Miley Cyrus is not a slut.

Or, at least no more so than most female performers her age. 

Since her VMA performance and the sound thrashing she’s gotten from it, I have been conflicted. I hate it when women are called sluts publicly. I also don’t particularly like it when women behave like sluts in public, either. But I tend to think that the former contributes to the latter by killing the general self-esteem of women everywhere, so I dislike it more.  

But the Miley-show was abominable. Truly horrific. And she completely did it to herself. And I like it when pop culture actually discourages women from behaving like they are whores.

So I was having a hard time figuring out why I still felt some form of feminist anger at her critics. I just kept wanting people to shut up and leave her alone already!

It finally dawned on me. Miley’s critics were bashing her for being too lewd, too slutty, too whorish, when she really didn’t do anything any more whorish than at least a dozen other female pop stars I can think of. That weird tongue thing? Lady Gaga’s done way weirder with weirder and more overtly sexual body parts. Masturbating with a giant foam finger? Madonna masturbated on stage in the 90’s, Brittney did it with a snake in the ’00’s. And the twerking? Please. That’s  just a new name for rump shaking, which every video ho has done since there were video ho’s. (Nicki Minaj in Starships? Hello!)

No, Miley wasn’t any sluttier than anyone else. She just was bad at it. And that’s the real problem I have with her critics. They emphasized the wrong things because she’s a woman. They shouldn’t be criticizing her performance for being slutty. They should be criticizing it for being bad. Because it was. She just really didn’t hit the right note. She didn’t perform well, didn’t have anything really choreographed or planned. It was like she was winging it in a club. Which is fine for the club, but not for the VMAs.

She was lewd and obnoxious to cover for not being prepared. And who could blame her, really? If there’s one thing pop culture is fantastically good at getting across is that being sexy and flaunting it are the very best ways for women to get praise and attention. Talent is only a very distant second, and not really necessary. Everybody’s just a little confused because we aren’t used to an attractive woman attempting sexy and failing so abysmally.

Which is why I am ticked. Instead of being fairly criticized for having a bad performance, as every performer does from time to time, she is being thrown under the bus for being slutty. Because she is a woman, the immediate criticism focuses on her use of her sexuality, and then criticizes her in an astonishingly harsh way for it. She is being called a slut for actually just not being a good performer. This is how we still punish women in our society? With attacks at their sexuality? Feminism will have truly gotten someplace when a woman can be criticized in her own right for doing a crappy job, without some reference to her sexuality, or even gender, being brought into it.

Miley is being unfairly called a “slut”, and she is also being hit harder than another male performer would be for the same level of crappiness in her performance. And that’s because in American pop culture, the most unimaginable crime is to be a woman and fail at being sexy.