Miley Cyrus was a badass feminist in her Bangerz era - so why did we bash her for it then but celebrate it now?

Was she just saying a massive f*ck you to the standards society holds against women?

10 Jul 2019

Is she having a mental breakdown? Is she on drugs? Is she coming out as a lesbian? These are just some of the headlines you’ll recognise if you remember Miley Cyrus’s infamous Bangerz era, otherwise known as the year of her life when she toured the world riding a hot dog naked.

She brought twerking to the mainstream, she unapologetically cut her hair and she wore barely-there clothes - but was she really going insane, or was she just doing things other daren’t, and saying a massive f*ck you to the standards society holds against women?

While Miley herself has admitted that during that time she went “a bit crazy”, it’s clear to see that the extremes of this time stemmed from what was originally self-expression, and quickly spiralled into a 19-year old girl who had seen the spotlight from a young age, being sexualised across the world and in the tabloids for letting loose and breaking boundaries, going too far to fight back.

But that was 2013.

That was a time when women and men alike threw around words like ‘slut’ as though it was nothing when chatting to their friends, as well as the year social media really took off when the Pope joined the Twitter, and gay marriage wasn’t even legal in the UK.

Since that time, Miley has bounced back with new albums, reclaimed her “girl-ish” style, and even married Liam Hemsworth. But what you haven’t seen, is the same awful reaction to her latest single, Mother’s Daughter, as we did to the release of Bangerz, begging the question - how much has the world’s views shifted in just seven years?

Mother’s Daughter has everything a feminist anthem needs. A bite-back chorus, and a music video packed with female-forward activists including prominent members of the LGBT community, who barely had a voice in 2013.

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In true Miley fashion, the video shows her sporting a red latex catsuit (Britney, anyone?) complete with vagina teeth as she repeatedly sings the confrontational lines “Back up, back up, back up boy,” and “Oh my god, she got the power” with the main message of the song being “Don’t f*ck with my freedom” - a rapid shift from the days of the Hoedown Throwdown.

She’s also dived back into acting with her appearance in the latest season of Charlie Brooker’s hit series, Black Mirror, as Ashley O, a pastel-haired popstar (turned-gay-icon) who tries to break free from her “manufactured” pop persona so she can create “real music” - an ironic storyline which scarily mirrors the reality of the industry and Miley’s transition from Hannah Montana to becoming Miley.

But instead of questions being raised about her morality, we’re now seeing support from the masses, describing Mother’s Daughter and it’s video as “powerful statements” and “fierce”, despite it being in the same NSFW tone as the singer’s previous dip into being overtly feminist.

In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Miley acknowledged: “I know what I’m doing. I know I’m shocking you.

“There’s something empowering about what I’m doing right now. Especially having “short hair don’t care.” I think it’s empowering for girls. Because there’s not one thing that defines what beauty is.”

Admittedly, writing this is proof of the cultural shifts we’re facing right now. You only have to type in my handle on Twitter followed by the words “Miley Cyrus” to see an exact tweet I posted the day of the 2013 VMA’s performance, when I was just 15, that reads: “Miley at the VMAs is so uncomfortable to watch”. And in reality, it was.

It was a time where we weren’t exposed to women who weren’t known as activists making social change in their field, and if they were openly considered an activist it was frowned upon, but really people were never mad about what Miley was doing - they were just shocked. Shocked that a stereotypically attractive, female A-lister, was being all feminist and sh*t, when that was supposed to be reserved for women with protest-armpit hair.

Fast forward seven years and a lot more has changed than we realise. Feminist slogans stamp high street t-shirts and celebrities are standing up for causes that were previously frown-worthy.

Arguably, the #MeToo movement has happened since then, and while the stories of these women emerged for all of the wrong reasons, it has a large part to play in why people have started paying more attention to everything that’s still, in 2019, wrong with women’s freedom, and women everywhere have started owning their femininity.

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Anna Miles, period poverty activist and co-founder of the Red Box Project (a service helping to provide disadvantaged women with access to period products), knows this all to well, and despite being a community hero seeking social justice, she has witnessed the transition from gruel to cool when it comes to being an advocate for what were once taboo subjects.

“The Red Box Project was founded because the notion that young women were missing out on their education because they had their period and did not have access to menstrual products seemed abhorrent to me and fortunately this feeling was shared across the country and overseas. Expressing my feelings and creating a solution that was accessible to anyone who wished to take stand too seemed to act as a catalyst.

“From 2 years ago to now I have seen a real change in the level of activism which is focused on a plethora of issues that affect others. The reason for this; when one woman stands up, an army follows.

“If someone like me can create a nationwide project supporting nearly 5,000 educational settings, then anyone can do it. It gives us the courage and strength to witness women, from every walk of life, making a real difference in their communities and like a butterfly effect, activism has grown and has the momentum now to continue on to make real change in the world. We are living in difficult times at the moment and quite rightly, people are angry and frustrated with the state of our country. Activism has grown, I think, because of this frustration. Now more than ever, people are listening to those who make a stand and that feels incredibly empowering.”

Make no mistake, Miley has done her fair share of charity work. She helped during the California wildfires despite losing her own home, and has even set up her own cause, The Happy Hippie foundation, which aims to “rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable populations.”

Being scrutinised is just part of that. In a world where tabloid newspapers run the show, it’s very easy for someone making real changes to be overshadowed by other aspects of their life, and the perception that “attractive women don’t do that”.

But whether she’s twerking against a giant teddy bear, posing topless for the ‘gram or keeping it paired back on a coffee date, Miley is teaching us all that just doing you (even if you feel like shaving half your hair off one day) is breaking the boundaries we all need for real social justice to begin.

Caring just got cool.