Growing up. Instructions for girls: Take off most of your clothes. Look up through the hair falling in your face, wriggle and sway your hips, and writhe around on a bed, then in a club. Simple.
"Miley Cyrus: Too hot to handle?" asks the headline of a clip on Hulu.com. On YouTube, those frustrating people who think they need to capitalize everything yell, "YOU GO MILEY! MILEY IS ALL GROWN UP NOW AND DOING HER OWN THING!"
Miley is seventeen. She's reached that point in every girl's life when a deep desire to wrap her naked body in an enormous snake overpowers all other needs or considerations. Her new song/video is called "Who Owns My Heart," and the daring transformation of her image that everyone (all of the same people who said these things about Britney Spears) is talking about is most definitely not "her own thing." As people run around yelling, "Look at Miley! Isn't that crazy? Can you believe she's stripping in a cage while hundreds of men wearing black masks and spike armor pet her?" I keep thinking, "Um. Yeah." Because, for a young, innocent, adorable pop star, this is exactly what I expect.
What makes me angry is that the theme of the transition is so ubiquitous. OK, they're pop stars. They don't count. They aren't real people. They haven't eaten in years. They're made out of synthetic materials from distant planets that enable them to bend their bodies into impossible positions while lip-synching perfectly. And they can do this from the time they are twelve or so. But the thing is, tons of little girls believe that they're real. They scream and scream when they get anywhere within a mile of their idols. They emulate their fashion choices (or the fashion choices of the stars' managers and stylists). Little girls everywhere hurt their eyes, trying to look more like Lady Gaga with giant, terrifying contacts.
And so tons of little girls think (or believe subconsciously) that growing up means learning how to seductively dance, nearly naked, in heels so high you need a ladder to access them. And they're taught, repeatedly, painstakingly, that this type of nearly naked dancing is called "embracing your own sexuality," and "being bold and free," and "owning your look," and "being your own person." It's rebellious, even though everyone is doing it. It's daring, even though everyone is doing it. It's original, even though everyone is doing it.
I tutored twelve-year-olds for about five years. The boys dressed forgettably. The girls sometimes came to their lessons wearing skintight shirts that proclaimed "Juicy" across their non-existent breasts. They wore little, expertly assembled, tight outfits with matching makeup. But that was in a rugged, backwoods kind of place called New Jersey. Here in the big city, girls are even better equipped for adulthood. At twenty-four, I don't have any of their conscious sexiness. I can barely function in two-inch heels. I am still working on the whole dancing seductively thing.
The point is: We need more popular examples of how to move from girlhood to womanhood. We need more appealing suggestions for different ways this might look and sound. Instead of heavy breathing into the microphone and flashing boobs on a Diesel poster, we need quick-witted lyrics and funky, interesting fashions that include, you know, clothes, rather than skin. We need some hipster chic to cover up the pop babes. Some skinny jeans and big, baggy plaid shirts that all the girls and boys wear exactly the same. What's wrong with that? Not that girls shouldn't be able to look different, but the difference shouldn't have to mean a striptease and softcore porn dancing and posing. There's plenty of porn to be had, softcore or otherwise. It doesn't need to be a part of the definition of becoming a woman.
Lady Gaga is at least ironic, but she took a lot of diet pills and trained extensively to gyrate as effortlessly as she does, wearing as little as she is often wearing. Sure, there are some sunglasses made out of pork chops and shoes made out of Great Danes, but there's plenty of even more sexual sexiness to accompany it. Because, after all, she is a woman.
So enough. Let's stop talking about Miley being shocking or unique. We said the same thing about every female pop star before her. When all the shock is sexy shock, how much farther can these teenagers and young women go? Rape fantasies with Lady Gaga. Sexual violence. And then what? What's left? We're already there. And we're still pretending it's a revelation. Violence against women is an ancient tradition. The display of women as sexual objects is just as old. So let's stop imagining that it's brand new. That it's exciting, or even very interesting.
Growing up is fascinating. You learn how to think in more complicated ways than you ever could. You start to make more of your own decisions. You experiment with the relationship between freedom and responsibility. I cut my hair off and wrote a lot of music about living in a dorm room. My friends fell in love with feminism and classical singing and philosophy and earning a living on their own and making sense of the world. We fell in love and had sex and got our hearts broken and broke people's hearts and worked really hard to pass tests and slacked off and felt guilty and wore jeans and ate crappy food and tried sexy shoes for a day and danced in the practice rooms and ran around in the rain and went to job interviews and were very serious and laughed hysterically and tried and tried to figure our lives out. We didn't need any snakes. Or a cage to dance in. Or even a club, really, to wear jeans and a sequined bra in. In my opinion, there's still plenty of time for me to learn how to dance seductively. But I'd rather not learn how from a seventeen-year-old. And I'd rather that I already know that my womanhood is not about seduction, by the time I learn to dance.
Cross-posted on Eat the Damn Cake.