Feminism Needs Miley Cyrus Much More Than It Needs Beyonce
Is a vapid whirling cyclone of puerile nonsense actually a better depiction of the perils of stardom and the inherent misogyny of the music industry than a careful cultivated facade of empowerment and autonomy?
FEMINISM NEEDS MILEY CYRUS MUCH MORE THAN IT NEEDS BEYONCE
by Chris Cusack
In a world where foppish, misogynistic stand-up comedians set the popular political agenda and the lead actor from “Conan The Barbarian” became governor of the most populous state in the most powerful country on Earth, it almost seems inevitable that someone like Beyonce Knowles would end up being hailed as a champion of women’s rights. Why not? And while we’re at it, let’s start a petition to have John Terry on the UN Security Council.
The fact that so many throats have recently grown hoarse from screaming the demerits of hairless pop-gibbon Miley Cyrus does raise questions about consistency though. To a human being, with two eyes and the ability to independently form contiguous thoughts and opinions, the distinction between the two can often seem painfully esoteric. That is, until one defers to the wider popular consensus.
Miley Cyrus makes a handsome living gyrating around sound-stages with few/zero clothes on, singing music written largely by men, relying on her appearance in no small way to make millions of dollars for companies owned largely by men and thus is deemed a bad role model. Beyonce Knowles does the same but is, like, classier and stuff and was once mentioned beside the word “feminist” in a press release so it’s, like, totally fine and she should be henceforth sellotaped to the inside page of every impassioned young woman’s school-jotter alongside the words of Sylvia Plath and Simone De Beauvoir.
Let it be said that, as a potentially eligible parent, I find Cyrus a far less threatening proposition. She is an unambiguous, high-visibility warning flag. A rapidly twirling cyclone of vanity, naivety and ignorance. As the saying goes, “better to have an enemy who slaps you in the face than a friend who stabs you in the back”. With her sugar-dusted Hannah Montana husk long since hardened into a chrysalis, what burst forth as modern Miley was no butterfly, more a messy ejaculation of waxed flesh, cheese-string swim-suits and the immolation of innocence via petty, teen-age grand-standing. When smarter, more worldly women spoke out, like Sinead O'Connor, worried about exploitation and it’s implications for Miley’s sanity, the peroxide chart-chimp threw mental illness back in O'Connor’s concerned face like poop. Which was just fine. She had her chance. If Miley wants to toss herself on the flames of celebrity then so be it. May she henceforth serve as a vivid, incandescent monition to a generation of intelligent, informed young women, struggling to get to grips with the unrelenting patriarchy they find themselves emerging into.
Cyrus is the perfect film for schools. Like the generations who grew up watching little Billy get knocked down as he crossed the busy road from behind the Ice Cream van, we should all plant our children down in front of a montage of her already dismaying catalogue of public atrocities, Clockwork Orange Style. THIS is what you might become kids. Learn to value yourselves. STAY IN SCHOOL! Followed by a picture of shaven-head-era-Britney to hammer the point home.
It betrays a staggering suspension of collective logic then that, despite seemingly widespread agreement on Cyrus’ unsuitability as a role-model, so many people continue to speak of Beyonce Knowles with hushed tones of near-reverence. Certainly her behaviour might be somewhat less garish and overtly adolescent, but the underlying messages are every bit as harmful and worsened by the credibility they have attained. Knowles has become a trojan horse for female self-objectification. Her affluent husband, potato-faced cuss-juggler and Hip Hop aficionado Jay Z, has an estimated personal fortune in excess of half a billion dollars, almost double that of Beyonce and, crucially, Mr Z did not have to roll around in trunks under running water or massage his breasts in slow motion. Nor did he have to don a tiny swimsuit and pose in photographs with alligators like some gruesome amalgam of a Pirelli Calendar and The Really Wild Show.
Beyonce epitomises that most bludgeoningly overt media reality: extremely attractive people can become famous. Especially if they are willing to pout for a camera or shed some layers. At this point, as the guttural howls of fury race up the throats of countless indignant devotees, clamouring to point out just how great her music is, it is also worth noting that the majority of that music was written by men and the majority of the money from that music went to men. Rich men. That is, after all, how the record industry works.
If you are doubtful, have a look at the writing credits. Crazy In Love: Jay Z, Rich Harrison, Eugene Record, Beyonce. Baby Boy: Sean Paul, Scott Storch, Robert Waller, Beyonce. Single Ladies: Kuk Harrell, (modestly-monikered) The Dream, (high school practical joker) Tricky Stewart, Beyonce. Indeed, even according to the fan sites she does not actually “play” any instruments though dabbled with piano in high school, repeatedly has her photo shot holding a saxophone and is currently “taking guitar lessons”.
Certainly she can sing. She apparently discovered her powerful voice in high school. By the way, that’s the same voice she DIDN’T use whilst miming to the Star Spangled Banner during Barack Obama’s Presidential inauguration. It’s also the same voice she DID use in a decidedly shaky live version of that same song weeks later, whilst trying to defuse criticism for the original Mimegate incident.
These aforementioned writers are in fact shrewd, cynical businessmen writing to a proven lucrative formula. A formula that also dictates that pop music needs sex appeal to succeed. Beyonce happily obliges, oblivious-of or indifferent-to the sinister narrative that underlies this line of thinking. Happy to wear, say and endorse whatever furthers her career and their crass product. In a western culture with rampant diabetes and heart disease, Pepsi-plugging multi-millionairess Beyonce has allowed herself to become yet another vessel for the transfer of huge sums of money from us, the public, into the pockets of the few (mainly men) at the top of enormous, multinational corporations willing to put whatever spin on an artist generates the most revenue. An insult intensified by the pretence of female moral quintessence. To these corporations “feminist” is simply a twitter tag; a hyper link; a caption; an empty but lucrative slogan to open up new demographics and secure favourable press in edgier publications.
It is this newfound political veritas which especially sticks in the throat. With Beyonce’s more famous lyrics still reverberating around the public consciousness like a taut fart in a steel lift, slogans like “Girls rule the world” and “All the honeys making money” have become popular unifying chants on the dance-floor. The profound vacuity of these phrases not only apparently overlooked, en masse, but their subsequent passage into the public discourse as empowering mantras underlines the collective head-in-the-sand reluctance of wider culture to fully engage with the realities facing modern women. The problem is, girls don’t rule the world. Not even close. There are only 18 women in the Fortune 500, only 19 female heads of state (a figure steadily declining) and all the honeys making money are still getting substantially less than their male counterparts, around four fifths on average. Such feminist battle-cries are merely asinine sound-bites for bovine recital. Mollifying rather than empowering. A dry bone tossed to frustrated, disenfranchised women by male-orientated popular culture.
Meanwhile Beyonce herself is portrayed in the manner of a near-deity. Beautiful but also highly intelligent. Sexualised but empowered. A hyper-attentive mother but also a trailblazing career woman. Curvacious but petite and toned. Black but blonde. She represents everything to everyone. An all encompassing golden calf of womanhood and a perpetual reminder of how we commoners don’t measure up. Were the curtain pulled back on her, exposing the armies of publicists, dieticians, nannies, trainers, photographers, writers, air-brushers, press agents and managers we may in fact glimpse an impressive but vulnerable human being at the centre of a throbbing global brand. But where is the money in honesty? Will acne and cellulite sell anything except Heat magazine? Will her own, unrefined political opinions resonate in any way with our lives? Probably no more than anyone else we pass on the street each day. The fantasy is far more lucrative than the reality. Genuine role models be damned: a reality that makes her recent endorsement by the likes of the otherwise-astute Riot Grrrl poster-child Kathleen Hanna all the more baffling.
In truth, what Beyonce actually thinks or believes is almost entirely immaterial these days. She’s is buried under so many layers of publicity and management, muffled by the wads of cash stuffed in her throat every time she tries to actually articulate, that Beyonce Knowles ™ has become quite distinct from Beyonce Knowles, the woman. She is simply a battleground upon which a war for your wages is fought, like so many celebrities at her level. A challenge to corporate bureaucrats honing their pick-pocketing skills. Selling you the dreams and heroes you want.
Other defenders have observed that Beyonce employs an all-female backing band. So what? Are we to assume that women are less capable than men of being session musicians? Tell that to Sheila E. Given the grotesque under-representation of women in that sector of the industry, such piecemeal is the very least Knowles could do and she wasn’t slow in pointing it out to everyone either. Rare exceptions aside, she certainly doesn’t employ a female team of writers. Besides, if backing bands are so crucial in determining an artist’s true character, why are we still listening to the pseudo- political excretia of serial attention-junkie and union-breaker Amanda Palmer? A habitual ramora for anything press-worthy - including some utterly benign contributions to the O'Connor/Cyrus debacle - who so infamously took an unpaid backing band on world tour with her despite raising more than $1.2 million on a Kickstarter campaign (as reported by little-known pamphlet, The New Yorker)? Ethical parity in these discussions please.
Ultimately, Knowles is the safest possible feminist role model the media will let you have. A bastion of neutered morality. A gust of vague, hollow platitudes espousing a nebulous notion of female empowerment whilst pandering to the contrary. Simultaneously serving to skew our collective expectations of how women might attain professional recognition whilst defrauding her adoring fan- base, legitimized by soundbite pop-politics.
Her reinforcement of crude female stereotypes through highly sexualised videos, magazine airbrushing (denied of late) and cliched corporate endorsements makes calling her a feminist on par with Henry Kissinger receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in ‘73. Every photo shoot, every press release, every statement is approved and amended by office after office of marketing specialists and the pop star emerges, processed like so much cheap meat. Beyonce is to music and politics what Rustlers’ microwaveable beef slabs are to fillet steak. Grade D flesh patty. Lungs, lips and genitals with eye- catching packaging. If you are looking for nutrition, look elsewhere.
Her complicity in maintaining the industry status quo - an overwhelming male-monopolisation of the media and it’s corporate churches to which we donate - undermines the talents of countless women who go unnoticed due to their less-FHM-friendly body shapes or unwillingness to defrock for cash. Her stature as an artist despite her relative musical impotence belittles the ability of female musicians to compete at the top level of the industry on merit alone: an industry in which her fully clothed husband sits smugly astride his giant piles of shimmering booty… Yep. It is Jay Z and the male-dominated record industry who are truly “bootylicious”.
Beyonce is nothing but a decoy. Prescription ethics-lite, to seduce the better intentions of motivated females everywhere and align them behind a docile figure-head that is going nowhere except back in time. Women don’t deserve equality in theory, they deserve equality in reality. Feminists don’t need the truth to be obfuscated by puppet celebrities that pay lip-service to their social, economic and political disenfranchisement whilst fleecing them of money that goes to to bolster the system keeping them objectified and patronised.
For now, the more Miley the better. Sicken us. Ram it down our throats 'til we gag. Cyrus clearly shows that women still have a fight on their hands to be treated fairly in society. We all need that reminder, nay, provocation, as often and clearly as possible. At least every time she opens her mouth, with pristine clarity, we hear “things are fucked and have to change”.