I’ve been seeing posts like this going around lately, and at first glance I laughed at the (what seemed like, at the time) irony. But as I thought more about these two characters, I tilted my head, scratched my chin, and thought, “Huh. That’s not right.”
Okay, the facts are true. Miley has been in a committed long-term relationship and is now engaged, while Taylor has dated quite a bit. But that’s not the problem I see.
Feminist writer Jessica Valenti claims that young women in our generation are caught in a “double bind”- that we struggle to maintain an identity of goodness and purity, while society places attention and worth on hypersexualized women and provocative images. This “Madonna Whore” dilemma puts girls in the middle of two mutually incompatible expectations, and we are constantly pushed and pulled by judgements and praise, critiques and approval. And to me, this Miley/Taylor debate isthe prime illustration of said issue.
Miley has been, in my eyes, the pubescent teenage girl that does what pubescent teenage girls stereotypically do (with the added pressures of, you know, the entire nation’s eyes on her)- she has taken semi-nude photos, experimented with drugs, dressed scantily, and been generally rebellious and, at times even aggressive, against those who disturbed her peace (tabloids, paparazzi, haters, etc.) The bad girl.
On the other hand, Taylor was the “goody-goody/ southern belle” poster child, writing sweet love songs and pining for her prince charming, wearing flouncy dresses and treating people (as far as we’ve heard) with kindness and respect. The good girl.
In my opinion, the labels of “slut, bitch” vs. “sweet, elegant, inspirational” come less from the number of partners these women have had in the past few years, and instead have more to do with how they generally carry themselves, and as a result, how the public has perceived them. Image is what you build for yourself- and while it’s hard to manipulate what people whisper behind your back, there’s little to argue when it comes to the logic that Miley’s and Taylor’s actions have influenced the pronouncements we’ve made on them.
But there’s an even bigger problem.
The “good girl” label draws largely from an “ethic of passivity”- that is, we are “good” based on the things we do NOT do. “Good girls don’t have sex. Good girls don’t wear racy clothing. Good girls don’t have more than _ boyfriends within _ years. Good girls don’t masturbate. Good girls don’t give head. Good girls don’t ________.” On and on. It’s patriarchal, demeaning, and just a bit frustrating. Miley didn’t date a lot like Taylor did = she’s a good girl. Nevermind her nudies. So now we’re supposed to call Miley good, and Taylor’s really the bad one- because of what they did or didn’t do in their romantic past?? Wait, that’s so confusing, who is really the devil and who is really the angel here? Sigh. These problematic definitions of what is good/bad is precisely why Valenti advocates an “ethic of autonomy” instead- that is, women should be free to take control over their own erotic lives. And I wholeheartedly agree. Women, men, all creatures alive should be the ones holding themselves accountable for their actions, to live up to their own standards.
Further, Taylor has been incessantly criticized and mocked because of her past, and it may seem justified, here are some sidenotes:
1. She is a girl, looking for a boy. How many of us aren’t a someone looking for a someone?
2. She may be a tad histrionic- but I believe it. She’s a hopeless romantic. And this trait doesn’t always translate into having stable, lasting relationships. In fact, quite the opposite.
3. She is a celebrity. This means that everyone that she “talked to” or “dated” or has “been in a relationship with” is under constant public scrutiny. An average 20-something year old can have multiple people they’re interested in, or talking to, or even dating, but be free from this “she’s a whore/ she’s a saint” commentary.
4. Along the same lines, we have no way of knowing the extent of her relationships. The tabloids can publish a photo and say “Taylor and __ are dating,” but how do we know how true this is, if at all? I’m not saying that we grossly overestimated her past boyfriend count. I’m saying that we’re basing our harsh judgement on largely ungrounded facts.
5. Not only is the paparazzi an element to widespread criticism on her dating life, but she, herself, is as well. She is a songwriter, and draws inspiration from her relationships, big, small, ambiguous. She puts herself on blast. A little too much.
But here’s the thing.
Taylor Swift does not follow your blog.
Taylor Swift does not care what you think.
Taylor Swift probably doesn’t know that you exist.
So if you’re feeling like a saint for publicizing or advocating something like this. If you’re feeling like such a strong, independent, self-assured, non-slutty young woman. Bravo to you. You actually have changed absolutely nothing about your worth, what you’ve done or didn’t do, or who you are.
Or if you’re feeling like a slut-shaming, grounded, wholesome young man, bravo to you as well. You’re actually just an arrogant, blindly outraged, misogynistic little boy.
But see, none of this means a thing.
After all, who are we to judge another?
And the biggest problem is, that
we do not realize this fact.