Why Sinead O'Connor's Letter to Miley Cyrus Was Sexist

Categories: Uh Oh
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Yesterday, a hefty portion of the Internet exploded with support for Sinead O'Connor's "motherly" letter to Miley Cyrus regarding Miley's recent penchant for nudity and sledgehammer-licking. O'Connor's letter was lengthy and somewhat repetitive, but it essentially told Cyrus that: (a) she was allowing herself to be exploited by men in the music industry, (b) taking her clothes off in the course of her career would ultimately damage it and that (c) Miley's recent sexually suggestive behavior was the result of other people's desires and not her own.

O'Connor's letter complimented Cyrus on her talents, but essentially told her that she didn't have her shit together, and even suggested that Cyrus was allowing herself to be prostituted. The immediate response to the letter on social media was that it was a feminist call for sanity -- a righteous plea for women in pop to not allow themselves to be exploited by an industry that has always relied on selling young female flesh to thrive. But O'Connor's message to Miley was ultimately patronizing, misguided, and -- whoops -- deeply sexist.

O'Connor's letter was prompted by Miley's recent cover story in Rolling Stone, in which she compared her (awful) video for "Wrecking Ball" with O'Connor's classic clip for "Nothing Compares 2U". "It's like the Sinead O'Connor video," Miley said, "But, like, the most modern version. I wanted it to be tough but really pretty -- that's what Sinead did with her hair and everything." Cyrus, of course, is way off the mark with this assertion, since the only thing the two videos have in common is that there's facial close-ups and crying in both of them.

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If O'Connor's open letter had merely said: "Sorry, love, but we're nothing alike. I don't get naked and ride balls, because I am an artiste," it would've been one thing. But O'Connor used her letter as an opportunity to treat Miley Cyrus as a helpless little girl with zero control over either her body or her career. If O'Connor had bothered to read the whole Rolling Stone piece, she would have been rather surprised by quite how savvy Cyrus is when it comes to both.

What's worse, when O'Connor asserts repeatedly that Cyrus is being exploited by men for their own gain, she isn't just ignoring this young woman's very obvious public exploration of her newfound sexuality, she is roundly assuming that every time a woman takes her clothes off, it's the decision of a man. Which harks back to the incredibly sexist notion that only men are sexual creatures and women are driven, not by their own primal urges, but merely by a need to please males. Which is, of course, ridiculous.

"Wrecking Ball" wasn't an awful video because Miley Cyrus was naked in it, "Wrecking Ball" was an awful video because it had an exploitative creep directing it. Had this thing been edited differently and shot from less stark angles, it could have been quite beautiful (except for the sledgehammer licking -- that would've been terrible from any angle, obviously). But we don't think Terry Richardson got away with cutting the video that way because he's a man. We think he got away with it because he's a "name" and he's supposed to be hip, so Cyrus probably just rolled with it because -- if that girl's desperate for anything right now -- it's more cool points.
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Was the "Wrecking Ball" video Cyrus' finest moment? Nope. It was creepy and weird. Is Miley naked a lot lately? Sure. But accusing her of hating herself because of those things is absurd. Actual O'Connor quote: "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." Everything about Miley Cyrus right now implies the opposite: has anyone else noticed how much fun she's having? How she's more in control of her image now than ever before? How she's realized she's actually one of the cool kids?

O'Connor was right that young women are frequently exploited by the music industry. She was right that the showbiz industry makes "money off youth and beauty". And she was right that "females in the industry are role models... for other women". But what O'Connor has failed to notice is that Cyrus is actually one of the best in the pop bunch -- because, as we pointed out a few weeks ago, Miley is one of the few that isn't afraid to do "ugly." She isn't afraid to be vulgar and funny and cartoonish and silly. And onstage, she is more concerned with having the time of her life than hitting her best angles.

Miley Cyrus' current image is actually the product of other people not having control of her. This young woman is doing in the public eye what a lot of young women do when they first go off to college: they find themselves, they party, and they're not afraid to go off the rails a little. And you can bet your ass that if men were controlling Miley's every move, she wouldn't have a shaved head and tattooed fingers, she wouldn't have a grill in her mouth, and she wouldn't have been permitted to run amok all over the VMAs stage wearing two decidedly unsexy outfits and chunky creepers on her feet.

So O'Connor has missed the point of Miley entirely. She's ignored all that over-excited youthful exuberance and reduced an artist finding her own voice to the realm of victimhood. Most of all, O'Connor has done the most anti-feminist thing in the world and publicly scolded another woman for not being perfect. Cyrus has since hit back at Sinead on Twitter and done the exact same thing, which is both entirely unhelpful and not a little childish. However, if you are going to tell a rambunctious 20-year-old girl that her body "is for [her] and [her] boyfriend," these things are to be expected.

-- @Raemondjjjj

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33 comments
nirea1982
nirea1982

Wow this article is so stupid, yes Miley is pimping herself to the music companies fucking duh, I think the letter was classy and supportive this article suggests a horrible letter

Thomas Dewar
Thomas Dewar

What a clueless piece. Bullying people who reached out for help re: mental illness is not "the same thing" and something quite different from "childish."

Michael Springer
Michael Springer

STFU dumbest thing I have read on the internet today (and that is saying a lot)

Elijah Carroll
Elijah Carroll

The music biz ain't got shit on the modeling industry when it comes to exploitation & sleaze!

Robert Eujene Ogden
Robert Eujene Ogden

Title Change: How SF Weekly Completed Distorted Both Messages In other news: F$k The Music Execs.

Anne Taiz
Anne Taiz

I know from the inside, the music business is the worst, the most exploitive and sleaziest of all the entertainment industries. Worse than film, and that's saying a lot. And it's men who control it. And that's why it looks like it does.

Anne Taiz
Anne Taiz

This article is so naive. That is the formula in the music business, dress the girls like hos. That's what happened to Brittany Spears. They tell them in order to compete with the older stars, they have to take it all off. That's callled exploitation. She is not "expressing herself" anymore than Brittany was. It was a decision she made after following the advice of the industry experts who see female vocalists as money machines and think that the only reason the make music is to give men (and women) a chance to see their T and A. Sinead rebelled (as she states). She didn't feel comfortable with it. "Nothing Compares" is a pop classic. Miley's stuff is just company trash put together by corporations who at they heart are sexist and exploitive. Give me a break about "a girl growing up." In your dreams. In your dreams under age girls all want to do middle aged men, too. Just like Brittany.

Anne Taiz
Anne Taiz

This is utter BS. We as a society have a way of dressing up compulsions to make them appear normal especially when it involves exhibitionistic women. You act like Miley is an independent young woman. As a child, she complained about being bossed around by Disney, as an adult, she is following the perfect music industry description that female singers are also quasi porn stars and must exploit their sexuality for the viewing pleasure of the public who always wanted to see young Miley naked. This is just about exploitation. I'm so sick of female pop stars acting like porn stars. If I want to watch porn, I'll watch porn. If I want to watch pop music, give me some entertainment: some good music, dancing, costumes, a message. Right now there is a song that is number one in the world called "Royals" by a New Zealand artist, Lorde. Her face is the only thing you see in the vide. Her message is anti-celebrity/royals, anti-materialism. Does Rolling Stone put her on the cover? No. I would. It shows people are sick of this faux porn and materialistic celebrity worship. When the music biz has feminist women, at least half of the top tier controlling it, then tell me that all this nudity is a choice.; As it is, she's just getting all the execs hard, and boring the hell out of he rest of us. Just take it all off Miley. Just go and be a porn star and stick whatever you want in yourself as deep as you want and take a picture of it. But get out of the music business because you are boring the h. out of me.

Ryan F Robott
Ryan F Robott

Ain't nobody got time for dumb white women. Go home SF weekly, your drunk.

Cynthia McGarvie
Cynthia McGarvie

I witnessed how that whole thing went down, and let's just say Rae Alexander got things a bit backwards. Miley's tweets came first--prompted by her rehearsals for this week's SNL appearance--and then Sinead responded with several drafts of her letter that she posted on Facebook. Would be nice if Rae got her chronology right...but she didn't.

Jesse Mills
Jesse Mills

I also love how internet-dumb this article is: An editorial on an open letter inspired by a video, that was then remarked about in an interview. It's like the Human Centipede eating corn out of poop.

Tia Holmes
Tia Holmes

that sf weekly article was stooopid

Indira Allfree
Indira Allfree

No.. she needs to hear that crap. Miley needs to take it down a notch and not let the fame get to her head. The news media is going to exploit this chick til she is washed up like Britney. Or dead like the other ones lost to drugs. I agree with Sinead.

Robert Matthews
Robert Matthews

Why, oh why do people start getting angry no matter the issue. When it is not something you want to hear, or see about?

Sandra Cardenas
Sandra Cardenas

this issue is deeper than this, but thank SF Weekly for pointing who's wrong! is it a smarty who wrote this?

Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis

Who cares? Sinead O'Connor was so twenty years ago, Miley Cyrus is a talentless piece of trash... Neither is news

Krista Ayala
Krista Ayala

The letter was exactly right. This little skanky twerkin twit is send the wrong signals to young girls and grossing everyone out. But she has no real talent so its the only thing that will get her on the map. Doesn't SF Weekly have better stories to write than this garbage?

Gabrielle Nihil Sin
Gabrielle Nihil Sin

I felt the same way actually. People are praising Sinead for her letter, but I found it very anti-women and anti-sex work.

Jesse Mills
Jesse Mills

I'm glad there will always be wealthy white people in SF to be the exasperated teachers for the rest of us drooling third-graders. Thank you, SF Weekly, for spelling that shit out!!

Chillbro Swaggins
Chillbro Swaggins

Interesting that Sinead O Connor's letter was about how wrong it was for others to exploit her body, but she says nothing of the black female bodies Cyrus was exploiting with her stage performance. If it's wrong for Miley's handlers to exploit her body, then it should be wrong for Miley to exploit black female bodies. Where's the outrage there?

Gary Dale Robertson
Gary Dale Robertson

Its Miley's right to show off her flapjack-ass if she wants. Or even to move it up and down in a pathetic attempt at twerking. I don't think anyone is enjoying looking at it but hey, she is a grown adult. P.s. I hate you auto correct

getitright
getitright

@Gabrielle Nihil Sin sex work IS anti-woman. it's good for women to be sexy and own that power but to sell it like a piece of meat and to be used is not empowerment. what is pro-women is self respect and using your BRAIN and not your BODY.

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