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Former child star enters adulthood and suffers gender-biased criticism 

 

Here’s a very unsurprising fact for you: our society has a problem with sexism. We might like to believe that everyone is equal, but our everyday actions prove otherwise. Our culture is rife with gender bias and double standards that you will encounter in movies and music videos, on street corners and in classrooms. This is not a particularly groundbreaking statement, and therefore shouldn’t shock you.

What it should do is frustrate and anger you. It should bother every single one of us that in this day and age, we still treat men and women differently who do the same things.

I am not the first, last or most eloquent individual to address this issue, but I am adding my name to the list because it is imperative that we continue this conversation. Recent issues have shown that there is still a clear gender-related double standard in our society, and it is high time we tackle the problem.

But okay, let me back up a little. You’re probably wondering by now why I’ve chosen to write about this particular topic now. Well, as with seemingly everything these days, the answer lies with Miley Cyrus.

I imagine that if your life is anything like mine, you’ve heard more about Miley’s performances and music videos in the last couple of weeks than you ever needed to know.

But I’d like to talk about her one more time.

Let me make something abundantly clear: I am not here to defend or condemn Miley’s recent behavior. I am not particularly interested in her music or her style or her dancing. What I am interested in is society’s reaction to her every action.

I’m interested in the outraged blog posts, the snarky water-cooler conversations and the vicious name-calling. More importantly, I’m interested in the fact that society has deemed it acceptable to criticize a 20-year-old woman for her behavior, when all she’s doing is acting the same way men in her industry have for decades.

It’s hard to miss the sexism at play here. As Salon’s Somaya Chemaly wrote, “Miley Cyrus acted like a male pop star at the VMAs. But she’ll get criticized like a female one.”

If people really are frustrated with Miley for using her body to make a point in her award show performances or in her music videos, then they should be just as scandalized when discussing any one of the numerous male performers who do the same thing. But they’re not.

For example, Miley’s performance also featured crude dancing by Robin Thicke, best known for his creepy (and misogynistic) summer hit “Blurred Lines.” And yet, for weeks following the event, the outrage of parents and viewers alike has been mainly directed at Miley.

Let me reiterate that I am not saying that Miley’s done nothing wrong. If society wants to critique her for her musical talent or her cultural appropriation, that’s fair game. But it is not okay to call her hurtful names and make low-brow judgments just because she’s a young woman not behaving in a particularly “ladylike” manner.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all of this is that the situation with Miley isn’t so much an exception as it is the rule. Far too many facets of our culture have sexist undertones.

Female entertainers are far more likely to be judged based on their outward appearance and relationship histories, as opposed to the work they are doing. Women are often harassed by being told to smile more (Kristen Stewart, anyone?) or behave in more feminine ways. For a society that claims to be progressive, we are not doing a very good job of acting like it.

If you’d like even more obvious examples of sexism, just think about the advertising and video game industries. According to a 2007 study that examined gender roles and video games, “female characters are more likely than male characters to be portrayed as sexualized (60 percent to one percent).”

Why has it become the norm for women to be objectified in order to sell a product?

These are serious issues that affect every single one of us, and it is quite pathetic that our society still lets it happen. We should not need to have this discussion. It’s quite simple: men and women who perform the same actions should get the same reaction from society.

But bemoaning the slow rate of progress and hoping for change in the future isn’t going to achieve much. We need to translate our words and good intentions into meaningful actions.

If we stop buying into the sexist products of our culture, then we will be better equipped able to force society to change for the better. Every single sexist action, no matter how casual or unintentional it may appear, takes us all a step back on the road to equality.

Progress doesn’t happen overnight and we can’t expect to change people’s behavior in a day, but we must remember that the reward of equality is worth fighting for.

 

Reshma Gouravajhala is a junior biology and psychology major from Devon, Pa. She can be reached at rgourava@villanova.edu.

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