Dear Miley Cyrus

You certainly received a lot of attention for your VMA performance this past week, which was undoubtedly your intention. It is likely that you think of this event as a rousing success. And the backlash against the explicit sexuality of your performance is probably a bonus, from your point of view, because we are all now talking about you. Even bad publicity is good publicity, right?

It is indeed unfair that most of the discussion has centered on you rather than Mr. Thicke, highlighting the double-standard with regard to female sexuality. But that is not even remotely the most pressing problem here. It is, in fact, merely a distraction to keep you and all of us from noticing the real problem.

Here is the real issue: You had a fan base of millions of young girls who looked up to you and pretended to be you. They had your likeness on their bedroom walls. They sang your songs into their hairbrushes.

Cyrus portrayed singing at the top of the moun...

Cyrus portrayed singing at the top of the mountain in the music video to “The Climb”. This setting is similar to that of the music video for “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” by Britney Spears. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then you became an adult and that role no longer fit you. Tired of your old image, you shaved off your hair. Good for you.

So you were standing there with your hair cropped, all eyes on you, a brand-new adult. Imagine what would have happened then had you turned to that fan base and said, ‘girls, you do not have to be pretty or sweet in order to matter in this world. Cut your hair if you want or leave it long – that’s not what’s important. Who you are is what matters most. Choose your own path, and find your own voice.’

Imagine what would have happened then.

You were, in a word, dangerous. Whole industries would suffer if these girls become empowered. Who is going to buy all this lip-gloss and mascara? Insecurity is what sells product. And more: imagine you had a real message, something deeper and more profound than the simple exhortation to ‘find yourself,’ and that you too had been encouraged to find your own voice. What would you have said then? I really wish that we knew.

Instead, your handlers convinced you that the best way to break out of your candy-coated shell is to start pole dancing, stripping, and twerking.

Let me tell you a dirty little secret: strippers and pole dancers have no power. Absolutely none. In fact, they don’t even use their real name. They are intended to be nameless, faceless, and voiceless.

You gave up your ‘Destiny’ to become ‘Miley,’ the smiley girl. You have been reduced to a smiling mouth with a suggestive tongue.

Perhaps you disagree? Perhaps you think you have been liberated, able to act like a man? Here is an exercise for you: imagine, for a moment, that you had gone out there on the VMA stage without a microphone that night. Imagine the exact same performance, but without a sound. Would you have garnered the same attention? Yes, absolutely yes. Would we be saying the very same things about you this week? Oh yes, definitely.

You know what that means? You have been effectively silenced. Your voice was not heard. You were merely there as eye candy, and not as a singer. You are now replaceable with a topless dancing girl.

In other words, it’s no accident that the most widely distributed photo of your performance has you bent over and submissive, practically naked, clearly silent as you are licking your lips, while Mr. Thicke stands over you, clearly dominant and fully clothed, holding a microphone to his lips.

Who are we listening to now?

Your God-given talent will eventually want to make itself heard. If you continue on this path, it is going to take more and more drugs to silence it. Your handlers will see to it that you get them. They will be there, ready to go, even before you ask. And then they will tip off the paparazzi regarding the publishable antics of the latest ‘hot mess.’

And when you are no longer useful as a brand, you will be unceremoniously deposited at rehab. Perhaps you might be in the same wing as fellow child-stars Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, both of whom were cut down when they discovered that their talent had its own voice. Get angry, dear, get angry.

In the meantime, I wish all the best to you. I hope that you eventually prove to be better than all of this. I suspect that you are.


Rabbi Dr. Kari Tuling

Rabbi Dr. Tuling serves Temple Beth Israel in Plattsburgh, New York where she lives with her family and two cats. In her free time, she likes to read weekly journals of cultural anthropology, such as US Magazine.


19 thoughts on “Dear Miley Cyrus

  1. Well said Kari. Miley Cyrus had a great opportunity to move herself from tightly scripted child star to self directed adult. It would have been a tough transition. Most have failed and sadly so has she. As you pointed out, her “handlers” and “advisers” also failed. The role of the adults who surround her and make a living from her behavior failed to provide her guidance, but perhaps they weren’t interested in her. They were interested in how they could use her talents for their own benefit. In this case they even failed to do that. For much if her life Miley had spent her time building up and creating a solid reputation. I let my daughter watch her show…though in all honesty I feared that Miley “go” Britany or Lindsay. Now that Miley has squandered her reputation and the opportunity to be a positive force she has become little more than a cautionary tale.

  2. Perhaps we are failing to point one more significant issue. I couldn’t agree with you more, but I am dismayed that the concern that made me feel most uncomfortable was the implicit and explicit racism. The dancers, the slaps on the butts, the white girl as the master of all she surveys…and then Mr. Thicke posturing as well. The talent of Ms. Cyrus, such as it is, could have been used for good. The funny thing is this: I am grateful to work with bar and bat mitzvah students every day. They seem to think she’s a joke. I am glad for that…and hoping that they aren’t just making me feel assured!

  3. An excellent point. It’s all of a piece, really: this performance reinforced in a visually arresting and morally offensive way the idea that the white male is on top — an all senses of that phrase — and the hierarchy goes on down from there.

  4. I feel bad for her, as she is doing nothing different than Madonna or Lady GaGa.
    She is not a role model. Parents are the role models and if parents are doing the right things, then their should be absolutely no reason to even touch on this Miley topic.
    Why do parents get off the hook and she gets bashed. She is an entertainer. Where does that say that she has to be a good role model?
    She ISN’T Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana is a fictional character.
    These posts are ridiculous.

    • Oh yeah, this last comment totally goes along with the male establishment. Young girls are now all pornlieces in entertainment and fashion. The women all feel that wearing something salacious Islamist for them. The men – well, they all dress like priests which makes the Women look even worse. Somuchforwomen’s lib and breaking the glass ceiling!!!!!!!!
      Womenarenow eyecandyof the lowest type.e.g. The SanDiegomayor.
      Just like him, we are all in denial. The men who run all this are, once again,on top.

  5. Dear Sarah,

    Thanks very much for your comments.

    The problem, in my view, is not that I expect her to be a role model. The problem is that I think she is being taken advantage of.

    She could have chosen to find her own voice, and used the power she had gained in her role as Hannah Montana to write about life from her perspective, but that choice was eliminated when she went down this path. Instead, she lost her voice, and her power.

    I think that her handlers deliberately eliminated that option because they didn’t want to hear what she had to say. She’s more profitable to them if they get to fill in the message.

    And the problem is that the message they fill in is one of male dominance over women. And that’s the part that’s so damaging to her fan base. The most talented and famous woman they know aspires to be a sex worker. What kind of future does that give them?

    And this keeps happening over and over to the female Disney child stars: Miley, Britney, Lindsay, Christina.

    The tone is intended to be that of an intervention, of the kind that is done for someone on drugs. Thanks, though, for the feedback. It wasn’t intended to be rude, though you’re not the only one who reads it that way.

  6. I think this is going at the wrong target. Yes, sex workers, pole dancers, and strippers don’t have a voice. And that’s the real issue here.

    I don’t think what Miley did was empowering, or feminist, or, really, positive in any way. Nor, however, was it all that awful.

    This intervention feels more like an attempt to push her back into the limited role our culture has for women. We shouldn’t be shoving her into one model of behavior because otherwise she’ll be silenced. We should condemn the people who silence her. We should condemn the attitude that says it’s okay to objectify women for any reason. We should destroy the culture that teaches men to see women as either attractive, or people, never both. That’s the root of the problem. Sexuality does not have to be, and should not be, objectifying.

    Yes, maybe this is a bad path for Miley Cyrus the way our culture is now. But this is telling the victim to behave better so she doesn’t become a victim, instead of going after the people who are making her a victim.

  7. Mankoi, you misunderstand me. I am not condemning her. I have no problem, in fact, with Lady Gaga and Madonna pushing these very same boundaries — but they are the ones in charge of their careers, careers that they came to as adults, and they are expressing themselves according to their own desires. In the case of Miley, however, I think she is being stifled. I don’t think that this is her own voice. She is very young and has not had a life outside of her handlers’ bubble. And, since this has been the path of at least two other Disney darlings (the overt sexuality and the increasing drug use), I suspect it’s not a coincidence that this sort of thing keeps happening. It would appear to be part of their business plan. I am hoping that she breaks away from this machine and finds her own path.

    • Perhaps so, but I still feel your post skirted the real issues. You touch on the fact that society silences her for showing sexuality without condemning it.

      You say “Let me tell you a dirty little secret: strippers and pole dancers have no power. Absolutely none. In fact, they don’t even use their real name. They are intended to be nameless, faceless, and voiceless.” Regardless of if it was her decision, or an industry attempt to silence her, the message I get here seems to be “Don’t be these people. Don’t act in a way that silences you,” instead of “Don’t let people silence you because of your sexuality.”

      I agree, Miley should break away from the machine. I agree, she should find her own voice. But I also think she should refuse to let this be a point of shame. Was it tasteless? Sure. But she should still be shouting down everyone who is regarding her as less of a person for it. Normally I’d say it’s an embarrassing thing best forgotten about. A mistake. But given how much rubbish it’s gotten her, I think what she really needs to do is step up, own that mistake, and shoot down anyone who tells her not to, or who tells her to be ashamed.

      As long as the only way a child star turned adult can get attention is by sexualizing herself, this is going to keep happening. As long as companies can silence their stars this easily, this is going to keep happening. And it’s not always going to happen in public. It’s going to happen in the adult entertainment industry, and places where the actual pole dancers and strippers work, because we make it so easy to silence them. You encourage her to get mad, but it shouldn’t just be her handlers she should get mad at, it should be the whole culture that wants to steal her voice.

      • Mankoi and Dr. Tuling, Sex work is degrading to women (and the men who are sex workers). People enter the field for a variety of reasons, but I would think that few had aspirations to do so or had parents who aspired for them to do so. In most cases it is situation borne of economic needs and limited alternatives. The most degrading part of the work is that the provider who gives of the most intimate part of themselves is little more than a tool for the typical customer. In the case of Miley Cyrus it is probably safe to say that she has other options to further her career. There are other ways to appear to be more “adult.” Perhaps her former employer Disney could help their young adult actors transition to more adult like roles. Given that Disney profits from their talents, it would be a reasonable benefit to offer.

  8. Excellent points.

    I think I make it clear that the problem here is the fact that she’s acting like a sex worker rather than the fact that she’s acting like a sexual being.

    My hidden assumption is that I think sex work is inherently degrading to women and that the industry should not exist.

    You’re welcome to disagree, of course, and to think that we should instead show sex workers more respect. It’s an interesting point and I will think about it.

    • Very fair. I’m, frankly, between opinions about the sex industry myself. I’ve heard a lot of compelling arguments both ways, so I’m not about to argue the point.

      What I do urge though, is respect of the people. It’s not mutually exclusive to hate the sex industry and still respect the sex workers. That’s what I do urge. Separating criticism of sex work from criticism of sex workers. And separating respect of sex workers from respect of sex work. They are still people, with valid opinions, and voices. Sometimes, for those who work in abusive conditions, they’re the voices we need to hear the most.

      It can be a tough skill to maintain. I know. I’m not one of your regular readers, I was pointed her by social media. In fact, I’m an atheist. And I often find myself criticizing religion, especially organized religion. You are welcome to disagree (and I have no doubt you do). The trick is being respectful of the religious. It’s something I’m very conscious of, and I’m glad I am. I feel, if I wasn’t, I’d have missed out on a very nice, calm, and rational discussion right here. And, were I to dismiss your voice on the grounds of religion, I’d be absolutely deserving of criticism and scorn. It’s an odd, and somewhat fine distinction, but I think it works well.

      In any case, I’m sure you have better things to be doing than responding to me, so I’ll try to make these my last words on the subject. I do thank you for taking the time to respond to me, and your patience and thoughtfulness with your answers. It’s extremely refreshing and gratifying. I wish you nothing but the best.

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