Fall of 2012.
It was a beautiful, sunny day as my roommate, Saba, and I returned from the University of Jordan. We had hailed a taxi in record time and were sitting quietly in the backseat as our driver sang along with the radio and smoked a cigarette. I was lost in thought as I stared out at the busy streets of Amman.
It wasn’t long before I was woken from my thoughts though, as Saba leaned forward to the driver and told him to make a U-turn up ahead. I smiled, knowing that meant we were almost to our host family’s apartment. A few moments later, we asked the driver to stop on the side of the busy road and I climbed out as Saba paid our fare.
As I waited next to the taxi, I took a deep breath. I always loved that first breath of fresh air after a smoke-filled taxi ride; it always felt like a little piece of heaven. Breathing deeply, I looked at the cars passing us on the street. Ahead, I noticed a silver car going a great deal slower than the cars surrounding it. Confused, I stood on my toes to get a better view. And then I realized why the car was going so slowly.
Craning his neck desperately, the driver was staring…at me.
Immediately, I looked away, feeling a little sick to my stomach for having, however briefly, made eye contact. By that point, Saba had joined me outside the taxi and had started walking up the road. I hurried to catch up with her, carefully watching the silver car out of the corner of my eye. As we began to take a right, down the side street that led to our apartment, I saw the silver car suddenly merging across a lane of traffic to take the turn down the same road. My pulse quickened.
I grabbed Saba’s arm gently, and said,
“Saba, don’t look up yet, but there is a man in a silver car who is about to follow us down our road.”
“What are you talking about, Grace?” Saba asked, confused.
“Just trust me.” As I said this, the silver car turned down the road and began to creep slowly down the road next to us as the man inside stared at us intently.
“We can’t go home right now. We don’t want him to know where we live,” I whispered to Saba as my skin began to crawl.
She nodded in agreement, and I looked around for somewhere to go.
“What about KFC?” I asked, noticing the KFC a block up the main street. Saba quickly agreed and we turned around and crossed a gravel field to the KFC. Knowing there was no easy way to turn around on our narrow side street, I decided we had plenty of time to get to the KFC before the silver car would spot us again.
We waited in the KFC for around an hour, just to be sure the man wouldn’t be lurking about. By the time we reached our apartment, my heart had stopped pounding, but I couldn’t shake what had happened.
This was certainly not the first time for a man to stare at me. It wasn’t even the first time for a man in a car to follow me. However, it was the first time where I felt entirely vulnerable. I was walking home. This experience prodded me to ask the questions that had been piling up inside of me.
So, I began to ask.
“Why do they yell? Why do they stare? Why do they follow me? Why do they try to touch me?”
The answer I always received was, “Because you’re American. You’re easy.” The different people I asked would explain that I was defined by the Americans these men had seen on television and the internet. I thought about that. If this was true, it meant that I was defined by America’s loudest and craziest women. The women who get plastered all over the media.
And, due to this simple fact, I am treated as if I like it, as if I want it.
When I asked what I could do about it, the response was almost always, “You’re popular! It’s like you’re a celebrity! Enjoy it.”
While in Jordan, I came to the conclusion that being an American can just suck. When I moved away though, I realized it goes even beyond being an American. It’s as simple as being a woman. The media is dictating what women should be like, and the world is more than happy to let it.
This is a problem.
Last week, I saw that Miley Cyrus was trending on Facebook. With a sigh, I decided to see what crazy thing she had done now. What I saw absolutely stunned me and I’m sure that was exactly how she wanted me to respond.
If you missed the news articles and blog posts, Miley Cyrus performed at a concert in London where she sexually played with an over-sized, inflatable penis on stage. She also told the crowd,
“Everyone’s a little gay. All it takes is one cocktail. And if that doesn’t work, sprinkle something in their drink. That’s what I always do.”
I’m sorry, what? I couldn’t believe I’d read the article correctly. I read it again. It still read the same. I was just shocked. But do you know what bothered me the most? It was the idea of men around the world reading this article. For years I have been blocking out their jeering, and here was just another excuse for them to jeer some more. And, really, could I blame them?
To be fair, I have no doubt that Miley is tired of hearing she’s a role model (even if that’s true), so I won’t even go there.
I’m sure she just wants to be outrageous and get attention. Don’t we all want that at some point or another?
I’m also sure she just wants to “be who she is”.
And I know she wants to show that women can express their own sexuality however they wish.
But, Hey, Miley, here’s the reality:
By acting this way, for the entire world to see, you are defining who American women are. That means you are actually encouraging sexual advances towards American women. You are defining who we are to other cultures and, specifically, to men, whether we want that or not. And you are, hopefully unknowingly, actually taking away women’s sexual freedoms.
This is a problem.
Here’s our reality:
I know Miley Cyrus will never read this post. I wouldn’t even dare to hope that she would see the consequences of her behavior. However, what I do hope for is that other people, especially women, will recognize what Miley Cyrus (and others like her) are doing to our reputation. I can’t stress enough how important it is that we not be ok with this example of a woman. There needs to be more than just a laugh and a forgetful sigh. If we want to combat the symptoms of this behavior, we need to combat the disease.
And our disease is one of acceptance.
Our acceptance allows for terrible repercussions. All over the world, women are being objectified and worse. Of course we’re not okay with that, but we’re far too often okay with the attitude that the world has accepted as the norm. The attitude we see in the Miley Cyruses of the world.
This is a problem.
I know we may not have a platform like Miley’s, but we do have our own personal platform every single day. In every opportunity, we can be the example and the voice that defines who women really are. We don’t have to allow some attention-seeking girl to define what a woman is as she parades around on stage – so let’s not let her.
Hey, Miley, that’s all I had to say.
Have you felt the consequences of the media’s version of a woman? Leave a comment below.