Miley Cyrus: Pushing the boundaries of sexuality and gender or reinforcing them?

Her journey from Hannah Montana to international twerking sensation!

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  1. Miley Cyrus' presentation of her celebrity persona online demonstrates her effort to challenge normative ideas about female sexuality and gender. In some instances her efforts do confront gender and sexuality norms. She challenges the rigidity of society's idea of heterosexuality and offers her fans a more dynamic and undefined image through her online and stage presence. However, because her image is so overtly sexual, it can be easily misinterpreted as reinforcing the objectification of women, more specifically female performers. Upon further investigation, though, it becomes clear that this isn't her goal but the fact that further analysis is necessary is in itself problematic. She's pushing boundaries and challenging norms, but for the majority of society that only reads her image at a surface level, this isn't an obvious statement.
  2. The significance in this lies in the fact that her image was first based upon that of Hannah Montana — a fictional character that appealed to a generally young female audience that looked to her as a role model. Her presentation was innocent, goofy, clean-cut, wholesome, and gave parents little to worry about.
  3. Hannah_Montana_2_-_Rock_Star_Edition_CD_Cover
    Hannah_Montana_2_-_Rock_Star_Edition_CD_Cover
  4. Hannah Montana aired from 2006-2011. Though Miley Cyrus' image gradually became more sexualized and mature, it didn't cause any real outrage until 2013 with the lead-up to her album Bangerz. As with many young female stars, Cyrus initially struggled with outgrowing her wholesome image as she herself grew up. However, the transformation of her image, with the release of her music video "We Can't Stop," proved to be especially drastic and caused a lot of negative reaction. In the video, she's seen wearing very revealing clothing, grinding on other women, slapping women's butts, frequently sticking out her tongue, and touching herself on a bed, among many other things. The audience's reaction to this drastically new image of Miley Cyrus was that of anger, shock, and intrigue.
  5. Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop
  6. C u sooooon Adelaide! #Turnupadelaide
    C u sooooon Adelaide! #Turnupadelaide
  7. Throughout the summer of 2013, Cyrus continued to perpetuate this hyper-sexualized, wild image of herself: in interviews and television appearances, she would perform "We Can't Stop" in similar manners and respond to interview questions with divisive answers. It was clear that she was going for shock value and pushing herself as far away as possible from the image of Hannah Monana, despite the risk of losing some of her original fans. With this behavior, it wasn't totally clear what her intentions were other than distancing herself from her original, innocent image:
  8. Her performance at the 2013 VMAs is perhaps her most talked about and controversial moment from this time. In it, she performed in a similar manner to the "We Can't Stop" music video. Additionally, though, she "twerked" on fellow performer Robin Thicke during his song. Following the VMAs, this performance was all people were talking about and it was almost exclusively in a negative manner. People were outraged by her no holds barred sexual presentation that they saw as gratuitous, disrespectful, and inappropriate. This reaction was perhaps furthered by grand departure it represented from her previous image as well as her gender and age.
  9. The above article exemplifies a lot of the discussion and negative feedback prompted by Cyrus' performance. Many of those outraged were parents of young girls who had previously thought of Cyrus as being a role model for their children. Additionally, her behavior and performance style was widely seen as being anti-feminist and reinforcing the objectification and sexualization of women and normative images of gender. The general public didn't find any redeeming qualities in Cyrus' performance. Her intentions weren't clear.
  10. Miley Discusses Her VMAs Performance
  11. In response to the negative reactions she received for her performance, Cyrus had a few important things to clarify: 1. She explains that she hoped that her performance would come off as humorous and ironic. 2. She pointed out that none of the discussion following her performance addressed Robin Thicke's involvement in the grinding. She calls attention to the "double standard" that exists around gender norms and expectations.
  12. A few months later, she continues to call attention to this double standard and, thus, challenge the gender norms imposed by society. She supports the "Free The Nipple" campaign, which describes itself as "an equality movement" whose mission is "to empower women across the world" against "female oppression and censorship," saying it's "ILLEGAL for a woman to be topless" but not for a male to be. This is significant in that, again, if taken exclusively at surface level (especially by younger fans or mothers who aren't aware of the movement's meaning or purpose), Cyrus' actions can easily be misinterpreted as furthering female objectification. In other words, many people could have seen this as Cyrus showing her breasts simply for the sake of shock value.
  13. Following immediate negative reaction to this photo she tweeted, Cyrus attempted to explain its purpose and the missions of the Free The Nipple movement:
  14. Her challenging of normative gender expectations also carries over to sexuality. As it becomes clear Cyrus not only supports the LGBTQ rights community, but she also sees her own sexuality as something that she doesn't have to define or apologize for.
  15. 👅 @zoeisabellakravitz here I cummmmmm #brisbane #lolawolf #bangerztour
    👅 @zoeisabellakravitz here I cummmmmm #brisbane #lolawolf #bangerztour
  16. Cyrus posting a picture of her kissing Cara Delevingne (a famous model whose sexuality is also commonly called into question by the media) demonstrates her resistance to society's desire for celebrities to rigidly define their sexual identity as well as her support for LGBTQ rights.
  17. After posting images like this on her social media accounts (as well as her actions with females during performances and music videos), the media and general public began to question Cyrus' sexual orientation. When directly asked about it, Cyrus not only says that she's not offended by these questions but also uses these questions as opportunities to express her support for gay rights issues.
  18. Though on the surface level Cyrus' image, performance style, and online presence can be interpreted as reinforcing gender norms and expectations, when digging deeper it becomes clear that this is not her intention. Although this is slightly problematic considering her audience and previously innocent image, Cyrus' explanations of her actions provide a believable reasoning for the drastic change in her image. She strives to challenge expectations that society places on women and the ways in which we define our sexuality.
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