Miley Cyrus’ “Sluttiness” Is The Least of Our Problems

Screen shot 2013-08-26 at 4.02.53 PMThe universe (well, the media) is slut-shaming Miley Cyrus pretty damn hard today for her performance at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards. She wore little. She gyrated. She was sexual.  This is the least of our problems—or it should  be the least of our problems anyway.

Cyrus used her sexuality–which is hers  to use–throughout the performance. This is not something we as viewers should be shocked by or disgusted withWhat should be shocking is Cyrus’ appropriation of a culture she knows nothing about, and her use of black women as props in her most recent music video and in last night’s performance. Most, if not all, of the dancing bears were women of color. At one point, Cyrus motorboats one woman’s ass, which adds to the weird, circus-y feel of it all. Cyrus is the “ring leader,” and women of color are hers to play with however she likes.

I felt super gross during and after watching her performance. Her “sluttiness” was nowhere on my mind. I was more disgusted by the apparent unawareness/unconsciousness of Cyrus with regard to the culture she has been appropriating and the women she has been exploiting. People will say, “Oh, but she’s young”—this isn’t an excuse. She has money. She has many privileges. If she cared to learn more, this knowledge would be easily accessible to her.

Our society chooses not to worry about other issues, though—about black young men being killed while walking freely, about trans women being murdered, about people who are homeless and starving.

Sadly, we live in a world where the sexuality of young women is more threatening (and more terrifying) than anything else.

Screenshot of Miley Cyrus from VMA performance

Crossposted with permission from

Lachrista Greco is a freelance feminist writer and yoga instructor based in Madison, Wisconsin. She is currently putting together an anthology called, Olive Grrrls: Italian American Women & The Search for Identity. Lachrista is also the creator of the well-known, Guerrilla Feminism page on Facebook. You can find out more by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter: @lachristagreco.





  1. “Cyrus is the “ring leader,” and women of color are hers to play with however she likes.”

    Perhaps, this was her message? Perhaps, this is exactly the sort of attention that she wanted to attract? Perhaps, her intention was to cause outrage among her audience?

    Male music artist are also guilty of being the “ring leader” and “using women of color…however [they] like?”

    • I do not know Miley’s intention for this crude stunt, but it brings everyone attention to how women are being objectified everyday. I can do a google image search on just about any young Hollywood female Celebrity and find nude or almost nude pictures of them. And if I do the same search for male celebrities they are clothed. Now why is that? These women are still in the oldest profession known to man! And I heard her mother is her manager. You would hope that her mother would care enough to stop this type of behavior.

  2. You guys, I think this post is borderline absurd. First of all, what is up if this notion of appropriation of culture? Culture is there for the enrichment of knowledge. I don’t think it should be this prohibition (“no, you can’t have”). Miss Greco, for example, is a yoga instructor. Yoga was originated in Ancient India. It is a good thing it was spread all over the world, isn’t it? And is available even to people who “doesn’t know nothing about it”. This is how freedom works. This prohibition of white people to dress / dance like black people is nonsense. Let’s try to imagine the other way around: black people NOT BEING ABLE to dance ballet (originated in Italia). NONSENSE.

    • Exactly what I was thinking–p.c. protectionism run amuck. If an artist is inspired by another culture, and appropriates aspects of it into his or her work, then credits it as an influence, that draws attention to the originator. That’s respect. The disrespect here is disrespect for herself. How much of this is Cyrus’s vision, and how much just crap with shock value that was suggested by a handler, we don’t know. Her intention was all about narcissism–no message intended. Project onto it what you like. Why not be offended by the pedophilia aspect, while you’re at it? It was all garbage.

    • Jay, precisely. Appropriation is a nonsensical idea. Everything is a remix.

      • “Now, a favourite derail of this discussion is that culture doesn’t belong to anyone, and it’s here for us to share and no one OWNS twerking. But those discussions always happen outside the context of cultural imperialism, and the colonial history that minorities face. It’s more or less the same reason why it’s not okay to wear a Native American headdress if you are not Native American.

        It’s not that we can’t share. It’s that until such time as black people are not ridiculed and debased for the styles and music and lifestyle that they create, live and breathe, hands off. Until such time as black fashion, art and music can become mainstream without having to be passed through a white filter, hands off.”

    • nobody said “you can’t have” parts of another culture. but there needs to be a serious consideration for the culture you are borrowing from. twerking/booty dancing, however you want to call it have been part of african culture for centuries. the problem is that when black women use these dance moves, they are dehumanzied by wesstern society. there has long been a myth of the hyper sexual black woman. this stereotype has been used to justify all sorts of racist and sexual attitudes pushed onto women of color. things like rape and violence are more easily ignored if the victim was “some ghetto slut who shakes her ass”. so the fact miley took something from a culture and used it freely is of concern, because the same thing she took is used to hurt people of the culture it came from. the fact that people are lining up to defend miley but not women who suffer very real sexism and racism is a very big problem. it’s not ok when people want to take from your culture but don’t have to suffer the same stigma as people of the culture.

    • I agree with what L7 quoted and nina eloquently said. Also, I found the black-women-in-ballet example bogus. Black women are already marginalized in ballet. Ballet is a European, culturally imperialist dance tradition, dominated (at least in the U.S.) by wealthier white women. So our culture does implicitly tell black women that they can’t do ballet.

      It’s not about “letting white people appreciate black culture”. It’s that black culture is looked down upon until it has received white approbation. White women are allowed to engage both in ballet and in black culture – and by putting their stamp of approval on black culture, they make it “cool”. Meanwhile, black women are not only excluded from white-dominated activities, they are deemed “ghetto” for engaging in their own cultural traditions

      • I want to clarify that I was using the general term “black culture” as a marker for the specific subset of black culture being warped/appropriated by Miley Cyrus. I’ve realized I shouldn’t have implied that black culture is monolithic. It would be more accurate to say that black cultural movements are ignored or demeaned until they’ve been appropriated by mainstream white culture. By conflating one phenomenon with an entire group of people I was part of that problem.

  3. Using black women as props? You mean her back up dancers…her friends? And if it were an all white crew it would become a race thing too and if Robin was black then it would be something else.. Sighs. This was nothing more than a mixed up kid prancing around half naked trying to shock the world and hoping to come off a a cool chick but failing miserably. I don’t believe people are threatened by Miley’s sexuality, female stars have been dancing like that for years now however this performance was uncomfortable because it just didn’t work. The tongue thing, getting practically naked and grinding everything that moves..nobody is threatened by that, it just wasn’t enjoyable. You can ooze sexuality without acting sluttish..look at Gaga, Jessie J, Madonna, it works with them yet if someone like Taylor Swift would start doing it then there would be the same reaction that Miley got. It just works for some. Personally I’m not a fan of men or women emulating sex acts during performances or feeling they have to be half naked to look sexy, and I’m not threatened or terrified by anyones sexuality and to say this is the reason for people’s reaction to Miley is just silly.

  4. I wasn’t offended by the performance – I was embarrassed as she came across strange and totally UNsexy, which is why I think it made so many people uncomfortable. She could have done a really awesome, scintillating Madonna-esque act with great choreography, pushing buttons and such, but her stage performance showed she’s not very comfortable in her own body. I’m wondering who came up with the idea and the choreography, as it’s clear she doesn’t have a strong team behind her, and that’s what worries me. The songs themselves are good – now let’s get her some good mentors in older female performers so she can learn from this and rock it next time around in a smarter, more entertaining way. Hey, she said it was “puberty” – and we all remember, puberty was quite the awkward time 🙂

  5. Eloise Bates says:

    It is not terrifying, nor is it threatening. It’s blatant pornography. If I want to see porn I have that right. But, I also have the right not to see porn if I so choose. And to be hit in the face with it in my own living room when I’m not expecting it is what makes the whole thing nothing but gutter slop. She set out to shock people and I guess she did. But it might come as a surprise to her that we are all sexual beings. Not just little Miss Cyrus. Sad is what she is. It’ll be interesting to see what she’s like when she really grows up.

  6. What disgusted me most about this performance was not Miley Cyrus’ use of her sexuality. Rather it was the participation of Robin Thicke, dressed like some creepy predator, casually stalking her on stage. This, coupled with the lyrics to “Blurred Lines,” say a lot about his view of women, I think…..

  7. In other words: you take everyone to task for slut-shaming Miley and then basically call her a racist because you think she made the black women backup dancers look like sluts? Um…

    And am I misunderstanding, or is the sentiment here that you don’t think rich white girls should do dance moves and perform music that originated in black culture? I didn’t even notice the color of the backup dancers but I was happy to see that they weren’t all cookie cutter supermodels–those dancers were all different shapes and sizes. I’m guessing they were all participating in the performance by CHOICE and getting fairly (dare I say well) paid for it. So, she’s owning her sexuality but they are being exploited?

    It wasn’t my favorite performance of the night and was too raunchy for my personal tastes, but really, I think everyone is overreacting and this particular article is grasping at straws. I don’t think it was meant to be taken all that seriously and if anything, we should be discussing how objectification of women and sexualization of children produces these kinds of performances — which are a MIRROR of our culture more than anything.

    The Internet is totally bashing this young woman and I think feminists should have come to her defense. Instead, we get a disappointing, inflated rant with a message that seems to be promoting some kind of dance and music segregation. Well, next time I’m at the hip hop club I’ll tell all the white girls to sit their asses down until Eminem comes back on.

  8. Just wondering how you happen to know what Miley Cyrus doesn’t know – are you up inside her mind? You may not be participating in slut shaming but you certainly are intelligence shaming. That might even be worse. Is it worse than white girls taking hip hop dance classes? Worse than Elvis and the Beatles appropriating Black Music to create the rock and roll we know and love today.

    Miley may not have pulled off the performance, but nobody seemed to mind when Adam Lambert twerked – he’s also a white guy – on a recent show. And if it came from white soul guy Justin Timberlake, critics would have said it was genius.

    The fact that this twerk came from a young woman trying to shed her goody two shoes image is the problem. And trading slut shaming for any other shaming is worse than her shocking VMA performance. (BTW, every year the VMAs go out of their way to enlist a woman to help ratings of their non-music television station).

    • This was my thinking! These dancers were not forced and I bet actually had to try out to dance and I’m sure they got paid. I also bet they could have turned the job down. Honestly didn’t care for her performance at all, never thought about race at all, and still don’t think it has anything to do with race. Pretty sure he only point was, this is not Disney anymore!

  9. moonshadegold says:

    I don’t understand why everyone makes a ‘race’ thing out of everything. I’m not neglecting that Miley performance’s may have been racist. But whether racist or not, it is still purely disgusting to me. I’m more concerned about the sexual explicit display. It was upsetting to most of my friends as well. Just because she is a woman and can be sexual and wear a sexy clothing does not mean she doesn’t have responsibility to be aware he performance was inappropriate. And she needs to realize that other “younger women” are looking up to her. Is this want we want our society to be? I think over all the music industry/media people are forgetting that our children see and learn a lot. Especially our teenagers who are the next generation. If we want people to learn how to be respectful we should not be allowing this kind of disgusting performances. There was no reason to take it that far. Her behavior reminds me of my friend who was sexually assaulted and began to “act out” sexually because of the rape. I believe Miley has far more problems than poor taste in back up dancers and a lack of respect for race.

    • The first sentence in your comment is so problematic. I urge you to read Peggy McIntosh’s, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

    • Not everything is a race thing? That in itself is your privilege talking. Cultural appropriation is so toxic, and can make something with significant meaning dissipate. Maybe Miley Cyrus is aware of the culture that inspires her, but she is not being respectful, and should be more intentional.

  10. I agree with you. It was all highly offensive – and I just couldn’t believe the “behind grab” and the “distribution” of color in the whole performance. The whole “bear thing” and the “bears” … I haven’t seen her video but last night sickened me. I really hope she stops this nonsense. She is a talented actress and singer; she is failing as a “performer” right now. We need solidarity and understanding at this time. Not perpetuation of stereotypes and placements.

  11. Enjoyed the article, and I’d like to counter the “slut-shaming” indictment on behalf of the entire internet at large. (Preface: I am a man. I am black. I’m straight. and I identify as a feminist, take it for what u will!)

    The majority of articles I’ve read today were either talking about Miley’s ridiculous appropriation of black culture, and about how unflattering her booty shorts were. This is the first article I’ve come across about slut-shaming, so I had to toss my cap in the ring…

    Slut-shaming, madam? I think not!

    Excluding the 14 yo trolls calling Miley a skanky whore on twitter, it seems like the general critique hasn’t been on her bold use of ‘her’ sexuality, but on how shockingly hard her sexuality fell ‘flat.’ I think that the reason why its been the highest tweeted TV snafu of the year is because it offended/perplexed both the young and old, the square and the hip, the superstars watching live and the muggles watching at home.

    Remember when Jennifer Lopez wore that revealing green dress to the Grammy’s? Everyone acted like her cleavage hat the Communist Manifesto on it! Talk about “slut-shaming,” sheesh. But what happened at the VMA’s wasn’t Janet Jackson at the Superbowl, this was Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live.

    In short, it wasn’t ‘slut-shaming’ but instead ‘butt-shaming.’

  12. Are you really suggesting that young white women should dance in ways that you think are appropriate for white people, and they should only dance with other white people?

  13. I vomited in my mouth says:

    This performance was simply crude and seedy. Outfit was unflattering. Her tongue hanging like a dog in heat…disturbing. And the foam hand pointing to every orphus on herself and on Mr. Thicke (AKA BeetleJuice) nasty. Desperate for attention. Obvious eating or drug problem. Visually not appealing for anyone ESPECIALLY the younger fans. Everything else on this article is hitting on issues that are none exsistant. No one was counting how many black back up dancers where in “Teddy Bears”. It was just all Miley with bad managent. She got what she wanted…attention. Bad publicity is better than no publicity.

  14. Lucia Colombaro says:

    I feel compelled to point out, because I see it no where, that Robin Thicke’s uncensored video is of women in skin toned things and topless dancing around Robin, Pharrell Williams & T.I. while they sing. At one point there a huge silver helium balloons that spell out “Robin Thicke has a big dick”. GO to the source. Miley might be doing all kinds of things wrong, or not, but last night she was reenacting Robin Thicke’s video. We might want to start our conversation there. Robin, Pharrell and T.I. seem to get to sit back and watch the criticism-of-Miley spectacle just as they did the women in their video and then Miley Cyrus last night.

  15. How is this any diferent from gwen stefani and her Harajuku Girls?

  16. I’d never heard of Miley before this morning and now she’s everywhere. Great work done by her publicity team in getting her to put on such a controversial performance! Good luck to her <3

  17. I entirely agree with this post. Watching the video of this performance, there were obvious racial overtones. Whether it’s the “fault” of Miley Cyrus or not though – that I can’t comment on nor do I care to. I also think all this talk about whether the performance of her sexuality wasn’t appropriate, or as good as others, is irrelevant – obviously Miley Cyrus is not going to perform her sexuality like Madonna – they are separate people, hopefully with separate interests and wills, but at the very least, different choreographers.

    What I really want to comment on though is the absurdity of these comments. Just because you don’t agree with a perspective does not give you the right to silence it, and taking an article that looks at the issue of race and insisting repeatedly that the discussion be focused ONLY gender and sexuality is nothing more than trolling. There are a bajillion articles out there saying what you all seem to want to talk about and the author notes that in the first couples sentences. On the other hand, there have been comparatively so few articles discussing issues of race in this performance that is strikes me as unbelievable that on this site the main critique to this post is: “why do we always have to talk about race?” Miley Cyrus moto-boats a women of color’s backside… are you for real?

    Furthermore, comments like this do nothing more than silence perspectives that include critical race analysis and render more legitimate a “color blind” gender analysis – I thought we went over this in Introduction to Feminist Studies, people. The beauty of this post is that it brings up real issues of cultural appropriation (which, whether you want to admit it or not, is a very real and historic phenomenon – Mackelmore describes a simplified version of it in his new track “White Privilege” which may be an easier explanation for some people to grasp) and race, which to me were the defining factors of that totally absurd performance. Big deal that Miley Cyrus wore few pieces of clothing and looked like a fool. She does this on the daily – Motor-boating a woman of color’s backside on the other hand, is somewhat different.

    Not being a woman of color, I was still super uncomfortable and offended (as I think everyone should have been) while watching that performance due about 80% to the racial overtones, 10% to the presence of Robin Thicke in general, and 10% to the fact that Miley Cyrus never shoved him off stage (which I realize was highly unlikely but I was just hoping so badly that it would happen).

  18. Wow,

    What a disappointment from MsMagazine to publish this ridiculous commentary! I was so furious after reading the absurd assumptions and observations of this author and I agree with most of the comments posted so far… “A culture she knows nothing about?”…Which culture is that??? I hope you don’t mean black music/rap culture, cause that performance had nothing to do with it, and it is so offensive for you to even imply that! I’d say that performance was influenced more so by the culture of porn-celebration, a culture that exploits rather than encourages women’s sexuality, by sexualizing their bodies, which is exactly what that performance illustrated! Nobody is slut-bashing this otherwise successful, beautiful, empowered woman by criticizing her thinking that she needs to do that to stay relevant! And by the way, is she the only performer using an all-black back-up singer/dancer group??? Are you kidding me? Your problem is that it was a white chick who did it? Let’s go ahead and propose segregation in the VMAs, then! Absurd

  19. Betty in NOLA says:

    I was not offended by the “slutiness”. I was offended by the sluttiness being used to cover a complete lack of any kind of an artistic statement. People keep saying “Maybe she meant this or maybe she meant that”. She’s supposedly an artist. If she was good at communication and performance, we’d KNOW what she meant. Instead we are all going “What’s with the tongue?” and “Stuffed animals, what? “. I don’t think it was sexual. It was more like watching someone pick their nose.

    • Yes! I totally agree! I just now finally watched the “performance” after reading articles focused on the awfulness of her racism, the awfulness of her objectifying herself, the awfulness of her sexualizing childhood, etc. But when I watched it, what I actually saw was just the awfulness of her performance itself. For real. Whatever happened to choreography and rehearsing? Wow. It was just so bad in so many ways! In fact, I feel it was such an awful spectacle that the appropriate societal response would have been to refuse to even acknowledge that it happened. Like when a toddler throws a tantrum. Don’t encourage it by dignifying it with a response. I’m not saying there weren’t elements of these other issue present in the performance. The racist elements, for instance, are pretty blatant. But I’m afraid that all this talk has somehow now legitimized the performance–instead of letting it die the death it deserved.

      • Everyone agrees that the performance was ridiculous, but in reaction, people have opened up important discussions about issues that we regularly ignore or fail to examine. Who cares if Miley receives more attention? It would be much worse to give her a free pass for her actively harmful racism and thus continue sweeping the concerns of women of color under the rug.

    • Someone else said “go to the source,” which is the music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” I was offended by it at first (a bunch of half-naked women walking around while men wear suits and brag about how big their units are).

      But then I noticed that these women were rolling their eyes and looking bored or amused. And I realized that the song/video pokes fun at men who objectify women. If you watch the women’s faces, it’s pretty obvious they don’t think much of these men. They regard the men as weak, foolish, and ridiculous.

      Miley’s take on the whole thing, with rolling her eyes and sticking out her tongue, elaborates on the statement made in the video. I took as her saying, “Look how stupid this is. I’m having fun making fun of this clown in the Beetlejuice suit.” Yes, it was uncomfortable to watch at times but I think the shock of it was louder than the message.

      Also, if we go from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna to Britney Spears, then what we saw with Miley should not have been surprising or shocking. It’s the natural next step in how women in pop culture have expressed or depicted their sexuality. Logical progression, nothing more.

  20. The amount of ignorance regarding cultural appropriation in some of these comments is heartbreaking.

    White feminists, check your fucking privilege. If people of colour, especially black women are telling you that Miley Cyrus is appropriating their culture, enacting symbolic violence, or using black women as stock street cred, you need to step back and support these black female voices.

    • THIS.

    • 100% agreed – the amount of denial in these comments is depressing as hell; especially coming from a bunch of supposed feminists. “p.c. protectionism”? “absurd assumptions and observations”? “I don’t understand why everyone makes a ‘race’ thing out of everything. I’m not neglecting that Miley performance’s may have been racist.” WHAT? So you shouldn’t “make a race thing” out of something even when it may actually be racist? Why can’t we talk about race? Why does it need to always be brushed off as absurd and ridiculous when it’s brought up? Women here are clamoring for equality with one side of their mouth and shouting down other women with the other side. So disappointing, commenters.

  21. Everyone’s missing the point. The big crime of Miley’s stunt is that it further emphasizes to young girls that what is most important for them to have success in their lives is being as sexy as possible for the “pimp” man. This steers young girls away from what’s really important for successful happy lives – their minds, academics, science, history, reading, sports, the arts, charity, family, friendships, honest goodness, and stewardship of this planet Earth that corporations are destroying.
    What Miley is doing does not result in happiness, it does not result in creating the “dream” of a better society and world, it does not bring people and families together, it does not build the possibility of lasting relationships and joyous family life, and it does nothing to preserve our precious planet Earth. There is nothing real or substantial that the end of the tunnel she is trying to guide girls down, only the vaporous illusions of love that evaporates the moment you reach them. It is the level of Hell that Dante described in Inferno, with the hungry ghosts with unending hunger, but mouths so tiny they could never be satisfied.
    Miley would do well to realize the damage she’s doing for the sake of the almighty dollar, and to set a new course. Soon.

  22. If what Ms. Cyrus was enacting on stage is “sexual,” then I’m afraid I don’t know a thing about what constitutes sexuality. What it looked like to me was an imitation of an imitation of an echo of porn, which is pretend sexuality, at best.

  23. I think Miley did this for “shock value” and it has worked! Look at all the press she has received from this. She got exactly what she was looking for, and the press is feeding right into her.

  24. As usual, this is a pretty superficial article that gets its wrong. First of all, Miley is not appropriating African American culture. That is too broad. She’s appropriating twerking, which did originate in black culture but is not a significant part of black culture. This trashy dance trend will not be remembered years from now and even from the days of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, whites have appropriate black dance styles and music styles. IT’s wonder when culture can be shared. In fact, Robin Thicke is admittedly following in the old soul and blues traditions, perhaps so much that he’s a copycat. And yet, he has a largely black audience. You’re making a big deal about nothing. No one in the AFrican American community is fuming over myself appropriating the twerking craze and featuring black teddy bears and an overweight black twerker. They are fuming over Miley looking like a complete and desperate fool who has no clue about how to use her sexuality. I do not agree that Miley was a slut or was exploited. Miley is attempted to enjoy and flaunt her sexuality in the most base and perverse way. Even though she is doing it wrong, she is using her sexual agency so there’s no exploiting here and since she’s not sleeping with people on stage, there’s no sluttiness. The entire performance was trash and indicative of her being a kid who is coming of age and in a rebellious stage where she’s exploring her sexual nature. Eventually she will progress past this phase and likely be as embarassed about it as we viewers are.

  25. Jennifer Putnam says:

    Whatever happened to modesty? I’m just as appalled at the racial implications as I am at the dance style.

  26. “Sadly, we live in a world where the sexuality of young women is more threatening (and more terrifying) than anything else.”= True.

    I will say that I think that “she is young”, is true, not necessarily an excuse… Either she’s a. racist or b. has never gotten to be friends with a person of color in her whole life, thereby seeing them as use for her as ‘props’, like perhaps they’d ENJOY this?!… The thing that gets me, is that, everyone saw the rehearsals, I’m sure, right?… So, even her agent, why didn’t SOMEONE say anything to her or her crew to pull that crap that she was about to do, teach her a lesson about it (if she doesn’t know, or does know) that they’re not going to tolerate it. But, went at it, she did. And none of her crew or anyone watching the rehearsals never said “this is wrong”… She exploited/used that black woman whose face we never saw and only her behind, that’s wrong/a shame.

  27. Get over it. Miley’s performance sucked. She’s cleat hit issues. People are feigning outrage about sexuality. The performance was not sexy and was an obvious cry for attention by a young woman doing all possible to she’d get roots or past image. Also daddy issues.
    As for this post: quit undermining real racism by trying to make everything racist. Nothing bothers me more than uppity white people reaching and stargazing about racism every time I turn Around. I think you’re doing this because Miley is of southern heritage. Yawn.

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