Why We Shouldn’t Stop Talking About Miley Cyrus

Since Sunday night, the Interwebs have been tangled up in discussion of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs, which was, as far as I can tell, as close to a dictionary definition of “ratchet” as the human race will ever come. And rightfully so. Yes, it was lewd, crude, and shocking. And yes, it was lewd, crude, and shocking in ways we haven’t even discussed yet (why were all of her suggestive motions imitating acts men do? Do she not understand the female body? And why was it necessary to start off in a Chucky Cheese face leotard?). But in a lot of ways, it wasn’t shocking. If you squinted a little, it looked like a hyperactive toddler acting out Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty” with Beetlejuice as a guest star. In a lot of ways, it was familiar — and that’s what we should be talking about.
Buzzfeed, always the first to set the tempo of our national reaction to pop culture events, responded with a frame-by-frame comparison between Miley’s 2013 performance and Britney Spears’ 2000 performance. It was fascinating not only because it’s about Britney Spears and she is always fascinating, but because of the implication here: that young female pop stars have to have a transition to young woman pop stars, and that transition has to include overt sexuality.
There’s a lot that is interesting and infuriating about this idea, but I think that the most interesting and infuriating thing is that it seems to confuse a fact with a truth. By this I mean that yes, it is indeed a fact that many child/teen pop stars — Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Amanda Bynes — have signaled their transition to adult stardom through performances rife with overt sexuality. However, it is not a truth that all child/teen pop stars have to signal their transition to adult stardom through performances rife with overt sexuality. There are many women — Beyoncé comes to mind as an example, and Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams along with her, not to mention Kelly Clarkson, and, while we’re at it, Jenny Lewis — who have made the transition without overt sexuality. Beyoncé created a powerful alter-ego who stands up to men who denigrate her self-worth. Michelle Williams turn to gospel music, concentrating on her faith and expressing how her relationship with and thinking about God has matured. And Jenny Lewis — well, she’s a genius, plain and simple, who redefined pop music and stardom and songwriting, and who can write lines that any poet would envy (“here’s to all the certainties of sickness and sleep,” anyone?). And, you know, there was Cher. Sure, all of these ladies do happen to have impressively toned bodies, but they didn’t depend solely on their bodies to speak for them. They showed strength, intellect, faith, talent. They showed that they had matured, body and soul — and they didn’t have to take their clothes off to do so.
And I think that the verb in that sentence — “have to” — combined with the Britney/Miley article’s thesis — that in order to signal maturity, a pop singer “has to” deliver a provocative performance — is the problem. It’s what we really need to be talking about. It’s the very definition of exploitation. We aren’t watching female artist explore their sexuality, we’re watching them exploit it. Or, rather, be exploited. And it’s an exploitation, I’d argue, that begins far before they take off their clothes. In a lot of ways, I think the world of Disney, with its emphasis on impossible purity, is every bit as exploitative. It’s the old myth retold, the idea that women can be virgins or whores or mothers, with no other options or even in-betweens. In many ways, I think that Disney purity may be every bit as exploitative as Miley’s flesh-colored underpants. I’ve read a lot about how Disney made a conscious move to use the “princess” idea in its marketing throughout a woman’s life, to hook them into the idea of the princess childhood, the princess wedding. And let’s not forget who these princesses generally are: women without strong female role models who are helpless until they find their prince, no matter how strong and smart they may be.
Maybe I am especially sensitive to this because I work in two arenas that often seem as though they’re constructed against women, built so that it’s difficult, as a woman, to succeed: academia, in which the years of nine-to-nine work coincide with a woman’s reproductive years, and publishing, which VIDA has shown is a field where the odds are stacked against women. Maybe it’s because I watch a lot of television and am therefore constantly bombarded by images from baby-bump-patrols. Or maybe it’s not just me. It seems inescapably true that we’re living in a moment obsessed with the idea of the woman as virgin (Disney and its princesses), mother (baby-bump-patrol), or whore (Miley, Miley, Miley). We’re living in a moment where women’s reproductive rights are constantly at risk, where some women don’t have access to birth control or education about their reproductive lives. And we’re living in a moment where misogyny is often accepted without question, where some men openly and without caveat proclaim that Don Draper — who may dress well and who looks cool smoking and drinking but who is, at the bottom of it all, a misogynist who treats women terribly — is a role model, a marvel, what the modern man should be.

Which means, I think, that it’s a hard enough fight for women to get the respect that they deserve as equals to men, as human beings. We need to show respect for ourselves. And we need to talk about the reasons why a twenty year old woman would choose to disrespect herself — and her body, her womanhood, other women, other races (I can’t be the only one who noticed that she treated African-American women as objects in her performance — though this shouldn’t be a parenthetical and should be the source of much, much more discussion) — in such a public way.

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Tonight. Atlanta. Kavarna. True Story. BOOM.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that the outside world and I don’t often get along, so I am not often out in it.  But tonight?  Tonight, outside world, it is ON.  I’ll be participating in Show and Tell, which was my favorite class in grammar school, and reading an essay about an awkward date and my feet at the True Story! Reading Series.  It’s at Kavarna Bar and Coffeeshop in Atlanta (well, the Decatur part of Atlanta), Georgia.  It starts at 8 and Charles McNair and Benjamin Carr are reading too, which is very exciting but also makes me feel the need to breathe into a brown paper sack.  But in, like, an awesome way.

The folks at True Story! posted an excerpt from one of my essays as an incentive.  I figured I’d double that incentive and post the next bit of the essay here.  This isn’t the essay I’m reading tonight, but it IS the story of the most traumatic moment of my grammar school life that didn’t involve gym class.  It also tells the story of why I didn’t get to go to the Young Author’s Conference in 1988, which was totally a big deal.  Also, I should let the Internet know that all of the people involved in this situation ended up totally okay.  No one’s brain actually fell out, and Christopher beat me in the egg race at Field Day every year after this.  Enjoy.

            In that second I imagined what would happen: he’d thud to the floor and look up, startled, and regret with the force of ten thousand Acts of Contrition the great and torturous pain he’d caused me for months.  I imagined that he’d look at me as if for the first time, admiring my bravery and also my ability to be bad, really bad, as bad as he and Edric and even Johnathan Damiani were at their very worst, and stand up and kiss me the way he and every other boy on the junior varsity pee-wee football team, according to rumor, kissed Jennifer Williams when no one was looking.

It started the way it was supposed to start: Christopher’s knees bent. Christopher fell.  His eyes rolled upwards and then, for a second, leftwards at me.  Then his body thudded to the floor.  And then there was another thud.  And then I realized: he had hit his head against the corner of the desk behind him.

There was motion. Miss Hanks blurred into a run from her desk to our desks, then picked up Christopher’s head.  Christopher’s eyes rolled around like he was dying.  Jennifer ran for paper towels.  Miss Hanks yelled “what the hell were you thinking” and the whole class gasped.  No one knew what was worse: Christopher dying or Miss Hanks saying hell and not meaning the place in which we could spend all of eternity suffering.  She pulled Christopher to stand and said that none of us, not a single one of us, were allowed to move or speak or anything while she was gone, and then there was the space on the floor where Miss Hanks and Christopher and his rolling eyes had been.  And then I saw it: blood.  Three small circles of blood, and inside of one of those circles, two small brown specks.  They were from his brain.  They had to be pieces of his brain.

Crafting for Spinsters (And Their Cats): The Tea Tin Cactus Planter

This is the second installment in a series I like to call Crafting for Spinsters (and Their Cats).  The first installment is here, if you’re interested.  As an addendum to that installment, may I mention that the combination of super glue and sealant hasn’t exploded.  Yet.  You’re welcome.

If you’re anything like me, you spend most of your time mocking Urban Outfitters for being the purveyors of ridiculously priced faux-artisanal goods for poseur way-too-into-mustaches-and-I-can’t-even-tell-if-it’s-ironic-anymore hipsters.  And, if you’re anything like me, you spend the rest of your time giving Urban Outfitters half of your paycheck.  This also means that you are constantly checking your e-mail for announcements about sales on ridiculously priced faux-artisanal goods, because, as the saying goes, it’s totally okay if it’s on sale.  I’m pretty sure Abraham Lincoln said that.  Anyway, if you are this kind of person, you have probably seen this:

Don't be fooled: this isn't a photograph of any of my dorm rooms from the 1990s.  You can tell by the absence of Tori Amos posters and multiple copies of Sylvia Plath's Ariel.

Don’t be fooled: this isn’t a photograph of any of my dorm rooms from the 1990s. You can tell by the absence of Tori Amos posters and multiple copies of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel.

That’s right, y’all: succulents are hot.  Also, fifty-dollar skull candles and Mason jar sippy-cups are apparently important parts of gardening with succulents.  Let’s just keep that as a note right now.

Pretty soon after I obsessively studied this important missive from Urban Outfitters and pretended to be totally annoyed by it, this pin showed up on Pinterest (which I also am obsessively devoted to because you never know when you’re going to need to make it look like a tiny, obnoxious elf destroyed your house):

Oh, that's right.  Links.  This is from this.

Oh, that’s right. Links. This is from this.

 

And I was like, Let’s do this.

Here are the supplies you will need for this craft project.  It is very important to wear knock-off Crocs because they imply that you are very, very serious about getting sh*t DONE, so serious that you are not planning to leave the house until said sh*t is DONE, thus the shoes you can’t leave your house in.  That way, if anyone comes by and is like, Hey, Emma, why haven’t you left the house in the past seven years or whatever?  Then you can be like, Hey, Judgey McJudgerson, I’ve been up in here getting sh*t DONE, and you know how you can tell? I’m wearing getting sh*t DONE shoes.  Peace.

Here are the supplies you will need for this craft project. It is very important to wear knock-off Crocs because they imply that you are very, very serious about getting sh*t DONE, so serious that you are not planning to leave the house until said sh*t is DONE, thus the shoes you can’t leave your house in. That way, if anyone comes by and is like, Hey, Emma, why haven’t you left the house in the past seven years or whatever? Then you can be like, Hey, Judgey McJudgerson, I’ve been up in here getting sh*t DONE, and you know how you can tell? I’m wearing getting sh*t DONE shoes. Peace.

First, take the Jasmine tea tin you luckily haven’t thrown out since your ex-boyfriend brought it over to your apartment years ago because he apparently thought you were that kind of people.  Which was really nice, you know, so you were like, Awww, thank you, even though secretly you were like, What the hell?  All I drink is Diet Coke, Folger’s Simply Smooth, and the occasional wine cooler.  IT’S AS IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL.

First, take the Jasmine tea tin you luckily haven’t thrown out since your ex-boyfriend brought it over to your apartment years ago because he apparently thought you were that kind of people. Which was really nice, you know, so you were like, Awww, thank you, even though secretly you were like, What the hell? All I drink is Diet Coke, Folger’s Simply Smooth, and the occasional wine cooler. IT’S AS IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL.

If you look at the bottom of the tea tin, you’ll see your distorted self staring hauntingly back at you as if it doesn’t know you at all, which is a really good metaphor for the end of a relationship, when you think about it.  So you should think about it.  But not too long, unless you have an occasional wine cooler on hand.

If you look at the bottom of the tea tin, you’ll see your distorted self staring hauntingly back at you as if it doesn’t know you at all, which is a really good metaphor for the end of a relationship, when you think about it. So you should think about it. But not too long, unless you have an occasional wine cooler on hand.

It’s important that your tea tin provide proper drainage for all of the times that you forget that you watered your cactus, like, two hours ago and water it again, so that your cactus doesn’t rot from the inside and then just sort of sadly collapse, like your dream of being a weather girl.  Take a rusty screw you have lying around and a hammer and use them to poke holes in the bottom of the tea tin.*  You can use the tea tin’s lid as a dish to catch any excess water, and you should feel extremely proud of this moment of efficiency. *Actually you probably shouldn’t do this at all, because this might actually be dangerous.  But, then again, if you’ve had a tetanus shot recently, you don’t want to waste it, right?

It’s important that your tea tin provide proper drainage for all of the times that you forget that you watered your cactus, like, two hours ago and water it again, so that your cactus doesn’t rot from the inside and then just sort of sadly collapse, like your dream of being a weather girl. Take a rusty screw you have lying around and a hammer and use them to poke holes in the bottom of the tea tin.* You can use the tea tin’s lid as a dish to catch any excess water, and you should feel extremely proud of this moment of efficiency.
*Actually you probably shouldn’t do this at all, because this might actually be dangerous. But, then again, if you’ve had a tetanus shot recently, you don’t want to waste it, right?

 

Look at this.  Isn’t it cute?  It’s a cactus with a brighter, trendier cactus grafted on the top (according to Urban Outfitters, neon is, like, so hot right now) (for lame hipsters).  And it turns out that now, cacti come in these little plastic pots with handles on them, like tiny and fashionable safety accessories.  You should probably try to figure that out before you gingerly pick it up from the bottom and everyone at Wal-Mart is like, What is wrong with you? (Not that you bought this cactus at Wal-Mart, because that would be lame.)

Look at this. Isn’t it cute? It’s a cactus with a brighter, trendier cactus grafted on the top (according to Urban Outfitters, neon is, like, so hot right now) (for lame hipsters). And it turns out that now, cacti come in these little plastic pots with handles on them, like tiny and fashionable safety accessories. You should probably try to figure that out before you gingerly pick it up from the bottom and everyone at Wal-Mart is like, What is wrong with you? (Not that you bought this cactus at Wal-Mart, because that would be lame.)

Now it’s time to panic a little that the cactus won’t actually fit inside of the tea tin.  After that, it’s time to think about how you really should have thought of that before.  Then, it’s time to decide that you are going to make the cactus fit into the tea tin, no matter what, which means it’s time to panic a little about how you are going to get the cactus inside of the tea tin without lacerating your hands so badly that you look like one of the illustrations of lepers that seemed to be on every page of your catechism book when you went to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School.  So you are going to need gloves, and those gloves need to be cute, which is the most important part of this step.   That may seem deceptively unimportant, but, I can assure you, that is pure deception.  You need to get some cute gardening gloves because there is nothing more important, in any situation, than accessories.  Coco Chanel once said that "It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure," but I like to think about accessories a little more concretely.  Accessories are absolutely necessary, because, if paired with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt, no one will be able to tell that you’re wearing your pajamas.  Coco Chanel said that, too.

Now it’s time to panic a little that the cactus won’t actually fit inside of the tea tin. After that, it’s time to think about how you really should have thought of that before. Then, it’s time to decide that you are going to make the cactus fit into the tea tin, no matter what, which means it’s time to panic a little about how you are going to get the cactus inside of the tea tin without lacerating your hands so badly that you look like one of the illustrations of lepers that seemed to be on every page of your catechism book when you went to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School. So you are going to need gloves, and those gloves need to be cute, which is the most important part of this step.
That may seem deceptively unimportant, but, I can assure you, that is pure deception. You need to get some cute gardening gloves because there is nothing more important, in any situation, than accessories. Coco Chanel once said that “It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” but I like to think about accessories a little more concretely. Accessories are absolutely necessary, because, if paired with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt, no one will be able to tell that you’re wearing your pajamas. Coco Chanel said that, too.

This last step may be the most important.  Remember, social media was invented so that you can show other people that you’re better than them, or at least that you’re stable enough to do crafts, even if you’ve worn your pajamas with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt for three months straight.  Therefore, it is essential to photograph your craft and show it to as many people on the Internet as possible.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  Oh, that’s right.  NONE.  There is NO POINT.  Find the one surface in your house that doesn’t look like it’s part of a still from Grey Gardens and set your craft up there.  You’ll need to arrange a little vignette by placing other objects near the craft.  Make sure that they’re kind of vintage-y and used in witty and unexpected ways, like this milk glass hand-me-down filled with colored pencils, or a Mason jar sippy-cup filled with wine coolers.

This last step may be the most important. Remember, social media was invented so that you can show other people that you’re better than them, or at least that you’re stable enough to do crafts, even if you’ve worn your pajamas with a chunky bracelet and a fashionable belt for three months straight. Therefore, it is essential to photograph your craft and show it to as many people on the Internet as possible. Otherwise, what’s the point? Oh, that’s right. NONE. There is NO POINT. Find the one surface in your house that doesn’t look like it’s part of a still from Grey Gardens and set your craft up there. You’ll need to arrange a little vignette by placing other objects near the craft. Make sure that they’re kind of vintage-y and used in witty and unexpected ways, like this milk glass hand-me-down filled with colored pencils, or a Mason jar sippy-cup filled with wine coolers. Add a moody Instagram filter and a caption that implies that everything is totally fine and organized inside of your house and your mind, hit post, and then refresh every five minutes while watching Bridezillas so you can judge people.

 

 

“Home Is So Sad.”

I’ve found myself, as of late, sort of wandering around town in various levels of being totally disheveled and/or confused about everything, then saying to people, “I’m sorry, I just moved.”  It’s something I’ve said for the past few weeks and something I will probably keep saying for the next few, well, years.  Because, let’s face it, moving is both the best and the worst.  It’s a chance at starting fresh in a new place, one that isn’t packed to the crown molding with memories.  But it also means living in a totally new place, and one that’s unfamiliar, all the way to the crown molding.  Every inch of every corner is a surprise.  And, if you happen to live in a college town, as I do, the surprises aren’t always exactly pleasant.  As in, Surprise!  You can’t use your kitchen cabinets because they smell like the grim specter of death!  Surprise, you can’t use your bathroom cabinet either because DOUBLE SURPRISE, BLACK MOLD!  Surprise, these walls are constructed entirely of asbestos and the bubonic plague!  And so forth.

This isn't my mailman, but it is the post office.  So.

This isn’t my mailman, but it is the post office. So.

There are a lot of things I miss about my old place: the usable cabinets, the absence of the grim specter of death, the screened porch, the frat

boys shooting arrows at a tree outside of my screened porch.  But if there’s one thing I miss more than anything else, it’s my mailman.

How do you even know your mailman? you’re probably thinking.  Well, remember that college town part?  I mean, small college town.  Which means a lack of certain amenities, such as actual grocery stores or Targets.  You know, things that are necessary for basic survival.  Which also means, of course, that I’ve been forced to spend quite a bit of time shopping online.  You know, for basic survival.  It was necessary.  

And so, I got to know my mailman.  He was always kind and never judged and agreed that yes, one can never have enough shoes.  He realized

that I tended to write on my back porch in the summer and so he brought me my packages there.  One day, he caught me crying after a Very Bad Telephone Conversation and he asked how I was.  He said he didn’t know what was going on, but he could promise that it’d get better — and he came by to ask how I was the next day.  When I broke my foot, he asked how I was and even sometimes brought my non-package-style mail to me, if it looked important.  He asked about my cats, who eventually even stopped running away and acted like completely insane beasts when he knocked.  When I had surgery, he told my mother that he’d been worried because no one had answered the door for a while.  He asked how I was every time she answered the door.  He always smiled, he always said hello, and he was always incredibly kind.

This is how things are going with my new mailman so far.  Sigh.

This is how things are going with my new mailman so far. Sigh.

They were all small things, just very small things, but they made a very big difference in my life, and at a time in my life when I felt very lost.  And maybe, in the end, it’s the small things that matter — because, when you think of it, a life of such small kindnesses is a very big thing.

The jury’s still out on my new mailman.  He seems very nice and he always smiles.  Still, I can’t help but miss my old mailman — and I can’t help but wish I would’ve thanked him more often for all of the kind things he probably didn’t even realize he was doing — which makes him all the more deserving of thanks.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Rocks That I Got.

Y’all, that last entry was all different kinds of vague.  Forgive me.  To make up for it, here are two cat photos.

This is a photo of Alice B. Toklas sleeping, which, besides chewing on logs and scratching down the very walls of houses, is pretty much all that she does.

This is a photo of Alice B. Toklas sleeping, which, besides chewing on logs and scratching down the very walls of houses, is pretty much all that she does.

This is a picture of Gertrude Stein doing ... this.

This is a picture of Gertrude Stein doing … this.

Also, here is the video for “Jenny from the Block,” which is always important, though it is, disappointingly, not a song about geology.