The evidence is in: Miley Cyrus scored a major victory in the war on women.
I don’t mean the “war on women” the way President Obama hijacked the phrase. I mean the war on women Andrea Dworkin first wrote about it in her 1991 book Pornography: Men Possessing Women:
“Pornography is the orchestrated destruction of women’s bodies and souls; rape, battery, incest and prostitution animate it; dehumanization and sadism characterize it; it is war on women, serial assaults on dignity, identity and human worth; it is tyranny.”
Emphasis mine. I may not agree with Dworkin on much, but I agree with her on this. As Gail Dines and others have pointed out, pornography nowadays is sadistic, banal and has trained a generation to think of human sexuality as an act radically centered on male desire, and rejecting of the real needs and the real functioning of women’s bodies.
But pornography is also a huge money maker and is therefore spreading its war on women ethic across the entertainment industry.
Miley Cyrus’s case is a clear example.
When she started, Disney’s Hannah Montana could have been voted Most Likely To Be the Next Meg Ryan: A talented comedic actress who was instantly likable and enjoyable to watch. But that is distant history. By the time she turned up at the VMAs she was at the bottom of a long slide into pornographic mimicry, and self-respecting women objected. Sinead O’Connor warned that she was being prostituted, Brooke Shields called her “desperate” and Kelly Clarkson deployed a Twitter hashtag that combined both criticisms in one pithy phrase: “#pitchystripper.”
A barrage of moral outrage followed — directed not at Miley, but at her critics. They were accused of “slut-shaming”: holding women to a separate moral standard from men. That criticism has a point. But the subtext was clear: It’s okay to accuse someone of slut-shaming, but not okay to accuse someone of slut-boosterism. Moral concern is bad. Promoting immorality is not a problem.
Camille Paglia avoided being virtue-shamed by writing a Time magazine article praising Madonna while criticizing Miley. Paglia prophesied:
“Unfortunately, the media spotlight so cheaply won by Cyrus will inevitably spur repeats of her silly stunt, by her and others.”
Miley Cyrus met expectations and followed up the VMAs with progressively more pornographic photos and music videos.
And now, as if on cue, Lady Gaga is trying her best to out-Miley Miley, fluttering in ghostly attire and then stripping naked to showcase her latest single because, well, that is what women musicians do, right?
And thus the war on women worsens.
Steubenville Bioethicist Patrick Lee made an excellent point at the Kansas City Religious Liberty Summit last month about just how bad it has gotten. Femininity has become a legal disability, he said, and the irresponsible male has become a legal ideal:
“[T]he equal protection argument against laws protecting unborn human life implicitly supposes that pregnancy is a disability, a condition that impedes women from participating fully in the workplace or political arena, and that these are the only places where full ‘citizenship stature’ — or full value and worth — is attained. It thus assumes that in order to attain full status and dignity a woman must renounce her capacity for motherhood, precisely that which is most distinctive of woman. In effect, a certain type of male — the isolated and irresponsible male — is idealized and taken as the measure of full human dignity. Moreover, by encouraging males to view women’s sexuality as independent from their capacity for motherhood it encourages the objectification and exploitation of women.”
For Obama to take Dworkin’s “war on women” denunciation of pornography and use it to describe those who promote motherhood is one of the most cynical acts of sexism of our time. As Erika Bachiochi put it in the Summer 2011 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (cited by Lee):
“Many prochoice feminists adopt the male perspective when they cite the [alleged] injustice that women have to bear the babies. … It is not sexist to state the facts of female reproductive anatomy and physiology. It is sexist to despise them.”
What’s the best way to fight against the war on women? Promote women. Real, flesh-and-blood women who exist not to titillate men, but to contribute what only women can.