Miley Cyrus's performance at the MTV video music awards show stunned viewers
Pepper Schwartz: Let's face it, young women today are flaunting their sexuality
She says we need to tell kids that in real life, a little bit of subtlety goes a long way
Schwartz: There are far better ways for young women to be attractive and appealing
Editor’s Note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 17 books, the latest of which is “The Normal Bar.” She is the AARP love and relationship ambassador and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, and chief expert for perfectmatch.com.
My oh my Miley!
Miley Cyrus did an in-your-face, look at me now, pornographic performance at the record industry’s most public coming out party, the MTV video music awards.
This was no accident. She did every porn star move in the book, and the only thing different was that there wasn’t actual genital connection, and her seemingly sprayed on rubber undies and bra did cover her private parts.
What was Miley thinking? You don’t have to guess. She was probably thinking: “I’m not that Miley Cyrus anymore and this ought to prove it.”
It’s shocking all right. But let’s face it. A 20-year-old these days is unlikely to be a virgin and if she’s in the fast lane (read: Hollywood, New York City and other big cities) she is not going to look innocent. Shocked at Miley? Have you noticed your average 15-year-old girl lately? She has her midriff bared, she’s wearing her underwear for the world to see and her skirt may or may not cover her butt and crotch.
It’s hard to take it as parents. We know how young 15 really is. Hell, we know how young 20 is. My guess is after Miley has finished with her personally satisfying PR moment from this, she’s going to tone it down eventually. But right now, this is her battle cry: I am a fully sexual, bad-assed vixen and live with it.
How should we integrate this new human being with the little girl Disney promoted as wholesome and childlike?
Maybe a better use of our time is to think about the models of sexuality that are in most rock groups and how we talk to our kids about them. The metaphors in the lyrics and bump and grind moves in the videos have been around for quite a while. So how do we tell our children that they can be young men and women without looking and acting, like rock performers?
Well, this is a well-beaten drum I’m going to pound, but we have to talk to them about how that is show business, and that in real life, a little bit of subtlety goes a long way. That ultimately, in this turtle and hare story, the more discriminating, less crudely sexual person wins the girl or guy’s love, and a lot of other good things in life.
We can give the talk without having to link this performance to abstinence before marriage, or that sexuality per se is wrong or bad for you. The statistics will tell you that approach is, for most parents, a losing game. But research does tell us that parent’s opinions and values really do matter on quite a number of sexual issues.
We can take a middle road. Take this performance (and others) as a teachable moment and do what all reputable sex education courses tell us to do – talk about your own values and why you have them and why they matter. While sexuality can be expressed in our dress and behavior, there are far better ways for young women to be attractive and appealing.
It cannot be said that Miley made a wrong career choice: Look at the press coverage! But modeling porn-star appearance and performance is a dangerous choice for our young people.
I don’t think we are ever going to get our teenagers and young adults back in saddle shoes (except as a sly joke) but I do think we can show them that Miley Cyrus’ act is a sexual cartoon and that they can put themselves together and act in a way that will make them far more popular and desirable in the long run than what they see in a MTV award show.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pepper Schwartz.