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Miley Cyrus, Sinead O'Connor And The Death Of Hedonism

Miley battles the haters

Far be it for me not to be an old fogey but really, what is it with sex and people? What is it with Sinead O’Connor? How is using sex as a component of rock music and advocating the use of drugs a negative? Since when? Really, when did you become your parents. I spent my teens and 20s taking mammoth doses of illegal dugs and fucking any woman who would let me. Why should  I be allowed to do that and Miley shouldn’t.

I’ve been writing about Miley’s attempts to grow up in public for years now, I was writing about it when her first solo album stiffed two years ago, and my feeling remains constant: leave her alone to enjoy herself. Why shouldn’t she be free. It is amazing that women like Sinead claim slavery is freedom and freedom is a male ploy to abuse you.

Sinead O’Connor’s entirely asinine response to Miley saying she was influenced by Sinead’s “Nothing compares 2 You” offends me on so many levels, but mostly because it is a couple of mutations away from saying women should wear Burka’s because all men are rapists.

The truth of the matter is that male and female sexuality is way too complicated for this. women use sex for status and men use sex for power and the difference is one of subtleness. Men want their sex in your face, the struggle is violent and intense and their response to Cyrus, the response she is beholding, is intense but play acting. Women take sex more seriously, for all the reasons you can think of and one more, it is more than a physical assault, it is a social maneuver.

So sex sells but complicatedly and Miley isn’t selling sex in the manner Sinead is claiming Miley is selling it. It is about music and image, but also rebellion and rejection. It is as if the concept of hedonism as revolt has become alien since it was at the forefront of the 1970s. As if sex and drugs as liberation does not exist at all. Well, guess what… it does exist at all and Miley Cyrus’, act is a political act, it is political  to endorse sex and drugs as an end in themselves.

Here is Sinead’s response to Miley

Dear Miley,

I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your Wrecking Ball video was designed to be similar to the one for Nothing Compares … So this is what I need to say … And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.

I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.

Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.

The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted … and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.

None of the men ogling you give a shit about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a fuck about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a fuck about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a fuck about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped … and that includes you yourself.

Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it’s associated media.

You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever … Don’t be under any illusions … ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty … which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.

I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying fuck about you. They’re there for the money… we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.

You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age … which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.

Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question … I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.

As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image … whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now … Not because you got naked but because you make great records.

Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted … its so not cool Miley … its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers … that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherfucker who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you.

With me so far? Good, well, Miley went on twitter and implied Sinead was bonkers and, to be perfectly honest, Sinead is way way way out there. And Sinead responded as follows:

Miley… Really? Who the fuck is advising you? Because taking me on is even more fuckin’ stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism. You have posted today tweets of mine which are two years old, which were posted by me when I was unwell and seeking help so as to make them look like they are recent. In doing so you mock myself and Amanda Bynes for having suffered with mental health issues and for having sought help.

 I mean really really… who advises you? have you any idea how stupid and dangerous it is to mock people for suffering illness? You will yourself one day suffer such illness, that is without doubt. The course you have set yourself upon can only end in that, trust me.

I am staggered that any 20 yr old woman of the 21st century could behave in such a dangerous and irresponsible manner as to not only send the signal to young women that its ok to act like prostitutes but also to the signal that those who have suffered or do suffer mental health problems are to be mocked and have their opinions invalidated. Have you no sense of danger at all? or responsibility? Remove your tweets immediately or you will hear from my lawyers. I am certain you will be hearing from all manner of mental health advocacy groups also. It is not acceptable to mock any person for having suffered.

It is most unbecoming of you to respond in such a fashion to someone who expressed care for you. And worse that you are such an anti-female tool of the anti-female music industry. I hope that you will apologise to Amanda Bynes and to any person who has been wounded by your mockery of those who have suffered. And I hope that you will wake up and understand that you in fact are a danger to women.

Furthermore you posted a photo of me tearing the pope’s photo .. as if to imply insanity.. by doing so all you have achieved is to expose your staggering ignorance. I suggest you read The Philadelphia Report, The Boston Report, all the reports which will illuminate for you why that action of mine remains sane and valid. By mocking it you mock every child who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of priests and had it covered by the Vatican. You could really do with educating yourself, that is if you’re not too busy getting your tits out to read. – Sinead

Somewhere in the middle of all this, here is Amanda Palmer’s two cents

“Dear Sinéad,

 I love you. I grew up worshipping your music and your bold attitude and, especially, your refusal to sign up to the bullshit beauty standard. You were one of the few women rockstars that was clearly doing things her own way, and you inspired me to no end. I want to thank you for doing that. I listened to your stunning voice and your true, deep lyrics endlessly on my walkman, flipping the tape again, and again, then again, then again…and I know those ingredients still live and breathe inside me every time I write a song of my own. You shaped me.

I read your letter to Miley Cyrus this morning and I wanted to write back to you. I’m writing this on my cell phone in a plane on the way to Dallas, TX to play a benefit tonight for a group called Girls Rock Dallas…a local group that empowers young girls to become brave musicians. The timing is pretty wonderful and I want to talk to them all tonight about Miley and your letter.

As a musician and a songwriter, I grew up alone, writing in solitude. I don’t know how old you were when you signed your major recording contract, but both of us know that we didn’t go through what Miss Miley here went through – growing up in public and never having the golden opportunity to incubate in her own private world of making-art unseen, thoughts and words with no audience, no big public mirror. You and I had this, more or less, or we at least had it more than Miley. For an artist, that time to incubate is a special kind of gift. We should be really grateful for it. I know I am.

I think you’re right on about so many things, and I also applaud you for posting to your own site with a open letter instead of speaking via rolling stone or any of the other journalists who were calling you to comment. For the most part, they really don’t seem to care very much about the real issues at hand and we’re all just click-bait. What are the real issues…? You and I know it – being a female musician/rockstar/whatever is a pretty fucking impossible and mind-bendingly frustrating job. Our male counterparts are given a way wider playing field than we are. It’s a Chinese finger trap that reflects the basic problems of our women-times: we’re either scolded for looking sexy or we’re scolded for not playing the game. Those who manage to find a perfect balance are rare, and the culture at large seems hellbent on undermining our ability to create that balance peacefully within ourselves. And weirdly, it’s generally women scolding other women…we’re our own worst enemies. Which is not to say there aren’t some mean motherfucking men out there. I faced my fair share of that sort when I was at a major label and told that I was too fat to wear a bra on stage for my Leeds United music video. I stood my ground and got my way, but that was the beginning of the end of my relationship with those dudes. (Funny, the irony here: *I* had to FIGHT my label to be half-naked in a video…)

Here’s where I think you’re off target. Miley is, from what I can gather, in charge of her own show. She’s writing the plot and signing the checks, and although I think it’s tempting to imagine her in the board room of label assholes and management, I don’t think any of them masterminded her current plan to be a raging, naked, twerking sexpot. I think that’s All Miley All The Way. Now, would these men ARGUE with her when she comes into the room and throws down her treatment to hop up naked on the proverbial (and literal) wrecking ball? Of course not. Sex sells. We all know it. Miley knows it better than anyone: swinging naked on a big metal ball simply gets you more hits than swinging on a big metal ball wearing clothes. We’re mammals. LOOK BOOBS! And even more tantalizing: LOOK HANNAH MONTANA BOOBS! But none of this means that Miley is following anyone else’s script. In fact, what I see is Miley desperately trying to write her own script; truly trying to be taken seriously (even if its in a nakedly playful way) by the standards of her own peers.

You and I are no strangers to controversy and we both know how it feels to be screamed at by the public, by the music press, to be misunderstood, reviled, ignored, and used as a punching bag for a larger cultural conversation. It is always my fantasy that we can take these painful experiences and feed them back to the upcoming generation of women rockers in a way that creates a larger playing field instead of a smaller one. I want female musicians to feel like they can do MORE with their mad artistic energy, not LESS. I want women to feel less trapped inside their bodies, less afraid to express themselves, less afraid to be nailed to the cross of the cultural beauty standard. But that necessarily means there needs to be room on the vast playing field for Adele to wear a conservative suit, room for Lady Gaga to do naked performance art in the woods, room for PJ Harvey to wear high-collared 18th century jackets on stage, room for Natasha Kahn to pose boldly naked on the cover of her last record, and room for Miley to rip a page out of stripper culture and run around like a maniac for however long she wants to.

Do I want a whole generation of teenagers looking at Miley Cyrus to determine that the only way to get hits and hawk your music is to rip your clothes off and wiggle around as violently and loudly as possible? (And while we’re at it – while weighing close to nothing and looking perfectly manicured without a single eyelash or molecule of mascara out of place even when a tear rolls down your face?)

Fuck no. But I don’t want to tell them it’s wrong, either, because like I said: the field has to encompass EVERYTHING. There’s no way Miley is going to read your letter and turn around saying “holy shit, they’ve been taking advantage of me this whole time!” She’s been taking advantage of herself, of her youth, her fame and her sexuality…and she knows it. We females all do this, to some extent, and we just want to feel like it’s our hand on the joystick. Telling her that her team is to blame is telling her that she’s not steering her own career and decisions, and I think she’ll just feel patronized.

When I was about 15 (not inconsequentially, right around the time I was listening to your albums non-stop on my long walks to high school every morning), I started having fights with my mother every time I left for school. I’d decided to dress like an oversexed punk and my attire often consisted of sheer lingerie worn over ripped tights and Doc Martens. You remember. This was 1991. My mother would say: “Amanda Palmer, get back in the house and put some real clothes on. You look like a prostitute. I won’t have my daughter walking around town like a harlot.” (I swear to god, my mother actually used the word harlot. Bless.)

I would say: “It’s my life fuck you I didn’t ask to be born etc etc”, grumble back into the house, and throw a flannel dress over my entire ensemble…which I would, of course, remove and stuff back into my bag the minute I got to school.

I know my mother was trying to protect me. She loved me. She didn’t want me to fall into dangerous situations, she didn’t want me to be ridiculed, she didn’t want people to think badly of me. And often they did – the jocks all called me Freak and Lesbo in the halls. But I took it as almost a marker of success – I didn’t want to belong to their club. I took the rolling eyeballs and raised eyebrows of my peers, teachers and parents as a sign that I was on the right track. It was my artist’s uniform, and I was learning how to wear it with pride; I was figuring myself out.

I’m 37 and I’m still trying, and I change my uniform sometimes. Sometimes I play with nudity because it makes people pay attention, sometimes I play with nudity because it makes me loudly vulnerable to those in the room and it turns their brains inside-out as I challenge them to see me for what I am…without clothes.

As much as we may not want to see it this way – because, from a far distant she looks like just another airbrushed hottie from a lite beer commercial – we gotta give Miley (and every female) space to try on her artist’s uniform. It’s like a game of cosmic dress-up, but the stakes are high. If we’re allowed to play it, we’re empowered. If we’re not, we’re still in a cage.

While it may be true that the live-fast-die-young sex-pot female pop stars are washed up and thrown on the “rag heap”, like you say, wouldn’t it be better if we changed the entire plot instead of dealing with it as it’s been handed to us? Keith Richards and Jagger go out there night after night and shake their asses and everyone oohs and aahs that they’ve managed to age and maintain their spot at the sexy table.

Why shouldn’t this be true for women? Who says Miley can’t flip the script anytime she wants?

I want to live in a world where Miley (or any female musician) can twerk wildly at 20, wear a full-cover floral hippie mumu at 37, show up at 47 in see-through latex, and pose semi-naked, like Keith & co, on the cover of rolling stone at 57 and be APPLAUDED for being so comfortable with her body. This is not to say that women have to play the desperate I’M-STILL-SEXY game as they age. Watching Madonna’s plastic surgeries and apparent stubbornness around aging just makes my inner teenager want to scream (YOU’RE MADONNA! YOU COULD HAVE MADE AGING SEXY GODAMMIT AND YOU DIDN’T!!), but the grown-up in me just pauses for a breath and remembers that Madonna is just carving out her section of the playing field. How she chooses to sculpt her face and body is just…her choice. I gotta let her make it and applaud her for being her, even if I’d never make the same choices.

This is a push for more freedom, and in order to make it there, we have to jump massive hurdles and set assumptions. I’ve been following you and the very candid writings on your site about sex and your own sexuality….and I can’t imagine you disagree with me on this point: women need more freedom to say what they want (double entendre there), express what they want (same) and be respected for their bravery, not reprimanded for endangering themselves.

I want to live in a world where the internal dialogue of a woman’s brain has evolved to the point where a female performer can wear a sex-pot outfit and, instead of the all-too-common head-chatter chorus of “UNFAIR! MANIPULATED! WEAK! MANIPULATIVE! EVIL!”, she dons her sexy costume and hears internal voices screaming “FAIR! POWERFUL! PLAYFUL! BRAVE! SEXY!” You know…you go girl. But not “you go girl and be manipulated by the man, or manipulate the men in your wake”. just…”you go girl and wear whatever the fuck you want. And play smart.”

I want to live in a world where WE as women determine what we wear and look like and play the game as our fancy leads us, army pants one minute and killer gown the next, where WE decide whether or not we’re going to play games with the male gaze and the starry-eyed hard-ons that can make men so easy to manipulate. But seriously, let’s all play the game together, with a wink and a nudge…so we don’t hurt each other. If men and women don’t have a constantly open dialogue about how we do and don’t (or should and shouldn’t) manipulate and play with each other, we all lose. We are all fragile humans with little time on this beautiful, sexually-charged, ecstatic planet. Let’s share it to the fullest extent that we can and make the playing field for all of us the size of the whole earth.

In other words, let’s give our young women the right weapons to fight with as they charge naked into battle, instead of ordering them to get back in the house and put some goddamn clothes on.

With immense respect,

Amanda Palmer

P.S. I love you and your music so much, Sinéad, and a bunch of people on my Twitter feed send their love as well. Thank you for writing this letter and giving me the the chance to crank my brain open, and I hope I get to meet you in person someday so I can weep and thank you for everything you’ve done for me and for so many others.

P.P.S. For any of y’all curious to check out those wonderful Sinéad albums that provided my teenage soundtrack, the two big ones were “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” and “The Lion and the Cobra”. I’ll leave it up to Sinéad to let you know whether to buy them on iTunes or just go torrent them. I don’t know how her relationship with Ensign/Chrysalis is…chances are those labels don’t even exist anymore. :)”

And, finally, here is the Loretta Lynn of twerking, Raina Rose, to put everything in perspective. Of course, everybody misses the point, and that is that Miley is free to do with her body and her music whatever she chooses to:

Hey Ladies

I wanted to say Thank You. All three of you admirable women are outspoken, powerful, talented, and living your lives on your terms. Somehow, in the year 2013, that last one is still difficult. Women are still shaking off the shackles of oppression from all angles, still unsheathing themselves from the mighty patriarchy, and oh my, is it a heavy cloak. I hope the honesty and hard-won lessons in these letters are being ingested by others the way they have by me, an early-30′s songwriter, musician, mother, and unknown folksinger.

You could say i tried to use my sexuality to sell music in my early days. I was 23 and living in my car, driving mad circles around the country playing coffee shops, colleges, backyards and bars, armed with pink tinged blonde hair, a loud untrained voice and a guitar that was an old friend who would acquiesce to my often odd demands of playing bizarre chords and waltzes. Sexuality didn’t really work for me, my songs were too vulnerable as is, i couldn’t bear putting too much more of myself on display (except for that one time at a jam festival in California where i accidentally wore a tube top and during a particularly aggressive song i realized my boob had escaped… i sold a lot of cds that day). Years later after building a very small, but very satisfying career singing about my feelings, my bass playing boyfriend and i got pregnant. I was terrified, my small time folksinging career couldn’t afford tour nannies or even consistent hotels. We traveled in a station wagon. I had no agents or labels. I had to let our sweet manager go because we couldn’t pay him and pay the midwife. My career (or whatever you call it) has definitely felt a hit, as I write this blog with an almost two year old demanding my attention every three minutes. My husband currently plays bass with TV stars every other weekend and we are able to stay afloat, regardless of the anchor of my jealously of his sweet gigs.

I digress, I appreciate you Miley for your unabashed use of all the arrows in your employ. A month ago, I couldn’t have cared less about you or music and now i’ve seen a lot of your videos and read every interview you’ve given lately. I am fascinated and impressed by the amount of fucks you don’t give as you twerk and cry all while riding a wrecking ball without any undies. I would never have half the courage you have, plus i can’t figure out the folksinger’s version of twerking, maybe using 2 capos at once? I just hope we don’t see you fall into mental illness or serious drug addiction. America loves a naked train wreck, but i can’t help just see you as a real young woman carving a niche for herself in an already graffiti covered pop music world. If you take Sinead & Amanda’s insight to heart, you could possibly avoid such missteps. These are your elders. They see your beauty and are hopeful for you. We live in a world where this advice is scoffed at, where our elders are drugged into a stupor so that we can drive the planet into the rising seas without a wrinkled finger wagging at us and saying “I told you so!”. That finger points at you out of love and respect. Bob Dylan’s famous quote “Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand / For the times they are a-changin’.” May or may not apply here.

Sinead & Amanda, thank you for voices. For playing the Mother and the Crone for Miley the Maiden. It saddens me so deeply when women hate on women. We HAVE to be each other’s biggest advocates in this world that wants us to fit coyly into our tiny molds and not complain about it. You have both been very inspiring to me in many ways, the most of which is very clearly standing up tall and straight for your art, for your beliefs, for yourselves. If i had any kind of soapbox to stand on (maybe this is it?), i would decry my love for your giant balls of fury. And now that you’ve made your voices heard to Miss Miley and her ability to command attention, i think we all need to sit back and watch her live out her life the way she so desires, in all it’s tongue-waggling glory.

I hope if she ever has kids she lets those boobs fly when she breast feeds. That’s my favorite way to expose myself.

I know that the chances of any of these 3 women seeing this blog is slim to none, but i had to take a page out of their books and express myself on the subject. While we are at it, can we start calling musicians who happen to be female, “Musicians” as opposed to “Female Musicians”? Would you ever call a man who happens to be a musician, a “Male Musician”? I doubt it. We don’t need to qualification of our gender anymore when it comes to our jobs. Thanks.

xo, a musician

raina rose

ps-spellcheck doesn’t know what to do with the word “TWERK”
Pps-my new record, Caldera is the best piece of art I’ve ever made and I would jump on a wrecking ball and twerk my naked ass off to get the word out about it, if I had access to a clean wrecking ball.”

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