Don’t get Twerked up about it

As the 2013 draws to a close it’s fair to say that it’s been a pretty depressing year for women in the media. With the cynical exploitation of Miley Cyrus’ body at every available opportunity, Nigella Lawson being publicly throttled by her now ex-husband and the infectious success of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines (which is blatantly a rip off of Mavin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up), it would appear that the progress of feminism is in reverse. Yet by addressing the issue I’m potentially exposing myself to criticism: a woman who holds her hand up to point out the flagrant contemptuous attitude that the media applies to my gender is at risk of further degradation. I make no apologies for including feminist articles in a fashion blog – all too often women’s interests are labelled as vacuous and banal. Women like fashion, there’s no shame in that. Women also like equal rights and equal pay.

For a woman to be assertive, it’s often presumed that she’s a tyrannical despot, hell bent on breaking every ball that crosses her path. Failing that, she’s a bitter old hag whose youth has long since shrivelled and wants to spoil everyone’s fun. You only need to look at the flack female politicians get for their looks to see how women in power are undermined. Hillary Clinton is frequently lambasted for her hairstyle or having the audacity to go without makeup – rather than the focus being on her policies. Yet the likes of Boris Johnson bumble around with their rumpled suits and thatches of unbrushed hair flying hither and thither without comment or criticism. The double standards don’t stop there; a sexually active woman is a skank or a man eater, yet a man of equivalent sexual experience is a loveable rogue. This lazy stereotype is as decrepit as it is boring, yet it doggedly persists.

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Photo: hicomsumption.com

This year Miley Cyrus has been publicly scolded for her wrecking ball and foam finger antics, yet if a male singer was to behave in a similar way it’s unlikely to cause the same level of brouhaha. The fact is that you’d never catch a man perched naked on a roving ball because it wouldn’t make money. Rarely does anyone consider who’s actually pulling the strings of the twerking puppet show – the embers of the Cyrus gravy train are stoked by the same management that squeezed Britney Spears for every gyrating penny. Miley has claimed that she executes every buttock trembling move of her own accord, she may well do, but it’s my opinion that there’s considerable behind-the-scenes coercion going on. Even if there are no persuasive whispers from a Svengali manager and Miley is sexing it up on her own, is she not following a precedent set by other Disney child stars before her? Rather than recognise the money making enterprise that the Miley show has become, the media slut shames Cyrus and assigns her blame for leading today’s youth of down a tawdry path, whilst giving her maximum attention for doing so.

Now, I should make it clear that I’m  no prude, I’ve no problem with nudity or overt sexuality. In the western world women have a constitutional right to behave and dress as they see fit.  However I would argue that a woman can be sexual without being objectified, in fact in some contexts it’s necessary. Lena Dunum’s Girls is uncompromising in it’s frequent inclusion of nudity but the purpose isn’t to titillate – it’s to illustrate young women owning their sexuality for their own pleasure. The sex scenes in Girls are unglamorous and often awkward, thus avoiding a pornographic aesthetic, most likely because it’s written and directed by Dunum herself.

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Lena Dunham in Girls. Photo: portabletv.com

2013 hasn’t been all doom and gloom for women in media, Jennifer Lawrence’s continued success despite the fact that she flat out refuses to diet and speaks out about the anorexic Hollywood ideal is encouraging and refreshing. Adele’s Oscar for Skyfall is another example of a woman who defies the tyranny of skinny and receives the highest possible accolades for her talent. Angelina Jolie’s continued humanitarian work and efforts to raise awareness of the suffering of the victims of war is inspiring. Malala Yousafzai’s mission to promote education for all children regardless of gender, despite the fact she was shot it the head by the Taliban, is nothing short of astonishing.

There’s no doubt women’s role in society has changed experientially in the last 50 years, but the glass ceiling still exists, there’s still work to be done. The insidious implication behind the criticism of female politicians is that a woman who has a power is a shrew and needs to be tamed. The continued attention that Miley Cyrus gets sends contradictory messages; on the one hand, sexuality is the most valued commodity and the most effective way to get attention. Conversely, a woman who is openly sexual is innately shameful – dammed if you do and doomed if you don’t. The way forward in 2014 is to adopt feminism as a way of life; the modern feminist isn’t a man hater, or for that matter, a woman hater. She has the bravery to speak out against everyday misogyny and call it when she sees it. The media won’t alter it’s attitude towards women over night, but we have power to change how we see ourselves and the women around us. Support your fellow woman and don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard.