SubScribe: Sinead O'Connor give Miley Cyrus a lesson in sexist exploitation and mental health stigma Google+

Thursday 3 October 2013

Sinead O'Connor give Miley Cyrus a lesson in sexist exploitation and mental health stigma

When did most of us learn the word twerk? When Hannah Montana decided to become a cross between Lady GaGa and Madonna, but much, shall we say, raunchier.

Miley Cyrus's routine at the video music awards in August completed the transition from wholesome child star to hot rock chick and beyond. It caused much sucking in of cheeks and knowing sighs.

We've seen it all before. Compare Kylie in Neighbours with the Kylie in diaphanous white voile curtains singing I Can't Get You out of my Head. And before we tut too loudly, we should also remember that one of our most loved musicals is based on just  such a metamorphosis. We all wanted Sandy and Danny to end up together in Grease, didn't we? Even if it meant turning the pony-tailed virgin into a vamp in spray-on black leather?
(Feminist note - why was SHE the one who had to reinvent herself?)


Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor also caught the public eye as earnest girls with pigtails in The Wizard of Oz and National Velvet before growing up to become ultra-glam Hollywood royalty. People followed their progress from film to film, from husband to husband, copied their hairstyles, gasped at their gowns and gems.

They seemed to have it all. They were women in control. But were they? Their lives hardly ran smoothly, Garland was fired from countless films and ended up with cirrhosis before dying of an accidental overdose of barbiturates at just 47. Taylor lived to 79 but suffered ill-health for much of her life - including back problems that persisted after she fell from a horse while filming National Velvet aged 12.

Yet theirs could be seen as great child star success stories. Shirley Temple became a US ambassador and Mickey Rooney, now 93, seemed fine until he claimed a couple of years back that he was being abused by his stepson. But many fell by the wayside.

Women were fed drugs to keep them slim and frequently took to drink. They also had to deal with the sexual denigration and abuse meted out to Hollywood starlets. These wannabes seemed to accept that taking off their clothes and performing in both public and private was just another bend on the road to stardom. They feared that if they fail to negotiate it properly they'd be dumped on the verge while some other hopeful drove off in the car.

It is interesting that Garland and Taylor, who accumulated 13 husbands between them, both married young - Garland at 19 and Taylor at 18. Did they regard a ring on their left hand and a man at their side as some kind of protection against the cigar-chewing predators?

The theory certainly fails when it comes to Marilyn Monroe. She was married at 16, four years before she secured her first film contract. But that and subsequent marriages to a baseball hero and a renowned playwright didn't prevent her from being passed from man to man like a worthless plaything throughout her short life.

Look at the sorry toll of child stars from the past 30 years - Lee Thompson Young, Gary Coleman, Corey Halm, River Phoenix, Lena Zavaroni all dead. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Drew Barrymore, Tatum O'Neal have all had troubled lives. And then there is the glaring example of Michael Jackson.

Miley Cyrus must see what being young and famous can do to you - especially as she comes from a show business family (in case you didn't know, her father is billy Ray Cyrus, who had an achy, breaky heart in the 70s). Even so, the singer Sinead O'Connor was concerned that she didn't know what she was getting herself into.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Cyrus cited O'Connor as the inspiration for her Wrecking Ball video. An interesting choice. O'Connor is not exactly uncontroversial, but overt sexual dancing has never been part of her repertoire. Tearing up pictures of the Pope maybe, illegal ordination as a Catholic priest maybe. Indeed she is said to have first shaved her head in a gesture against sexual stereotyping.

O'Connor responded to this piece of information with an open letter to Cyrus advising her that it was not cool to be filmed naked licking a sledgehammer, and warning her that she was being prostituted by men who cared nothing for her welfare.

The advice was not warmly received. Cyrus reacted with a tweet saying
'Before Amanda Bynes...There was...'
Attached was a screen grab of a series of tweets posted by O'Connor last year seeking help to find a psychiatrist who could prescribe some drugs she needed for her bipolar disorder.

Amanda Bynes is another actress whose career started early - when she was ten, in fact. She has been suffering from mental health problems and last year sent aggressive tweets to a number of celebrities, including Cyrus. She was committed to a psychiatric unit in July after setting fire to a drive and her parents said on Monday that she had now been transferred to a private rehabilitation clinic.

Cyrus's tweet maligning two women with mental health problems in the space of five words enraged O'Connor, who posted a second open letter on her Facebook page.

'Miley, who the f*** is advising you? Taking me on is even more f******* stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism....
I am staggered that any 20 yr old woman of the 21st century could behave in such a dangerous and irresponsible manner as to not only send the signal to young women that its ok to act like prostitutes but also to the signal that those who have suffered or do suffer mental health problems are to be mocked and have their opinions invalidated. Have you no sense of danger at all? or responsibility? Remove your tweets immediately or you will hear from my lawyers....
It is most unbecoming of you to respond in such a fashion to someone who expressed care for you. And worse that you are such an anti-female tool of the anti-female music industry....And I hope that you will wake up and understand that you in fact are a danger to women.'

Cyrus remained unmoved, responding with another pair of tweets:
'Sinead. I don't have time to send you an open letter cause I'm hosting & performing on SNL this week'
'So if you'd like to meet up and talk lemme know in your next letter. :)'
O'Connor came back again with another Facebook post saying her lawyers would be contacting Cyrus's lawyers and reassuring well-wishers that she was in good health now. The offending tweets are still up.

An unwelcome busybody or a caring fellow artist? The social media seem to be with O'Connor, judging by the rough and ready barometer of retweets, favourites, likes and comments. Most of the responses to Cyrus are from fans who just want to say 'I love you'. Some are unspeakably crude and thereby reinforce O'Connor's argument. A couple write off the Irish singer as a 'washed up lesbian', a jealous has-been or as engaging in a publicity stunt. A few more say that Cyrus is out of order. For some reason this one made me smile.
'Don't try writing humour, honey, it's not your forte. #show us your tits #again'
On Facebook the jury was also split, but here the comments were noticeably more thoughtful.
Cyrus is generally seen as a silly young girl, there is a lot of latitude given for her age and inexperience with regard to the exhibitionism, but little quarter for her attitude towards mental health. A few say it is none of O'Connor's business and that she should not judge.

The scorecard shows that each of Cryrus's tweets were either retweeted or marked as a favourite by about 12,000 of her 14.5 million (!) followers. O'Connor's first Facebook post was 'liked' 327,610 times, shared 14,787 times and attracted 7,870 comments. The second had 327,753 likes, 3,000 shares and 3,257 comments, Those are big numbers. People clearly care.

The mental health aspect has given this story - or feud as some showbiz sites are calling it - added traction. As O'Connor predicted, charities such as Rethinking Mental Illness and Mind were swift to denounce the mocking of sufferers.

Marjorie Wallace, the veteran campaigner who is chief executive of SANE, described the exchange as sad and distasteful and reiterated her concern about the potential damage that could be caused to fragile people by the abuse of social media. 
'Miley Cyrus may have a powerful voice and sing a powerful song, but her ignorance about mental health could do untold damage.'
And so an internet exchange that started with an off-the-cuff remark in a magazine interview turned into a full-blown row, a row that, with luck, may develop into serious debates about the exploitation of child stars and young women and the continuing stigma attached to people with mental health problems.

And if you still think of Sinead O'Connor as that crazy bald Irish woman who sang Nothing Compares To U like an angel, please think again.

First, put on John Grant's album Pale Green Ghosts, on which she sings backing vocals. Grant is an HIV-positive homosexual, O'Connor a four-times married mother of four who has described herself as 'a quarter gay' with a 'thing about hairy men'. Their collaboration is magical and the album is far and the way the best to have been released this year.

And while you're listening to the devastatingly candid lyrics that are both embarrassing and heartbreaking, read her first open letter to Miley Cyrus, which speaks more sense than anything else you'll read all year about the music business and the exploitation of women.

Dear Miley, 
I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your “Wrecking Ball” video was designed to be similar to the one for “Nothing Compares” … So this is what I need to say … And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way “cool” to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.
The music business doesn’t give a sh– about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, “they” will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.
None of the men oggling you give a sh– about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a f— about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a f— about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a f— about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.. and that includes you yourself.
Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and its associated media.
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever.. Don’t be under any illusions.. ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty.. which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.
I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying f— about you. They’re there for the money.. we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.
You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. It’s really not at all cool. And it’s sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.
As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image.. whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now.. Not because you got naked but because you make great records.
Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that it’s somehow cool to be prostituted.. it’s so not cool Miley.. it’s dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherf—er who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you.

Brilliant. What a wise woman.

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