Who’s got it right for teens today, Miley or Taylor? The one with old-fashioned values or the one that’s in your face, literally. Ewwww, what’s a girl to do.
By Leonard Sax MD PhD
Maybe you saw it live on television. Maybe you heard about it later, or saw it on YouTube. I’m talking about a scantily-clad Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards, bending over while Robin Thicke simulated performing a sex act on her. “Miley Cyrus performed an act on live TV during primetime that was offensive, obscene and appeared to appeal to the pedophile audience,” complained one viewer from Bordentown, New Jersey.
In the rest of the United States, Miley’s performance was bankable. On September 24 2013, one month after her twerk-a-thon on live television, Miley made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, with the headline “Good Golly Miss Miley!” and the subtitle “she knows what you think about her – and she totally doesn’t care.” Miley Cyrus finally achieved her first No. 1 single on the Billboard 100 music charts with the song “Wrecking Ball” four weeks after her performance at the VMAs. “Wrecking Ball” was the top single from her album, modestly titled Bangerz. “Miley Cyrus is Twerking All The Way To The Bank”, was the headline of an admiring Wall Street Journal article chronicling the commercial success she enjoyed in the aftermath of her simulated sex act.
So is that the message? That young women have to present themselves as sluts, or as professional sex workers, in order to be commercially successful?
Not so fast.
The most successful female pop star of 2013 is not Miley Cyrus but Taylor Swift, whose image is as squeaky-clean as Miley Cyrus’s is raunchy. In her songs – which she writes herself – Swift consistently celebrates traditional, even old-fashioned girl-boy relationships. In her #1 hit Love Story, she sings “You be the prince, and I’ll be the princess” – with no trace of irony. In that song, the young man asks the girl’s father for permission to marry. How politically incorrect can you get? Doesn’t Taylor Swift know that the idea of a young man asking a father’s permission to marry a girl was the Original Sin of the patriarchy, because it suggested that a young woman should be transferred from a father’s authority to a husband’s authority? The central message of the song is out of synch with the prevailing message girls receive in the 21st century, the message that a girl should be an active agent, not a passive object waiting around for a boy to ask her father for permission to marry her. But girls have bought this song by the millions. To be precise, the song has now had more than 8 million paid downloads, making it one of the most successful singles of all time.
In her recent hit Begin Again, Swift sings:
I walked in expecting you’d be late
But you got here early and you stand and wave
I walk to you
You pull my chair out and help me in
And you don’t know how nice that is
But I do
A young man who pulls out a chair for his date, and helps her in? The feminist community may not approve, but Swift need pay them no attention. Her celebration of traditional gender roles is one factor which keeps her enthroned at the top of the pop/country music hierarchy.
I have a young daughter. What is a girl growing up in the United States supposed to make of this? Who are her role models? Miley Cyrus twerking on live TV? Or Taylor Swift celebrating medieval romance?
Is there anything in between?
What should we be teaching girls about what it means to be a woman in the modern world? What do the experts have to say?
Actually, the certified experts do not fall anywhere on the continuum between Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. They insist that enlightened people should not even use the words “boy” or “girl”, “ladies” or “gentlemen.”
Dr. Diane Halpern is a past President of the American Psychological Association and distinguished professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College. She and seven of her colleagues, all tenured professors, have created a web site to guide teachers and parents with regard to the proper raising and educating of children, in the realm of gender. On the teachers page, there is a questionaire to help determine whether you are doing the right thing in the classroom, or not. One of the questions is, How often do you refer to your students as “ladies and gentlemen”?
The correct answer is “Never.” The worst possible answer is “At least once a day”, which results in 5 points off your score (a perfect score is 65 points, so a deduction of 5 points is pretty major). These authors provide no citation, no source, no evidence whatsoever in support of their belief that no teacher should ever address her students as “ladies and gentlemen.” No evidence is needed.
Among much of the tenured professoriate, it is self-evident that only idiots and Republicans would want students to think of themselves as “ladies and gentlemen.” Enlightened people no longer use such terms. Or so they believe.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Biology at Brown University, insists that referring to children as “girls” and “boys” is “heteronormative”. Addressing students as “boys and girls”, according to Fausto-Sterling, reinforces a harmful pink-and-blue dichotomy in children’s thinking. Among other harms, she asserts, is the harm to intersex individuals, those who are neither male nor female, or both male and female: for example, an XX/XY mosaic who has both a penis and a vagina. In order to prevent such an individual from feeling excluded, Fausto-Sterling asserts that we must abolish the use of old-fashioned terms such as “boy” and “girl”. We should also phase out women’s restrooms and men’s restrooms, and offer primarily (or only) “unisex” bathrooms in college dorms – a recommendation which has been adopted by many of the nation’s leading universities.
For such accomplishments, these universities earn a listing on the Huffington Post as being leaders in gender-awareness and inclusivity.
In other words: the tenured professoriate has nothing to offer a girl who is looking for some guidance regarding what it means to be a woman, and how that’s different from what it means to be a man. It does children no good when professors insist that teachers and parents should avoid even acknowledging that girls and boys often have very different motivations and different scales of value. Not only that: when girls and boys hear the grown-ups saying things like “We need to encourage boys to play with dolls, and we need to encourage girls NOT to play with dolls” – an unintended message is sent. The unintended message is that the grown-ups are psychotic, utterly detached from reality, and clueless about some basic facts which are obvious to any 11-year-old in the United States: namely, that the cool boy is the one who has completed all the missions in Grand Theft Auto 5, and the cool girl is the one who looks good in a Pussycat Doll Halloween costume. Girls and boys stop looking to grown-ups for guidance, and look instead to one another, to the Internet, and to television.
In the grown-up world of the tenured professors and the American Psychological Association, political correctness has trumped reality. “It is the kiss of death to talk about innate gender differences as though they mattered,” one tenured professor told me recently. And so the professors continue pretending that gender doesn’t matter, because to do otherwise could imperil one’s career.
But in the real world of elementary school, or high school, the kids are left to figure it out for themselves. The result of the grown-ups pretending that gender doesn’t matter, that girls and boys do not differ in any important way, has not been a gender-neutral paradise in which boys talk about their feelings and work on their scrapbooking while the girls study engineering and computer science. The actual result has been Miley Cyrus twerking on live TV, and Taylor Swift fantasizng about young men who behave like gentlemen.