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Twerking at Work: Images of Women in Society

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It's not just about the twerking.

Yes, Miley Cyrus's now infamous twerk-episodes are problematic for all the reasons people have discussed elsewhere (the issues include the misogynistic way Robin Thicke seemed to be using Cyrus, the racism inherent in some of Cyrus's moves, the overly sexualised depictions of women and their bodies, and the disturbing increased sexualisation of young people). And yes, as the recent Mumsnet survey shows, parents are very worried about what their children see and hear in music and music videos these days. But it's about much more than Cyrus herself, and it's likewise about more than the ensuing debate in the media, on Twitter, and elsewhere, with people such as Sinéad O'Connor and Annie Lennox getting involved.

On a much larger scale, this is about how women are portrayed in the media and especially how female performers are under more pressure to display and use their bodies to an extent that male performers aren't. And this, in turn, means that it is about women in general and our opportunities in society.

It is virtually impossible to watch a music video or to even attend a pop performance without seeing half-naked (or even practically naked) women pumping, grinding, and writhing, usually against a man. Pitbull's videos are a typical example of this. He's always fully dressed (often in a suit), but he's surrounded by women with blank expressions, their bodies barely contained by their bikinis, as though to say that women are worth nothing with their clothes on. Sure, these unknown women might be so desperate for a little fame and some easily earned money and a chance to rub up, quite literally, against the stars, that they happily disrobe.

However, even major female stars appear unable to resist this trend. Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Jennifer Lopez all seem to wear the minimum possible. Maybe they're proud of the bodies they and their personal trainers have worked hard to sculpt. But isn't that a distraction from their music? What do their flat tummies and pushed-up breasts actually add to their performances?

And as audience members, the question is: are we more interested in their talent or their bodies?

Some might argue that it's empowering for women to choose how to dress and how and when to show off their bodies. But if it's so empowering, why aren't men doing it? Why aren't men whipping off their tops in music videos? Why don't they perform in thongs? Why don't they bend over on stage, letting fully dressed women spank them or thrust at them?

It might just be that it's not the wonderful choice some people are quick to claim it is. Perhaps female performers feel pressured, even if they're not always aware of it, to keep people's interest. It's not enough, their record companies might tell them or their fans or the media might imply, to sing well or to write beautiful songs. Rather, they need to spice things up a little. And what better way than to get naked?

One wonders what young children might think about all this. With their unfettered access to TVs and the internet, they quite quickly learn that men can become well-known just by having a halfway decent voice. Hell, men not only become famous that way, but they get to touch loads of gyrating women while at work. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Meanwhile, women might have musical talent, but that's not all that they need in order to make a living. Having a sleek, hairless body, wearing a thick layer of make-up, and being attired in a bra and panties (and, ideally, high heels as well) while prancing around, spreading their legs and shaking their hips, and getting felt up by men are all also requirements for the female pop star.

Is this really the message we want to send to the next generation?

It's time for an open, frank discussion about women's role in society, and women's opportunities. If even supposedly powerful female celebrities have to do more than they might have bargained on in order to be successful and keep their jobs, what does that say about the rest of us? How might other women be treated at their places of employment, or while running errands, or by their male friends and relatives?

To try to earn the same amount of money as a man, women generally have to work harder, put in more hours, and perform better. People like Miley Cyrus clearly aren't immune to this problem.

So, no, it's not just about the twerking. It's about working, and it's about living. In a strange way, many women have to metaphorically twerk at work and in their private lives, and it's time for this to stop.

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