Cyrus is an intelligent person and while I don’t look up to her, I do respect her). But that’s not a bad thing, because we’re mature enough to realize that people are human, and that although we might not see it on camera, Jennifer Lawrence has bad days too.

    • Laila

      “How many young girls are going to answer with Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, or even ones from the past like Amelia Earhardt, are role models? Not enough.”

      I didn’t say “Not any”. I said “Not enough”. Since I am also a young girl, those women are on my list as well. But many girls I have talked to do not say the same. The point of the article is that we talk about how Miley Cyrus isn’t a role model, when she really shouldn’t be considered one to begin with. I’m glad you and your peers look up to the right people.

  • Jo

    I found your perspective quite interesting, and it is true that very few point out the actions of Robin Thicke, nor have I actually heard mention of him at all. While I agree that people should be free to aspire to or do as they choose, and while celebrities should not be held as role models, celebrities do hold great influence over opinions and people in their prevalence in media and should be aware of that position whether or not they choose to acknowledge it. There should still be some responsibility and accountability in the knowledge that their entertainment or performances targets certain age groups, such as Cyrus’s young Hannah Montana audience. I can understand that there might be difficulty in the genre transition, but I think they should perhaps put more consideration into how their performances may be perceived in terms of audience and influence.

    I also wanted to comment that in terms of public judgement of such public figures, we are taking into consideration what is and what isn’t appropriate to us. In some way, seemingly outrageous or unacceptable behaviour does allow us to reflect on issues such as the slut shaming you mentioned or the freedoms in expression. So while perhaps there are not enough young girls with real role models, issues such as these allow for open dialogue and for the reminder that performers such as these are performers first, and we shouldn’t take everything we see to heart.