Talking to Boys about Girls like Miley
Social media channels exploded with commentary after the 2013 VMA awards, much of which focused on the Miley Cyrus performance, including her interactions with Robin Thicke. Many articles have been written bringing up issues of racism and sexism, and there are many good critiques of the performance (and many not so helpful critiques) – but critiquing the performance is not the purpose of this post. Rather, I hope to use the images of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke as a jumping off point in our conversation around talking to boys about girls.
Without a doubt, many young women will emulate Miley without really understanding what they are doing. And unfortunately, too many young men will emulate Robin and lines will not only get blurred, lines will get crossed – most importantly the line between what it means to be human and what it means to act like an animal.
We are more than our animal instincts. Young men need to hear this over and over again. They need to know that while it’s normal to have an erection at the sight of a pretty young woman, they are not animals and they do not have to act on their animal instincts.
Here are some things I might say when talking to boys about girls like Miley.
When a girl, or rather young woman, like Miley struts her stuff in front of you, it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex. Some young women are strutting their stuff in front of boys and men because they think that’s what boys and men want. Really. They are told this story over and over, they are shown repeatedly in music videos, movies, magazines and TV shows that men and boys want to look at sexy girls. And who is doing the telling? Well, mostly it’s the good ol’ boys. The good ol’ boys will tell you sexy girls want to have sex with you because sex sells and they are in the business of selling things. Don’t buy it. Always ask. Never assume a young woman is asking for it because of how she struts her stuff.
When a girl or young woman wears a sexy teddy-like leotard, it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex. She might just want to look sexy or look all grown up. Like Miley was trying to do. Except Miley failed. Most young women who try to look all grown up by looking sexy fail to some degree as well. Because being all grown up is not about sex. It’s about maturity, responsibility, making wise choices, contributing to God’s creative goodness in the world for the sake of others. That’s what it means to be grown up. Ten year olds can have sex. Having sexual intercourse does not equal maturity. Strutting around like a sex crazed Madonna/Brittney/LadyGaga wannabe does not equal maturity. And don’t think she’s old enough to make a wise decision about having sex just because she looks sexy. Always ask first. Never assume a young woman wants to have sex because of what she is wearing.
When a young woman twerks her butt against your crotch, or grinds with you on the dance floor, that doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you. She might just enjoy the dance moves, or like feeling powerful for getting you all excited, or it might be her way of getting a workout. You can’t determine whether someone wants to have sex with you by body language or dance moves alone. Always ask first.
When a young woman bites her lip, licks her lips or does some strange tongue wagging gyrations with her mouth when looking at you across the room, it does not mean she wants to have sex with you. I still can’t figure out what Miley was doing with her tongue. I wonder if that was her idea or if someone choreographed that one. Some young women are unconsciously mimicking what they see in videos or maybe even what they’ve seen in their home. Not all young women have good and healthy role models. They may not know any better. They may just be seeking attention. I’m guessing Miley was in the business of seeking attention at the VMA’s, not seeking sex. She can probably have sex whenever she wants. After all, it’s her party she can do what she wants. The young women in your life are not Miley. But like Miley, they might be seeking attention, not sex. The only way to know for sure whether a young woman wants to have sex with you is to ask. Always ask.
When a young woman looks sexy that doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you or anyone else. Even good girls like to wear clothes that make them look sexy. Sexy is the new standard for beauty. Whether this is right or good or acceptable to God, I don’t have all the answers for that. Besides, what looks sexy to one person is revolting to another. And whose standard are we going to use anyway? Nineteenth century Victorian England standard? Ancient Chinese foot-binding standard? Twentieth century Leave it to Beaver standard? First century Greco-Roman standard? Whether an outfit is appropriate or not is between God and the person dressing to look sexy – well, and maybe their parents when they are young! It’s not a young man’s place to judge another by calling her a slut or assuming she must want to have sex by the clothes she wears.
When a young woman wears a bikini or a nude latex bra and briefs, it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you. I don’t know, maybe 20 year old Miley actually does want to have sex with 36 year old Robin, and maybe Robin’s wife and kids would be OK with that. Who knows. But not all young women who wear next to nothing are wearing next to nothing because they want to have sex. Some women are comfortable in their own skin and don’t mind exposing some skin to the watching world. What the watching world does with what they are watching is between the watchers and God. Unless, of course, the watcher crosses the line and rapes someone. Then it’s a criminal offense. Even date rape is a criminal offense. So, I would ask young men, what are you watching? Why are you watching? Are you merely watching for entertainment or for sexual stimulation? Are you enjoying the beauty of God’s good creation or looking at something so you can get your rocks off?
When you have an erection, it is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction. An attractive woman can enter a room fully clothed, without strutting her stuff and an erection happens. But what you do after you have the erection makes all the difference. What makes humans different from some other animals is our ability to interact with our instincts. We are more than our bodies. The line between acting like a human and acting like an animal is easily blurred, as Robin Thicke so brilliantly illustrates in his song, Blurred Lines.
In some realms of the animal kingdom the urge to have sex is purely physical. One animal knows that another animal is ready for sexual intercourse based on scents or sounds or other instinctual signals. Not so with humans. Sure, humans have developed “mating rituals” but these are changing as we learn to be more appropriately human. Humans can choose whether to have sex or not. And the choice is intended to be consensual. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines propagates a dangerous myth. “I know you want it” is a myth. No human can know the deep secrets and desires of another human’s heart. Sometimes we ourselves don’t even know what we really, really want! Forcing or projecting your desires onto another human is not properly human. It’s inhumane and treats the object of desire as something less than human.
When you look at a young woman and find yourself aroused by her appearance, you may feel there are only two choices:
- Fantasize about having sex with her or actually have sex with her and tell yourself it’s normal. Everybody else is doing it, so it must be normal.
- Shame her for being attractive and desirable and beat yourself up for having a normal and healthy reaction to her appearance.
I would like to suggest a third way. When you find yourself turned on by the appearance or actions of a young woman, take some time to think about it – with your heart. Examine your feelings, your desires, your dreams. Imagine what her feelings, desires and dreams might be. Take the time to talk with her about her feelings, desires and dreams. Treat her like an equal human being of value and worth apart from her sex appeal. If she tells you her dreams are to have sex with you, remember, she might be telling you that because she thinks that’s what you want. Or, she might really want it. But, do you really want it? How and when do you want to have sex? Have you imagined the sexual story you want to tell your kids someday? How does this relationship fit with the story you want to tell your own kids someday?
This humorous clip from Bubble Boy illustrates an extreme way one fictional parent taught her sheltered son to help calm his body down in a stimulating situation. If you need a tool to help your body calm down in a stimulating situation, maybe try memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and repeating it until you are able to think more clearly with your heart and not your penis? Just kidding, it’s not magic. Every body responds differently to stimulation and every person needs to learn to control their own body in ways that work for them! It is possible for men to humanely control their physical reactions and line them up with their deepest heart’s desires. It is possible for men to channel their creative energy for the sake of others, especially in the area of their sexual desire. You are not an animal.
The only critique I’d like to offer of the Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke mashup is this: there’s been a lot of press about how terrible and sad Miley’s performance was, yet little has been said about Robin Thicke’s participation. Some have blamed feminism and women’s liberation. In some sense, they have a point. If some women think that equality means to act like men in sexually irresponsible ways, then women’s liberation has gone awry. If Miley desires to be like the men who exert their power in sexual choices (we do what we want), and treat others like sex objects or sex toys (teddy bears, foam fingers, using Robin as a prop for twerking) then Miley has certainly achieved equality with such men. But that’s not the kind of equality I am interested in promoting. I am interested in helping all humans, both women and men, become more properly human – equal to one another in their capacity to steward God’s good creation as cooperative friends of Jesus, living lives of creative goodness in the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of others.
One parent commented on Miley’s performance, “The fact that she doesn’t play the victim and shows that girls can be as aggressive and bad in many ways might in some twisted way pave the way for (women) to play in a more level field with men.” Yes, that’s twisted. That’s not the kind of playing field I hope my daughters will be playing with men on someday. Life is about so much more than sex. But sex sells. Why does sex sell? Because we are buying it. While it’s comfortable to think that it’s a good thing for Miley, a young woman, to be in control – the be in the driver’s seat – we are delusional to imagine she made the decisions regarding her performance on her own. While I won’t cast her as the victim, she is the product of a culture we have created. Instead of blaming the media or the producers of such shows, we need to start holding the buyers responsible too. We need to teach our young men and women to consume media responsibly.
One educational source to use in educating our youth about responsible media use is the Media Education Foundation website. The Media Education Foundation’s documentary films and other educational resources inspire critical thinking about the social, political, and cultural impact of American mass media. We need to inspire our young women and men to think critically about their engagement with the world of mass media.
So, when talking to boys about girls like Miley, let’s stop assuming it’s all about sex. Let’s think about the larger context of consumerism and the effects of American mass media on adolescent behavior. Let’s help our young men and women think critically and make wise choices. When American mass media keeps telling us sex sells, let’s tell the world we’re not buying it.
In my last post on talking to boys about girls I will examine the difference between attraction and lust and make a case for meaningful friendship between men and woman as an important spiritual practice to help young men become more appropriately human.