Wednesday, October 16, 2013


From HuffPo:

Steinem Speaks Out About Miley Cyrus

"I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed ... But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states ... the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, 'This is why China wins.' You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists."

More here.

I posted this on facebook this afternoon, and, sure enough, Gloria Steinem made us think.

Kris Hmm. Is Miss America the single largest source of scholarships for women? Only if you don't count every single scholarship that isn't gender specific. Sorry are being sexist by promoting the idea that women have to be beauty queens to get scholarships. Of course, if she didn't perpetuate that perception, nobody would listen to her anymore.

As for is her marketing ploy any different from Madonna's in the 80s? Remember her book of nude shots? Or her MTV performance of Like a Virgin?  Sex sells. Isn't the control of your body for your own benefit the ultimate goal of feminism? Welcome to the feminist conundrum ...

Ronald She'd never admit it, I don't think, but Steinem's point of view here is coming very close to what Camille Paglia has been saying for decades. Except for the changing the culture part. Paglia seems okay with sexist exploitation.

Kris Sexual expression and sexist exploitation are not the same thing.

Ronald A distinction I've had difficulty finding in Paglia's writings.

Kris Yes, but I do see the distinction with Miley. I read her interview in Rolling Stone. She is not being exploited. She knows exactly what she's doing. Has she been forced by the present culture to make those choices? If that were the case, all successful female artists would be doing it or they wouldn't be successful.

Ronald Okay, true, but this particular field, pop music, big time pop music, essentially requires women to display their sexuality in ways that are not required of men. I mean, sure, there are female musical performers who don't do this, but they're playing to niche markets. While I've been out of the pop music consumer game for some years, myself, I can't think of a single female performer in this capacity who isn't sexualized. So, in that sense, if this is the field in which Miley wants to work, she doesn't really have a choice. Otherwise, she's Norah Jones or Jewel, who no longer has superstar status.

Kris Taylor Swift.  Pink, Demi Lovato, Adele...

Ronald I would call Pink sexualized. Taylor Swift, well, it remains to be seen about her. Britney and Christina started out like her, but turned toward the exploitative. Adele and Lovato I don't really know. But, okay, there are obviously exceptions.

Kris I would call Pink empowered. And pop music isn't my forte, either.

Chris And as far as the "Don't hate the player. Hate the game." idea goes... I do hate the game. And though I realize the player didn't invent the game, I don't think it's wrong to resent her for playing it.

Kris You know, Ron, I could say that you, as a male, have no right to have an opinion on women's issues. There are many feminists who would pull that card. But I'm not that kind of girl.

Chris That makes as much sense as "I'm black. I can't be racist" As a father of four daughters, I have EVERY right to an opinion on women's rights. And having been raised by a single mom, my opinion is relatively qualified.

Kris Exactly, Chris. That's why feminists like Gloria Steinem and her ilk shouldn't be taken seriously. That's how they think.

Ronald Actually, I haven't offered an opinion on Steinem's statement one way or the other. What I did say is that there does, indeed, appear to be a great deal of pressure on big time pop celebrity women to make themselves into sexual objects, which, I think, is a fairly non-controversial thought.

But I will now offer an opinion on Steinem's point of view, which I can do, as a man, because, like all women, I have agency as a human being.

I'm sympathetic to her opinion to an extent. I've been trying to get work these last few years as a professional actor, which is, in itself, a massive exercise in frustration, but that's another story. What's important here is that I've had to make what I feel are some moral choices in terms of whether or not to audition for a given project.

For example, about six months ago, I got a callback for a Re/Max commercial. Pretty cool, right? Well yes and no. While real estate brokers didn't cause the toxic mortgage bubble that nearly brought down the economy a few years ago, they were in on it, at the fringes, profiting from the whole thing. So I don't feel particularly good about aiding that industry, about renting out my image and acting ability to these people, in any way. Fortunately, I didn't get the job, so it was a moot point.

But I had an even worse potential moral quandary when I auditioned for one of those restaurant reality shows. That's right. When the actual people on the show aren't doing quite what the producers want, they bring in ringers, hired actors, to grease the narrative's wheels a bit and get some more drama out of the situation. The actual people are unaware that they might be working with actors, and the audience is not told this, either. I even had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when I auditioned to keep the whole thing secret. And the producer was really cynical about it, too: "C'mon everybody KNOWS it's totally fake, but some people have a problem with this, anyway, so if you'd like to leave," he told us, "you can do so now." One actor did split immediately, but I was, like, what the hell, I'm here anyway.

I didn't get that part, either, which is just as well because I don't think I would have liked doing it. But the point to all this is that actors and entertainers are essentially hired guns, artistic mercenaries, who don't get to decide what war they're fighting or which side they're on. And that's just how the business works. If you want to succeed, you've got to make ethical and moral compromises. No way around it. And, really, I totally hate that because, like I said, I have agency as a human being, and I don't like this awful and crappy "my way or the highway" aspect to it all. But this is what I'm trying to do, so I've been willing to make some compromises.

On the other hand, like I said, I'm only sympathetic to Steinem's assertion, and only to an extent.

Miley Cyrus isn't trying to break into the business. She's not even trying to advance her career. She's a superstar already, a pop culture institution on her own. She's definitely a major player. And this means she has a lot more choices about how her image is going to be used in the mass media. That is, she doesn't HAVE to do it this way. Maybe doing it this way will make her more money, but she can obviously be successful without objectifying herself. Actually, I would even go so far as to say that she, like Britney, Christina, Beyoncé, and even Madonna, has a moral responsibility, given her position and power, to try to dismantle this system that so routinely objectifies and diminishes women. Needless to say, she has not lived up to that responsibility.

On the third hand, she's really still just a kid, and when I was her age, as smart as I was, this kind of thinking just wasn't even on my radar. It's all pretty complicated.

SJ The way I feel about it, the "kid" aspect is the biggest factor here. If I was her age and that many people craved my attention, and so many adults didn't have the guts to tell me no, I can imagine doing the exact same things, or worse.

The biggest difference between her and a regular teenager is the amount of exposure she can get.

By the way, haven't read Steinem's piece yet.

Ronald It's short.

SJ Yeah, I just finished reading it. I don't know what I think of it yet, because the comment implicates a great deal of content. For now, though, I think at the very least, she's offered a new perspective on it, and that's always a good thing.

Ronald She certainly got me running my mouth. So, whether she's right or wrong, she's making people think about the issues involved.