Blurred Lines: Gender Stereotyping in the 21st Century

By SKYLAR KLINE

The Rambler

 

There’s nothing in the world that unites people like hatred. This is why the internet exists. We like to joke that the internet is pictures of cats, but hate is the thing that unites different cultures and gives people of various backgrounds, ethnicities, classes and sexualities something to agree upon. From criticizing Gabrielle Douglas’ hair during the Olympics or making fun of Kristen Stewart’s signature frown, we need sitting (cultural) ducks to shoot, and the reason for our hatred doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, it’s not about the person or idea we are choosing to hate, but the hatred itself – hate as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the past couple weeks, Miley Cyrus happily fulfilled our socio-cultural need for hate, a force that brought together people who wouldn’t normally have the same opinion on anything. A friend of mine, who enjoys Cyrus’ music, posted on Facebook shortly after the performance that “Miley has gone from sweet innocent Hannah Montana to a crazy slut”. That resonates with all the other comments I have read, where people are using just about every slut-shaming charge they can think of to throw at her. My response to the status: Hannah Montana is a fake Disney character. Miley Cyrus is a real woman who can do whatever she wants with her body.

I remember in my sophomore year of high school, our English class had to do an exercise where we debated whether a woman who wears skimpy clothing on the street deserves to be harassed – the fact that we are still asking this question is precisely why I am a feminist. What surprised me most wasn’t that there were guys who agreed with that statement, but that girls stood right along with them. “You have to know how men are,” one of my classmates said, “If you present yourself that way, you just have to expect certain things.”  To an extent, that’s true — and it’s very sad. It’s not right that a woman can’t walk down the street and not get whistled at or harassed. It tells women that they are nothing more than property for men (“the superior”) to ogle and fondle. 

We often give men the sole blame for slut-shaming and harassment, but we all contribute to a culture that degrades and abuses women, one that labels the expression of Miley Cyrus’ sexuality as “white trash.”  I would love to see Robin Thicke subjected to the same criticism after the performance, a married father who passively let Cyrus gyrate all over him. The VMA performance literally recreated the messed-up power dynamic of the video for his song “Blurred Lines” onstage, yet another scantily clad woman performing for the male gaze, and no one even batted an eye.

This reminds me of the Super Bowl performance where Justin Timberlake “accidentally” ripped open Janet Jackson’s costume to reveal her breast. America didn’t get upset with Timberlake for exposing her; no, they were mad at Jackson for having a boob. They say that all press is good press, but the incident killed her career. Meanwhile, the incident helped launch Timberlake’s solo career, making him one of the biggest stars in the world. It’s the double standard on crack.

For a little while during the 2008 Presidential Election I was a big supporter of Hillary Clinton and I proudly wore my “Hillary For President” button everywhere. One day, a girl who sat behind me in class gave me hell about it when she saw it on my book bag. “How could you vote for her?” she asked me. “I could never respect a woman who stayed with a cheater.” Even when Hillary wasn’t having sex, she couldn’t catch a break. She was still the one getting shamed. I then asked my classmate if she would vote for Bill Clinton if he ran again, in some alternate universe where that’s possible. Without hesitation, she said, “Of course, he was a great president.” 

This isn’t about Miley Cyrus, Hillary Clinton or any other famous woman, but a society that expects different things out of men than from women — one that enables toxic masculinity and blames women for not being good enough. If they just behaved differently, it wouldn’t be like this. Think of the Steubenville girl who was blamed and slut-shamed for being dragged around while she was passed out, while men she trusted took photos of her unconscious body. People wanted to know what she was wearing, what she had done.

Men are merely bystanders — even when they’re getting some, too — and one of the comments on the latter controversy sums up the backlash nicely: “This is why men fear having daughters.” Do we not worry about having a son who could grow up to harass or rape women? Or are we still on the whole ‘teach her how not to get raped’ kick?

No matter what you think of Miley Cyrus personally, it’s about time we all started respecting the right of women to make mistakes and get messy — because that’s what sexuality is. It’s exploring yourself, in ways that no one else gets to decide for you. Now next time, if Miley Cyrus could explore that without the help of giant and creepy teddy bears that would be great.

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