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October 2013

Capitalism, Commoditization, Cyrus and Black Women Accessories rather Than Equals by Kimberly Miller


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As weeks pass, and the media pounces from one sensational, social pariah to the next, the disturbing imagery from Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance is still seared into my memory. The rigid patriarchal media talking heads excoriated Cyrus for her scantily clad attire and overtly sexual gestures, in a bastion of moralistic slut shaming. Social media exploded with silly memes on Cyrus’s apparent struggle twerks and the audience’s priceless reactions. However a serious critique was not waged by the media apparatus against the blatant cultural appropriation, commoditization and exploitation taking place in not only that performance but Miley Cyrus’s entire rebranding. If a serious critique were waged, it would have to address the historic ways capitalism as a system of commoditization, dehumanizes and utilizes racism and misogyny to fuel its parasitic propellers.


From the degradation of Sarah Baartman to Sojourner Truth, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy plaguing the Western world sought to refurbish their economies by subsequently deteriorating black female autonomy and relinquishing black female bodies under control of the state. For Sarah Baartman, a Khoi woman from South Africa, her voluptuous physicality was rendered freakish, inherently wanton, and yet profitable by white slave owners. Whites gawked at Baartman’s large derriere, bulbous chest and it was clear for the black woman, her voice, spirit, mind and humanity was obsolete, a mere spectacle to be enjoyed and exploited by the on-looking white masses. For the United States specifically, black women’s sexual organs were valued as a commodity to produce more slaves and fuel the southern economy, therefore her reproduction was the business of the patriarchal state. The lack of black female bodily autonomy even lingered into the twentieth-century, as legalized forced sterilization in the south sought to eugenicize those deemed “undesirable,” from reproducing. Since under capitalism, profit is the sole aim, if black people can’t contribute to the profits of white patriarchs, what purpose do they serve?


This history of bodily autonomy in the U.S. was wrought with economics, racial politics, privilege and coercion. For white women, patriarchal ideals worked to restrain their sexual expression to uphold racist constructions of the “purity” of white womanhood. However for black women, their identity was subsumed by racial stereotypes depicting a salacious demeanor, justifying sexual abuse and this racial/gender binary regarding sexuality intercepts law, politics, and popular culture. This historical context ties well into Miss Cyrus’s gimmick.


Although capitalism relies on the profit motive, and that profit is overwhelmingly controlled by men, the racist and sexist marketability of Miley’s getup speak to intersectional power dynamics at play; Power dynamics where black women fall into yet again marginalized spaces of a white dominant class, whether the exploiter is male or female, while Cyrus becomes a pawn of a male dominated music industry, and misogynistic marketing campaign that conflates pubescent girlhood with overt sexuality. This dynamic creates an appearance of infantile pornography as teddy bears adorned the VMA stage; Miley sported her piggy tails and barrettes while later stripping her backpack and teddy bear ensemble into an acquiescent Lolita caricature to the much older Robin Thicke. The whole presentation was a mixture of fetishization, adolescent sexualization, among its more racist elements.


As if representations of simulated kiddy porn weren’t bad enough, there is a classist dynamic in Miley’s antics furthering its problematic nature. When a young woman who has been exorbitantly wealthy all her life thanks to her country singing father, and expansive Disney career, appropriates an aspect of a “ratchet” culture originating in a disenfranchised, low income community, the result is exploitation. Even in Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” video, her “home girls with the bug butts” were relegated to an area separate from her lavish majority white friends in the pool. It looked as though she literally ventured with her driver to an impoverished black neighborhood, selected three black women, and told them to hop in her video and “twerk” with her. As Miley wore all white, symbolizing the racist and patriarchal notion of white female purity, aligning herself in the center of the three black women, it was clear they were solely props. Not equals, but accessories. The economic vulnerability of the black women who parade with Miley’s minstrel show, convey how in a capitalist society, lack of money leads to compromising choices, as you are being utilized as a tool to solidify white supremacy and black women’s dehumanization.


Interesting how racist depictions of a hyper-sexualized black woman resurface as Miley’s crafted sexual exploration, leads her to immediately associate herself with black female bodies. The shaking butt of a black woman becomes a moneymaking powerhouse for a naïve Miley who remains the center of attention and pretends it’s all just fun and games. As Miley slaps the butt of the black woman with zebra print leggings, it becomes emblematic of Miley “going into the wild” and quickly venturing out of her colonial expedition when she deems fit. That’s how white privilege works. Black women have been trying to combat these one-dimensional stereotypes and dehumanization for decades and yet the mainstream media found the only problem with Miley’s performance is that she doesn’t know how to cover up?

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kimberly Miller.




August 2013 



Patriarchy After Religion: Religion, Rape Culture, and the Dangers of Myopic Atheism by Kimberly Miller 


Globally, it’s been an exciting week. Egyptian demonstrators took to the Cairo streets to demand continuation of their inspiring revolution, and an ousting of Mohamed Morsi for his egregious neoliberal policies, stultifying peace deals with Israel and most recently, altering the constitution that had many fearing he was a “dictator in the making.” With the Egyptian military giving Morsi an ultimatum, on July 2nd, by the next day Morsi was ousted and the constitution was suspended.


It was a glorious time for celebration amongst anti-Morsi protesters. However the cheering and beaming in the festive night sky was still bitter-sweet and a sobering moment for Egyptian women who encompassed impassioned voices, and played an integral role in the revolution, opposing many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s reactionary views toward women. Over 80 sexual assaults were reported that night in the bustling Tahrir crowd. Even as many Egyptian men attempted to form human shields around women to protect from potential attacks, some reports suggest at least 100 women were sexually assaulted during protests and celebrations.  In addition to the mortifying sexual assault was the reaction from some Westerners as to the cause of these violent acts against women in Egypt.


Famed American author and atheist Joyce Carol Oates had a reason for the pervasive sexual assaults in Egypt- Islam. Her audacious tweet stated “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic—Egypt—natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?” Residing in a country where the Centers for Disease Control estimates approximately 1.3 million American women are raped every year, one has to inquire- Is this islamophobic source a symptom of the “othering” and orientalist approach highly regarded Western feminists and academics have demonstrated for years regarding gender politics in the Middle East and Africa?


Vehement Muslim feminists took immediate problem with the tweet, accusing Oates of bias and even racism, while intersectional western feminists were swift to remind Oates of the rape epidemic that exists in secular countries, or ones where the predominant religion isn’t Islam. The problem with Oates myopic atheism, is it was a woman of privileged background, piggybacking off growing islamophobic fervor in the Western world, slathered with lazy orientalist politics that avoided the actual root of sexual assault, and instead shifted the blame solely to religion. Since Islam is depicted as a racialized religion by the media, in which most of its followers are non-white, there seems to be an underlying sense of racism when certain white atheists use terms like “barbaric” and “uncivilized” to describe the Muslim world, and many white feminists view the women of these countries as interminably oppressed and a perpetual charity case. Since the Western media basks in presenting non-white men as the main sexual predators, and Muslim men as violent raging misogynists, it’s no surprise that the religion itself gets blamed by some as the cause for violence against women in predominantly Muslim countries. Yes, religion has its roots in solidifying gender norms, and yes it can be exploited by men in power at the expense of many women, but rape and sexual assault has one salient factor- patriarchy, and that existed before Islam. Rape is about power. It’s about dominion over another and control. It’s not about dress-code, location or sexual arousal. It’s a tactic used through-out history to intimidate children, women (and men,) establish dominance and is a universal phenomenon that we can only seriously tackle by putting aside orientalist prejudices, and unifying against the true culprit- patriarchy.








Being aware of economic dyncimas and exploitation is probably the best start to protecting yourself today, especially on the streets. And when, it doesn't look like social equity wholly suits the philosophy of the current government.  We're living according to a system which survives by hyper-flaunting consumption, hierarchy and highlighting differences by class, wealth and gender (as an incentive scheme) , at some point, everyone becomes a target whether rich/poor, men/women etc. then power play and violence become natural. A created jungle.  I enjoyed your post because I read a realization that without regretting your instinctual aggressive action, you may feel as though you have  fallen in a trap' I relate to.  I felt I had become a pawn, neither of us won anything.  On opposite ends of the economic spectrum, those thugs on the bus and the banker have lots in common.  They're making gross judgements and playing out a role they're either unaware of or too cowardly to confront.  Their criminal behavior or comments reflect psyches weak with self-loathing or victimhood hungry ghosts. Your conclusion is a direction where, you could play the game but choose to take some ownership of the situation and not be a victim.  There's more dignity gained and energy towards good.  As a social epidemic it requires a large-scale approach.  So what is happening? Where are the strategies promoting economic independence, sharing cheap technology to educate, cure and free people?  Industrial programs, PPP alone are not going to solve unemployment.  Morsy's policies so far values private capital growth which will cause further social instability and deterioration.





Great post. This issue has to be dealt with. There is a fine line between critiquing religion and being islamophobic. White privilege allows 1st world atheists to criticize islam for all problems in muslim countries while ignoring the same practices that go on here.



June 2013 
From the enigmatic “Bad girl” to “All my Bitches Love Me”: The Burgeoning Assault on Women’s Humanity through Popular Culture and Media by Kimberly D. Miller
Flip through a popular women’s magazine like Cosmopolitan or Glamour that boast of their women empowering mission, which somehow constitute policing our physical appearance, implanting patriarchal and hetero-normative ideas like how to “land a man,” whilst solidifying rigid gender norms, and you would think we’re living in the mid 20th century. These magazines already foster contradicting messages that patriarchy is notorious for, such as what consists of “sexy vs. skanky” attire women can wear, while simultaneously telling us how to give the best blow jobs. These conflicting messages and exhaustive balancing act of “purity” and respectability coupled with sexual prowess even the strongest man couldn’t resist, not only create the good girl/bad girl dichotomy, but set a woman’s worth in society  dependent upon the male gaze. Women begin to see themselves only through the eyes of men. But is this uplifting?


Music can also be a conduit for these antiquated ideas of female respectability. I couldn’t help but turn up the radio when hearing “Love me” by Future, Lil Wayne and Drake (yes, feminists do listen to rap.) I didn’t think it was doing much harm because most of the words were inaudible light-hearted buffoonery. But one lyric stood out to me by Lil Wayne when he said “you can’t treat these hos like ladies.” Saturated with misogyny yes, but the bigger question is, why was it misogynistic? Terms like “ho” directed at policing a woman’s sexuality, and “ladies” asserting a universal standard of behavior women should exhibit if wanting/deserving respect, in itself is damaging to our autonomy. But what I was more fascinated by was the sheer hypocrisy and inconsistencies of the entire song. Most of the song includes praising “bitches” (I’m assuming female fans or groupies) as all an artist needs as opposed to what any “niggas” have to say, then demotes those same “bitches” as worthless and undeserving of respect. It is conflicting, and I know you are thinking it’s commercial rap, it’s not SUPPOSED to be empowering to women, but we can’t pretend our ideas about gender aren’t partly influenced and shaped by the media and pop culture. Who is rendered a “ho” becomes justification for a woman’s abuse, dehumanization, and a macabre emergence of rape culture and apology soon follows.


A perfect example was the latest Steubenville rape case, where two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio were accused and found guilty of raping a 16 year old girl. I was astonished when I read comments on the football player’s convictions. Women were even declaring the girl a ho, and that she shouldn’t have been intoxicated or was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Patriarchy nurtures this young woman’s dehumanization and I couldn’t help but think a seemingly innocent article asserting what makes a woman “skanky” to not “treat[ing] these hos like ladies” all contributes to a wide culture of women’s oppression and I believe awareness of its existence is the first step to improvement and acknowledgement of women’s full humanity.


A great post! As you rightly concluded, there are plenty of contradictions in popular culture concerning women’s worth in society. Urban black culture especially contributes to the projection of hyper-sexual attributes onto women in general contributing to “rape culture” and other abuses. This is wrong and needs to be continually addressed by civil society. Further, a fair debate on this matter would demand an examination on how women themselves contribute to this particular strain of social injustice. Do some women’s values about their own bodies, sexuality and relationship with males contribute to the denigration? A solution requires an attack not only on how some men view women, but also an attack on how some women view themselves. Any woman who values herself would boycott all expressions of female denigration in popular culture. Sadly, too many women play along or don't even realize that they are being "played".

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