When it comes to how we talk about young women and sexuality, Miley’s twerk is the least of our problems.
Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance took over the news cycle this week. There was outrage about slut-shaming—why was everyone disgusted by her but not by Robin Thicke? There was a gut feeling among many that Miley Cyrus’ performance was racist, but no one summed up why better than blogger Cate with her post, “Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance.” If you read one more post about the twerk heard around the world, make it Cate’s.
There was reaction [yawn] from the Thicke and Cyrus families and endless cable news coverage of the VMAs mocked aptly by The Onion. So, yeah, everyone (myself included) is spending the week obsessing over a young 20-year-old white woman appropriating black culture, abusing her tongue muscles and rubbing her junk all over a guy old enough (36) to be her creepy uncle.
But something else happened this week that, by comparison, barely made headlines. A teacher who raped his 14-year-old student was sentenced to 30 whole days in jail. In 2008, the girl was raped by her 49-year-old teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold. The victim-blaming in this case started at the top, with this statement from Judge G. Todd Baugh: “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about. It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.” He has since apologized, but the sentiment is clear.
Maybe if the rape had been more like a movie rape, the victim would still be alive. But just a few weeks before her 17th birthday, she took her own life. After confessing, the rapist was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He confessed to raping a child and got 30 days. One month. Because, you know, like a girl who died at 16, his life is sorta ruined, too.
After the sentencing, the victim’s mother shouted at the court, “You people suck.” She went on to point out in a statement, “Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age. I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14.”
Older than her age. Does that mean she wore lipstick? Low-cut shirts? Flirted with her teacher? Sought attention? Asked for it? Or, does it somehow connect to the idea that we’re so accustomed to seeing young women on display that kids are fair game for sexual predators?
I am not implying that Miley Cyrus was coerced into her performance, or that Thicke is a rapist—and I’m definitely not saying that the staged performance we saw on the VMAs is akin to what happened to this teenager in Montana. Cyrus is an adult woman who makes a living performing—but it’s hard to forget that only a few years ago, she was simply child star, Hannah Montana.
As a culture, we sexualize young women—just look back a few years to the countdown to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s 18th birthday. I am pretty sure no one was waiting to see who they would vote for. We make it unsafe for girls to experiment with their sexuality and figure out who they want to be as women. We tell them that sexy is cool and being provocative will make people like them. Then, when older men (or women) take advantage of them, we slut-shame them and blame them for being victims of crimes.
Not for nothing, PornHub released a study of keyword searches by state this week. “Teen” was the top search in seven states.
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