When I was a kid… Why Miley Cyrus Should be a Jarring Reflection of Our Culture.

I hear myself saying that a lot these days… “when I was a kid”.  It definitely has to do with getting older, but it also has to do with my constantly being shocked by the sexualized culture we live in.  When I was a kid (not too, too long ago), growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, the performance given by Miley Cyrus during Sunday night’s MTV VMA’s would have been unheard of.  During the 80’s and 90’s, shows were watched during certain time slots and adult content aired much later.  There was no way to watch things on demand or clips on the internet the next day. With that being said, do I want to go back to a time pre-On Demand or You tube…certainly not.  But I definitely don’t like the idea of my children being able to access Miley Cyrus’s performance, the Real World, or a number of other television shows where the main content is sex.

And in some ways, I, as a parent, do have control over that.  For example, when Beverly Hills 90210 aired in 1990, I was 8 years old.  I can vividly remember being at the town pool and having my friend tell me all about 90210.  When I asked my mom if I could watch, she said no way, that the content was much too mature for me.  Was I mad…of course.  But did I listen to my mom…yes.  So of course, as a mother, I can limit what my children watch, but that doesn’t solve the problem entirely.  Even though I didn’t watch, my peers did, and since then the shows have gotten progressively more sexualized and accessible.

By the time I arrived at college in 2000, “Girls Gone Wild” was the big deal.  During my freshman year, guys were paying girls at parties to kiss.  By my senior year of college (2004), girls were voluntarily getting up on tables and making out at the bar.  I actually remember having a debate with my guys friends because they didn’t believe me when I said I had no interest in kissing my girl friends.  So, you can say that parents should control what their children watch or that television doesn’t have an impact on the way people behave, but I disagree.

Since college, I have watched as highly sexualized young “stars”, one after the other (Lindsay, Britney, the Olson twins), are both publicly hailed as sex symbols and then scrutinized for their inappropriate behavior.  I have watched as Halloween costumes have become so sexualized that it is nearly impossible to buy a store made costume for a woman that isn’t a “sexy” version of a traditional costume.  I have watched as clothing stores for young girls sell highly sexualized outfits and the style of prom dress change from gown to cocktail dress.  This year I lamented about how hard it was to find a decent pair of shorts that covered my lady parts… and then we have the nerve to get outraged by Miley Cyrus and her overt depiction of the culture from which she grew up in.  Her performance didn’t make me angry…it made me sad.

People can talk about Miley Cyrus…they will, they are, and they should.  But the conversation should be larger than just this one performance or just Miley Cyrus.  We cannot continue to use these young women as scapegoats for our larger societal issue.  When are we all going to collectively wake up and realize that we live in a culture that sexualizes women and that it is incumbent on all of us to make this a safer, more respectful culture for all of us, especially our daughters.  I will do my best to raise my children to be respectful of themselves and others, but I am going to need a little help.

8 thoughts on “When I was a kid… Why Miley Cyrus Should be a Jarring Reflection of Our Culture.

  1. Jillian, I am quite late to this discussion, which I must have missed when you first posted, but I want to thank you for the excellent points you made. Six weeks later, we now know that we were all masterfully manipulated by Miley Cyrus, whose entire goal was to be front page news for as long as possible, and she succeeded. She even gloated about it on TV. She’s been around for years but nobody was talking about her until the VMAs. So, mission accomplished. THAT is totally about playing with the public and becoming a brand.

    The sexualization of kids, though, is somewhat different in my mind. I have sons, thank God, because if I had had a daughter, we would have been locked in mortal combat her entire teen life. I remember my father being enraged in the 60s when I went without a bra — to him, it was a flashing red light of hookerdom. But wearing one’s breasts as exposed as possible as a fashion accessory is quite another story. I felt so sorry for my teenage sons who had to try to be nonchalant as semi-clad girls would greet them by entwining themselves around my poor boys. The constant hugging must have been very difficult for them.

    I don’t understand it, although I have tried to figure it out. Some of it is the beauty pageant mindset for little girls — the Jon Benet & Honey Booboo thing. I agree that TV content is wildly out of control. I DID have that fight with my sons a LOT. They hated me because I wouldn’t let them watch South Park and certain other shows. But really popular shows like “Friends,” etc. were nothing but a series of sexual innuendos, which I found to be juvenile and not funny.

    I guess some of it is caused by marketing — someone somewhere thinks it is cute to market bras to toddlers, but that works only if some mom buys the stuff. THAT I don’t get at all. Why would a WOMAN do that to her female child?

    On the other hand, men have been doing this for years and no one blinks an eye. Robin Thicke’s video for “Blurred Lines” makes Miley’s VMA dance look like a church social. So maybe it is just the girls wanting equality with the boys. I don’t know. I tried to teach my kids to be gentlemen and to respect women. This sexualizing trend seems to be the antithesis of that. I suppose all we can do as parents is a) set an example by the way we live our own lives (I am shocked by middle-aged moms flaunting their breasts as a fashion statement! I’ve even seen elderly women in strapless gowns — ugh!) and b) teach them self-respect and respect for others, and be sure to let them know that the sexualization of kids is some creep’s idea of a money-making scheme, not real life.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking message.


  2. Here, here. I agree with your point about a larger discussion – Miley Cyrus is not a one-off random event that happened in the midst of an otherwise non-sexual, non-vulgar environment, and we should stop pretending that she is. There are also some really good take-downs of the racial issues circulating online, which also need to be addressed in a broader context than just one night and one performance.

    When I think about the messages that my daughter will be bombarded with as a young black woman, I feel overwhelmed with the task that I face as a parent in trying to raise her to be an adult with a positive sexual image and not feel like a collection of body parts.

    As an aside, I have to say that I watched the clip on mute on U-Tube, and I was struck less by the vulgarity and more by the lack of artistry. Sexualized dancing and performing can be beautiful – even if it is inappropriate or objectifying of oppressed groups – but this just didn’t have visual appeal to me.


  3. 100% Correct! (I am 2 yrs older and also was not allowed to watch 90210, Married with Children, Roseanne, even the Simpsons…until much later). My parents weren’t religious or extreme, they just had the common sense to not let me watch that stuff until I was older. I was also not allowed to buy Teen/Beauty magazines myself, and when Grease was the big rage (as it becomes for every group) my Mom had a frank discussion with me to think about what that movie is really all about. I thank my parents now for every one of those decisions (though I did resent them for a while as a kid).


  4. I am so with you on this. The kids costume issue is HUGE. French maid costumes for TODDLERS? Sexy cat ensembles for 6 year olds? Insanity. Ugh. Even though I have boys, I cringe at them thinking this is how girls and women should be seen. It’s really gotten out of control.


  5. I agree with your underlying point, but I wanted to comment specifically on the Miley Cyrus performance – I think the reaction that most people are having is disbelief over the fact that she put on a performance that required no talent. It takes ZERO talent for someone to go on stage and be lude, and yet people give her the attention that she was seeking by doing the things she did. Personally, if I were in her shoes, I would much rather be known for being an awesome performer than someone who gained attention by shocking the pop culture world.


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