“We don’t need to talk to our daughters about Miley Cyrus, we need to talk to our sons about Robin Thicke.”
|—||Jackson Katz speaking at the Claremont McKenna College Athenaeum on September 30, 2013|
MTV’s Video Music Awards typically target young adults who are fans of the music genre of Justin Timberlake, Drake, and Lady Gaga. The 2013 version of the MTV VMAs, however, reached a broader audience when Miley Cyrus’ performance with Robin Thicke went viral. Cyrus, dressed in a bikini, grinded with giant teddy bears and twerked on Thicke, while singing two songs- her song “We Can’t Stop” and Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines.” It was the most talked about event of the evening. Her performance spawned an army of critical articles from outlets as small as local news to as respected as the New York Times. With 360,000 tweets about the performance, it was the most tweeted about event ever. Unfortuently, most of those tweets were derogatory marks directed at not the 35-year-old Thicke but the 20-year-old Cyrus. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cyrus summed up the problem,
“[Cyrus] said that she was concerned about the critism around her and not the person on the receiving end of the twerk. ‘No one is talking about the man behind the ass. It was a lot of ‘Miley tw erks on Robin Thicke,’ but never, ‘Robin Thicke grinds up on Miley.’ They’re only talking about the one that bent over. So obviously there’s a double standard'” (Stedman).
Cyrus is known for being a child performer. Her most notable role was the titular character on the Disney show, Hannah Montana. It’s hard for people to reconcile that little girl with a new young adult they saw on stage at the Video Music Awards. There are many reasons why Cyrus is critiqued, mainly her outfit, her music, and her dancing at the Video Music Awards. Her attire of a skin colored bikini has been called “distasteful” (Malec). Her lyrics included the phrase, “dancing with molly,” a drug reference that upsets many parents. And dance, she did. People described her movements grinding with teddy bears and twerking with Thicke as “disgusting” and “really, really disturbing” (Monde). The LA Times commented, “Cyrus left jaws on the floor (though not in a good way)” (Day).
In Cyrus’ defense, the VMAs are known for more cultural performances than high class. Performers are often dressed in little clothing or strange outfits. For example, in 2010 Lady Gaga wore an outfit made completely of raw meat. Rihanna is 2008 wore tight black leather. In 2007 Britney Spears wore a sparky black bikini and was critiqued for being out of shape. The media did not focus on her outfit but the fact that she was not sexy. The underlying problem here is that society is not comfortable with women sexualizing themselves but is okay with sexualizing women. When Cyrus took control of her body and decided to move in sexual ways while wearing a childish outfit, she was making a comment on how society sexualizes young women. The performance should have made viewers uncomfortable because it was pointing out how sick society’s actions truely are.
But what no one seems to be talking about is Robin Thicke at least not in a negative light. Just puruse the titles of various articles to see the difference in treatment between the 20-year-old and the 36-year-old man. “Childhoos ruining,” Mashable calls Cyrus’ performance only, as if Thicke took no part in the show (Colbert). TMZ, a corporation serious about gossip, chose to describe Cyrus’ actions as “molesting” Thicke but fail to mention any of the grinding that was done to Cyrus by Thicke (Staff).
There are valid reasons for Miley Cyrus to be criticized. The problem is that there is a difference in how Cyrus and Thicke are being discussed in the media, the biggest point being that Thicke is barely mentioned at all. One of the only articles to be found online that features of mentions Thicke specifically was written by Jon Caramanica of the New York Times. Caramanica wrote, “[…] allow Ms. Cyrus to sing part of his song while applying various of her body parts to various ones of Mr. Thicke’s. Mr. Thicke, no matter how ludicrous a suit he may choose to wear, will be helpless to overcome her” (Caramanica). The article focused on how Thicke was trying to make his way in the world of music when Cyrus forced herself on him.
The reasons why Thicke deserves to be criticized as much as or more than Cyrus are numerous. Thicke has been in the business for a lot longer than Cyrus; thus he should know better than to participate in a stunt like this. Thicke is married yet no one is condemning him for actual sexual towards a woman who is not his wife, in public and on national television. Thicke was not a helpless victim in this situation. As an adult man, he had the ability to simply walk away from whatever Cyrus was doing on stage. Perhaps most ironically, the Parents Television Council attacked MTV for “marketing sexually charged messages to young children using former child stars and condom commercials” and yet fails to mention or criticize the parent that was dancing on Cyrus (Day). Thicke has a three-year-old son named Julian and Cyrus is on the same age away from Julian as she is from the older Thicke, yet no one has told Thicke to act like a parent.
Should it really be a surprize that the media is not critiszing the man who sings a song with the lyrics, “I know you want it / Can’t let it get past me / Talk about getting blasted” with a music video that literally has topless women walking around? Before the Video Music Awards and before Cyrus sang a duet with him, Thicke was getting away with being sexual when he set a song about “blurred lines” of sexual consent to a catchy tune. Thicke had an advantage over Cyrus because these actions had already been approved by the media. While the only controversial line in Cyrus’ song was the mention of “ecstasy,” Thicke’s entire song imposes male desire on women. It is unsurprising that he was not labled as the cause of the MTV scandal when nothing he did leading up to the Video Music Awards hindered his career. The media needs to stop demonizing women while letting their male counterparts get away with the same actions unscathed. A young, 20-year-old woman unfairly took the brunt of the media heat for an incident that took two to tango. Or should I say, two to twerk.