THE BLOG

Miley Cyrus and the Disempowerment of Women

08/28/2013 03:34 pm ET | Updated Oct 28, 2013

I hate to get in on the Miley Cyrus debate, and I wouldn't if it weren't for the comments her dad, Billy Ray, has made. He admonished us for being disgusted with his daughter and for our national cry to have her tone it down. He implored us to look at Syria and the tragedy unfolding there and to shift our attention away from Miley's brand of disgust to theirs. I presume his message is to divert our gaze from the silly doings of his young and raunchy daughter to the serious matter of peace across the globe and justice in the Middle East. Right, Billy Ray?

Well, not so fast. You see, to me, many of the ills that are visited upon some people in the Middle East hinge on this very idea of "don't look at me... look at them, they're worse."

In the case of women, for example, when the West admonishes the patriarchal governments of the developing world to treat their women with equal rights and due respect, they say -- "what, us?" and then point to the way we here in the West degrade women and sexualize them, using examples very similar to the raunchy one Miley Cyrus put on TV a few nights ago.

To be sure, the sexual revolution was a high point for Western culture. It emancipated women in a manner that decidedly took them out of the purview of male control and left them squarely in charge of their own bodies, their own sexual decisions and their own corporal freedoms. Not that this hasn't come without a price (see Unhooked Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp), but in balance, it was a good thing. It put women rightfully outside the home and permitted us to carve out careers, work hard, gain access to unfettered birth control and eventually, reach our dreams. Today, women make up a respectable chunk of the American work force, our pay has risen consistently in the last 15 years while the pay scale for men has not (adjusted for inflation), and wehave begun to establish ourselves in every important part of our economic fiber. Women are now instrumental, and often noted in business, academia, technology and even politics. With our increased economic independence, we are increasingly active in charitable giving, foreign aid and empowerment and most recently, philanthropy.

That brings me to where we are today. Right now, in some parts of the Middle East -- yes, that place where Billy Ray Cyrus would have us look to get guidance on how not to notice his daughter's "rousing" performance -- women are fighting for the same rights that we in the West have begun to take sloppily for granted. They, too, would like to be free to make their own choices as to how to have sex, who to marry or when to have children -- or even whether. But alas, they cannot. Most are married off at a young age and uncontrollably bear and care for children until they are too weak to do more. Sex is something that happens to them -- most often -- not with them. Their "honor" is hinged on their hymen, and if it breaks, it can be a cause for death. Their bodies are not their own. So, if we are hoping to serve as an example to the world, of how to emancipate and respect women, rubbing ourselves with a big foam glove on stage probably isn't the best way to demonstrate those ideals. Being sexually free, or in control, doesn't necessarily involve the testing of decency. It involves the maturity to make good sexual choices. Mimicking masturbation on a stage, I would argue, is not a one of them.

Truth be told, a young woman in the US in her early 20's should have already finished high school (roughly 19), graduated from college (roughly 22) and begun life as an adult with wisdom and knowledge to field the demands of adulthood. But as statistics show, most don't. The ideal that young ladies be educated and articulate, and ready to join the world as adults seems to have fallen out of grace, while the idea that a woman in her early 20's is just an overgrown child who still has to play - albeit in a different way - and not be held to account has taken hold.

The sexual revolution was meant to emancipate women and help them pave a road to a place of higher respect and greater rights. It was not meant to sexualize an entire gender and dwindle our worth down to simply how well we can gyrate - whether in public or private. The women who work hard to get ahead outside the home, or inside where they strive to raise children who can grow up to solve the world's ills have really understood the meaning of women's empowerment and equality - the attendant sexual freedoms they enjoy are icing on the proverbial cake. Those who see the emancipation of women as a green light to push the edges of decency in a way that has traditionally been reserved for meager men, I think, have gotten it wrong.

So yes, look to Syria to see why what Miley did a few nights a go on a stage should have been reserved for a bar room or a bed room - and then look away. Shift your gaze to take a serious look at how far we have gone as women, and don't squander our gains in the name of sexual freedom. Pull your act together and get to work empowering women across the globe in the same way.