Then the chatter about the Video Music Awards hit my newsfeed yesterday and I got pulled in. I watched Cyrus's VMA performance with fascinated horror. Fresh Air had a segment on Robin Thicke earlier, so I was caught up on him. When they got home from school, my kids made me watch the original video to "We Can't Stop." ("Mom, you think the VMAs were bad? You haven't seen the real video.") I had a real clutch-the-pearls moment, let me tell you.
As I followed the different reactions around social media, and added in my own two cents, I kept thinking, why am I paying attention to this? I still don't care about Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke. But somehow the story felt like it mattered. It began to gel for me after I remember what feminist comedian Caitlin Moran said about the pornification of pop-culture: that young people, especially men, are growing up watching readily available porn and it's defining how they think about sex.
This is a problem, of which Cyrus and Thicke are just symptoms. And this problem matters to me because I'm a parent, raising kids who will soon be adults. Not only that, I'm a woman. How society views women should interest all women — and everyone with a wife, mother, or daughter.
I'm not especially prudish, and feel the ubiquity of porn might not necessarily be a bad thing if healthy sexuality was being depicted. If women directed it, if women consumers were the targets, porn would be different. But with a few niche exceptions, porn is male directed and utterly focused on male fantasy. The music industry has taken its cue and turned music videos, especially hip-hop videos, into soft porn. It's not a coincidence that both Cyrus and Thicke have deliberately decided to mimic hip-hop culture.
Porn culture has set the sexual stage for young people today. It circumscribes how they are to behave sexually, and what to expect (and demand) from their partners. Women under 30, and sexually active teenage girls, get Brazilian waxes routinely; boys will not touch them unless they are bare as a 10-year-old. Women buy poles for their own bedrooms so they can bring the striptease home. The idea that women should a) remain as little-girl like as possible and b) spend their sexual lives performing for men is something we see reflected in Cyrus and Thicke's videos.
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It's easy to dismiss the VMA flap as pop-culture fluff, and to sanctimoniously demand everyone pay attention to "the real story," whatever you think that is. But a culture that demeans women and celebrates rape is as much a problem as a culture that worships guns and war.