So: I went to the zoo today. I thought it would be nice! I live in New York City! It is hard to see animals bigger than squirrels or lap dogs out here, so I imagined it would be very fulfilling and grounding, in some sort of hippie Earth Mother way, to actually see some of those and remind myself that I do not live on a planet entirely composed of Pinkberry outlets. But here's the thing: zoos, if you are not seven years old, are very depressing. There's nothing nice about captivity. Even if you wouldn't wish to see some of these animals out and wandering around in your neighborhood - even if they are dangerous or gross or otherwise undesirable - there's something deeply sad and wrong about seeing them stuck behind glass walls, with nothing to do, just waiting for someone to come by and look at them.
It was under these circumstances, then, that I began to think about Miley Cyrus deleting her Twitter.
She did! She did delete the Twitter! And she released some sort of terrifying "rap video" about it, too, about how she is not "living for the tabloids," but rather, living for Miley. The thing is: I felt far more sympathetic to this than I had intended to be. And I need to tell you why.
As I wrote yesterday, Taylor Swift creeps me out, not only because of the strangely slut-shaming and pro-abstinence undercurrents of her videos, not only because her public persona is so self-effacing and submissive and meek and coy and Betty Draperian, but because her entire career is about pretending to be a "normal teen girl." Which she's not. I mean, sure, she's technically a teenager - 19, to be precise - but, at 19 years old, you can drive, smoke, have sex with anyone you like, and vote in a Presidential election. Most 19-year-olds do some or all of these things, and often add in a little underage drinking or living away from home, along with other notably adult-like pursuits. Taylor Swift is a woman who wants to be seen as a little girl. And her whole performance of "little girl" is, weil... not that convincing. It seems entirely too adorable and wholesome and sweet and palatable (and meek! OH, GOD THE MEEKNESS! THE "INNOCENCE"! THE WHITE DRESSES! Make it STOPPPPPPP) to be anything remotely like the realities of most teenage girls, which are just too awkward and inevitably obnoxious to go over that well. She seems less like a child than like an adult with a great marketing team who has been coached to do a very convincing impression of a child. But impressions aren't realities, and adults pretending to be children are freakshows, and the whole Taylor Swift phenomenon sort of crashes and explodes in the Uncanny Valley.
Miley Cyrus, on the other hand... Miley, I believe, is an authentic teenage girl. Despite the fact that she's far more famous than Taylor Swift, and has been in the business far longer (for all her life, in fact). Somehow, despite being raised in the zoo, behind the glass wall, in front of all those spectators, she still seems like the real, undomesticated thing. How do I know she's a real teenager, you ask? Simple: I can't stand her.
One of the benefits of being asked to do a column on pop music is that you may wind up realizing you know far less about it than you supposed, and will eventually, out of sheer necessity, open yourself up to all kinds of things that you had previously been able to avoid. I had always stayed away from the Miley Thing. Because Miley Cyrus seemed - forgive me as I use some unkind words here - vulgar, crass, stupid, hollow. Oh, and also, racist! And the music was terrible, so really there was no reason to explore further.
Well: I wound up having a reason, and I wound up exploring further. And one thing I have learned by, say, watching her Youtube video blog (Helpful Hints For Readers: NEVER DO THIS, EVER) is that I was substantially correct. She does seem, for lack of a better word, vulgar. She does come across as shallow and uninteresting. She is loud, being one of those people who mistakes volume for humor. Her parents originally named her "Destiny Hope" (yeah, I KNOW) and she generally seems like the product of parents literal-minded, unimaginative, and unsophisticated enough to name a poor defenseless baby this awful thing. She makes jokes that aren't funny. She thinks she's far cuter than she is. She's un-self-aware enough to, for example, make a video in which she cleans out her closet (it's bigger than my bedroom) and creates a pile of clothes to throw away that is several feet high and covered in expensive-looking items that still have price tags on them. And she's already developed an early, alarming case of Celebrity Dead-Eye - that totally understandable, totally tragic affliction that happens to people who realize, for whatever reason, that their personalities have become products, and that they have become the recipients of more attention and love than they can ever adequately return, and who therefore go through the motions of performing the most marketable aspects of themselves even as they become more and more alienated from them, which inevitably results in someone like Miley mouthing the words "love youuuuuuuuu" and making kissy faces to her fans in the camera while her eyes are empty and dull and her real self, whatever that is, is clearly a million miles away from the girl saying and doing these things. But the weird thing is, even with the Celebrity Dead-Eye, she still feels far closer to being a real girl than any of her Disney peers. Because teenagers, generally, are not that sophisticated or classy or tasteful or (sorry, teens!) "smart" in the same way that adults tend to be. The ugly side of Miley is the side of Miley that lets me know she's still alive in there.
And here is where this becomes relevant to feminism: the side of her that has been scorned most roundly, and by the largest number of people, is her sexuality. Miley poses with her back exposed: people throw a hissy about its "unwholesomeness." Miley does provocative, pop-star like dances in her stage show: people throw a hissy about her no longer serving as a good "role model." Miley stands next to and/or holds on to a pole in a dance routine: people's heads just generally explode over the POLE DANCING! DIRTY FILTHY POLE DANCING! And, friends, I have known pole dancers, and the stuff they are required to do is generally a lot harder and more athletic and theatrical and complicated than whatever it is that Miley did (expert analysis, after watching video: she held onto a pole). But the point is, whatever shreds of sexuality Miley shows in public are interpreted as far huger and sluttier and more significant than they actually are, and she keeps doing them anyway. Which is how I know she's a real live girl.
Here's the thing: teenagers are sexual. They just are, despite the many powerful cultural messages which tell them not to be. And, for teenage girls, in particular, sexuality is a minefield, given that all the images they see of "sexual women" consist only and entirely of their sexuality, and the fact that the sexuality displayed by those women is generally dude-approved and performative. The role model of a woman who is multi-dimensional, accomplished in many different fields, totally accepting of her body, and fucking hot as hell because she knows she likes sex and is ready and willing and eager to have sex in the ways that are most fulfilling and least compromising for her... well, we don't have that yet. The best solution is to be that role model for yourself, I find. But it's natural to try to take on the many (incomplete, often messed-up) roles that are offered to you, if even for a few minutes or days at a time, to see how they feel. And, eventually, out of all those models of sexuality, you cut and paste and assemble a little collage that represents your unique sexuality. But while you are a teen, you are going to experiment with as many as you can. Sometimes in goofy or embarassing ways. And, when Miley, say, takes a picture of herself in underwear and hiked-up T-shirt, making a kissy face, she's doing precisely that. Which is normal. What's not normal is to have that process observed by several million people who are wayyyyyyyyyyy too invested in it, and willing to pass judgment on you for it. I get why people are uncomfortable with acknowledging teen girl sexuality, too: the fact is that young women are often targeted for sexual assault, have fewer means to defend themselves from it because they know less about the world than adults, and are correspondingly fetishized by way too many creepy, misogynistic men. But to make the whole thing about whether teen girls should be allowed to be sexual, or whether they are Bad Girls for being sexual in ways we do not approve, places the onus on teenage girls and their sexuality. Rather than, say, predatory dudes. And that's a problem.
It shouldn't be a problem to assert these two things, simultaneously: first, that teenage girls are sexual, and want to express and experiment with their sexuality, and second, that their desire to express and experiment with their sexuality shouldn't be exploited by predators. But it is, for some reason, and the end result is that we end up with role models as asexual and one-dimensional as Taylor Swift. Because a girl can't be sexual and innocent, for whatever reason. Because we've constructed a worldview wherein desire and innocence can't occupy the same space.
What does any of this mean for Miley's deleted Twitter? Well, for one thing, she has one more area of privacy in her life. If those (god-awful) video blogs are any indication, she lives in a generation wherein it has never not been an option to broadcast your entire life. And she's grown up in the zoo, behind the glass: her father was the "Achy Breaky Heart" guy, for God's sake, and she's been acting since she was a very small child, which only exacerbates the problem. Miley is used to being a spectacle; it's what she's been raised to be. But the conundrum of teen girl sexuality, or teen girlhood in general is that (being female sexuality) it will always be shamed and judged and feared, but (being female) it is also always desired and sought out for observation. And it's one of those spaces that I identify as sacred: it shouldn't be put on the public stage, shouldn't be available for public examination, for the exact same reason that you don't rip open a chrysalis to see what kind of butterfly it's turning into. It isn't a butterfly, at the moment: it's a bunch of goo, hoping to find its shape. And if you don't let it find that shape, on its own, then it may never be anything more.
So, yeah. Miley. You deleted the Twitter? Good for you. Have fun having moments of your life and/or personality that aren't available to anyone else. Have fun being a kid. Because it's what you are, and what you should be allowed to be, terrifying teen stardom notwithstanding. And, while you're at it, can I suggest that you get rid of the video blog? Because, kid, that isn't doing you any favors.