When it comes to getting parents to fret, Miley Cyrus really knows how to make it rain. Cyrus whipped up more hysteria with her appearance on the VMAs last month than Professor Harold Hill did over the pool hall right here in River City. Only Cyrus's trouble with a capital "T" stands for twerking.
Cyrus's appearances on Saturday Night Live and the Today Show have caused the storm cell to strengthen, prompting another round of the debate over whether criticism of Cyrus is fair game or if it constitutes "slut shaming." In case you're not familiar with this concept, here's a quick explanation: Slut shaming is when people send negative messages to women who acknowledge or act on their sexuality while men get no message or even a positive message for equivalent behavior. An example of this would be telling young women that "good girls" don't have sex before marriage because it makes them "damaged goods" while young men get a "boys will be boys"message or even a societal high five for the exact same behavior.
Slut shaming is bad for a lot of reasons. It causes girls to associate their value with their "marketability," to feel guilty about their sexuality, and to believe that their top goal in life should be getting married. But there is another danger associated with slut shaming that no one is talking about. It's the tendency to be so afraid of slut shaming that you fail to provide your kids any guidance on critical issues like self-worth, dignity, and self-respect. It's like being so worried about anorexia that you refuse to give your daughter any information about basic nutrition.
But parenting and slut shaming are two separate things. Slut shaming is telling your daughter that twerking is bad because that will make people think she's a dirty girl and ruin her chances of catching a good husband. Parenting is telling your daughter that twerking is bad because it conveys an absence of self-respect and dignity. Put another way, slut shaming is telling girls not to do something because if they do it no one will want them. Parenting is telling girls not to do something because you said so.
Having rules and standards are necessary to good parenting. We can't be so afraid of slut shaming that we won't tell our daughters when their shorts are too short, their moves are too raw, or their make-up is in excess. (And yes, that random tribute to INXS was deliberate. RIP, Michael Hutchence.)
If our attempts to empower girls result in lowering the bar to the same substandard level where we have held it for boys all these years, we won't end up doing anyone any favors. We don't want to make it socially acceptable for both girls and boys to disrespect themselves and others. And it won't count as progress if we simply replace one harmful message ("Girls need to keep chaste so boys won't think they're damaged goods") with a different harmful message ("It's okay for girls to be as offensive and insulting as the most misogynistic guy at the nearest strip club"). At the end of the day, we want to eliminate double standards, not dispense with all standards.
In an interview with Matt Lauer on Monday, Cyrus said that she believes parents are supposed to love their kids unconditionally, no matter what their kids do. Cyrus may well be correct: loving your kids may happen automatically for parents; but good parenting doesn't -- it takes a lot of work. Even though parents may love their kids unconditionally, they have to be willing to risk their kids not liking them in order to parent them well.
Don't let all the hot air about slut shaming blow you off course. Cyrus's antics don't amount to a step in the right direction for gender empowerment and equality. They simply represent a new brand of crude. And calling it what it is may not get you cool points with your kids, but it will earn you something much more important: Parenting points.
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