An Open Letter to Kathleen Hanna about Miley Cyrus

Unrelated comment: eyebrow game strong

Vice:Miley Cyrus recently called herself one of the biggest feminists in the world. Is she?
KL: I love that. I have no idea. What do you think?
Vice: I don’t know.
KL: I don’t know either. I mean, I feel like it’s cool that she’s this young girl that calls herself a feminist, but… do we want her in our club? [Laughs] Have you seen the new Lily Allen video? I’d suggest you watch that.

– Vice interview with Kathleen Hanna

Dear Kathleen,

I love you and your music has helped me in more ways than you could ever know. That’s why I was a little devastated at your response to whether Miley Cyrus was a feminist in your Vice interview; “Do we want her in our club?”  At first I was shocked. How exclusionary! How myopic! Shouldn’t we welcome any applicants to feminism’s tiny group of supporters with a tray of freshly-baked cookies? Shouldn’t you, as a fighter for equality embrace and redirect youthful energy and passion that may be misled?

Because I have some qualms with Miley’s public persona as well. Her appropriation of “twerk” culture is cringeworthy, but may signal her growth in synthesizing genres. Her use of people as stage props is also clearly misinformed, but could be chalked up to a child-star complex, and could definitely be overcome with positive influences.  Miley, as an 20-year-old woman, shouldn’t be marketed toward tweens, but the young adults that understand the transformative time she’s going through. I’m sure you know all of this, but don’t push Miley away, you have so much to teach her.

The Bangerz tour photos look crazy cool, you should check them out. She’s definitely  ushering in a new wave of iconography in music a la Madonna, employing pop culture symbolism and riding a giant descending hot dog. We live in a time of DVRs and archives, and Miley’s brand of nostalgia-raunch understands this weird, confusing time in human history; celebrating it  and capitalizing on it. The tour’s art and animation was even conceptualized by John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy. Many people connect very viscerally with her persona, and she’s skillfully crafted an aura of unpredictability, while acquiescing to certain trends.

Her new album shows a willingness to embrace a kaleidoscope of styles. Miley seems to be learning how to express herself right now, albeit very publicly. She’s experimenting with scenarios, trying them on and twirling around in front of the mirror to see how they flatter her or don’t. Every woman goes through stages of trial and error, it must be shitty to have every photo and sound byte uploaded. I’m sure you wouldn’t want people to judge you now on your actions in your 20s, either. But her vibrancy is undeniable, and her fearlessness and “fuck your opinions” attitude echo your Bikini Kill era. I think Miley has a riot grrl soul under all that pop-plumage.

Miley’s claim to feminism is a choice for all humans, not just women. Her very willingness to embrace a dirty word like “feminism” should inspire pride as opposed to backlash. Maybe Miley’s not the “world’s biggest feminist” yet, but don’t rule out the possibility or stymie her growth. Don’t snub excited youthful bombast; guide, shape and love their energy and positive passion.

Miley’s nothing new or shocking in the realm of pop, but she is harnessing the present like no one else. I’m sure you didn’t mean to sound exclusionary, I just want all her critics to take a bird’s-eye view of the tornado to realize how beautiful chaos can truly be. Why not accept her brand of “party feminism”? Why not love and nurture her messy exuberance instead of tearing down the unfamiliar and guileless? I’ve learned so much more about myself and my interactions with others since becoming interested in women’s rights; I can’t see how Miley wouldn’t personally benefit from being exposed to more feminist, open-minded thinking. Kathleen, riot grrl has made me feel less blind in a world that’s way too hard to understand; why deny that kind of blessing to Miley?

Your fan for life,
Cara ▼

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Kathleen Hanna about Miley Cyrus

  1. Avi

    I think you’re taking her comment about “do we want her in our club?” way too seriously. I think she meant it in a tongue in cheek way. It’s just a means of asking if she is really representing something positive for women and equality. Not a great way to word, but I know what she meant.

    Also, I don’t see how Miley is “appropriating twerk culture”. She’s a 20 year old girl…it’s like PART of her culture and generation. Just because she doesn’t look like the people who coined the “shake your ass like a stripper” term, doesn’t mean she’s so removed from it. She’s just having fun with it and doesn’t seem to be hurting or exploiting anyone by doing so.

    1. Serena

      I’ve always taken cultural appropriation to be taking some symbolic part of another culture, then replicating it in a cheap and usually inaccurate way, and hence stripping it of its original meaning and context. The Miley case is difficult to discern — on one hand it could be seen as appropriation of black culture, on the other we have to ask: why do we immediately associate this hyper-sexualised act with black culture? I personally have no grounding to comment on this matter, but there’s always interesting debates elsewhere to read.

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