Caitlin Kennell Kim, seminary grad, baby wrangler, ordinary radical, writes about the life of a convert in the Catholic Church and explores how faith and everyday life intersect.
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Dear Miley Cyrus: An Open Letter
Hi. It’s me. At the ripe old age of 30-something, I consider myself to be somewhat of an elder stateswoman in the realm of young adult womanhood. After the debacle that was your performance at last Sunday’s MTV VMA’s (which inundated my Facebook feed on Monday morning, which we didn’t see live because 1) we’re old and don’t watch “the MTV” and 2) we have a gaggle of little people for whom that channel is — part and parcel — utterly inappropriate), I think we need to talk. Like right now.
I know you didn’t ask for my advice. Too bad.
Listen … I get it. You want to be seen as a grown woman. Fair enough. The thing is that I’ve learned some stuff over the past decade or so that might be helpful to you. Some of this knowledge was hard won. I’m trying to give you a leg up, sister. I care about you. And, seeing as how we’re both sojourners on the road to figuring out what it means to be a woman in this world, I want to help you. I’ve been on this road longer. And, seeing as I have three little daughters just beginning their respective journeys, I have a stake in your walking it with dignity. Because, for better or worse, your journey is a public one.
So here are my two cents:
- Womanhood is not defined by sexual availability to men. I understand that you’re trying to shed your teeny bopper, Hannah Montana image. I understand that you want to announce to the world that you‘re an adult woman. But being a woman does not mean being an object. Being a woman does not mean advertising your willingness (implied and explicit) to engage in various and sundry sex acts with whomever, whatever, whenever, wherever. You have dignity. God made you. You are not defined by your sexual availability to men. You are precious. You are not a means to an end. You are an end in and of yourself. You bear the divine image.
- Lift as you climb. Right now (right this very second) there are thousands of Hannah Montana backpacks hanging in cubbies, lockers, and on little shoulders around this country. Girls look up to you. Many of them want to be like you. Whether you like it or not and whether you think it’s fair or not, when you engage in hypersexualized behavior you contribute to a culture which hypersexualizes children. This is a form of violence. This is serious. You have the right to grow up. You have the responsibility to do so in a way that doesn’t threaten the safety (emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical) of the little girls who have made you the commercial success that you are. Whether famous or not, we are (all of us) accountable for each other. As we scale the rocky road of womanhood, we need to lift each other up and help each other find safe passage.
- Beware. The kind of man attracted to a woman who debases herself, disrespects herself, and devalues herself is not a man worth having. Period. The End.
- The power to elicit lust is not power. Not really, anyway. It might feel good to be able to violently grab the attention of others by provoking lust, but lust is flame that will eventually devour itself … and those caught up in it. Beauty is different. Beauty is noble. It inspires. It alleviates our weariness. It lifts our hearts up to God, the author of all beauty. Beauty is not violent or forceful. Beauty does not strive to dominate. Seek beauty. Real beauty.
- Casual sex is not a sign of gender equality. I have heard it proffered that women should free themselves from the shackles of oppressive ideas about female sexuality by having sex like men (the subtext of which is having lots of casual sex without the hassle of emotional attachment). This is not having sex like a man … this is having sex like a particularly BAD man. Sexuality is powerful (and indeed a truly good and holy part of what it means to be a human person), but you are not empowering yourself or other women by advancing the notion that sex is akin to a recreational sport like table tennis or racquetball. You did not appear to me to be an empowered woman in the context of last Sunday’s performance. You seemed to me to be a young woman who doesn’t understand when she’s being used … used to create media hype and used to make a quick buck. That’s exploitation.
I know that you are not the only one putting forth these harmful ideas about women, but I remember seeing you on TV as a young girl. You were not so different from my girls. I fear that you don’t have good people around you who have your best interest at heart. It seems to me you could use some sisterly advice. This road you’re on is fraught with snares, detours, and pitfalls. Proceed with caution. I’m praying for you.