Miley Cyrus’ new music video, “Adore You,” is not for the faint of heart. In it she goes through her usual routine of touching herself, writhing in the throes of sexual ecstasy, and wearing flesh-colored undergarments. The difference this time? They’re see-through (err… or so my friends tell me).
Miley does not need me to promote her music videos.
But mention it I must, for an important reason. I’m not going to go the prudish route and condemn Miley for making her music essentially pornographic, beginning with her twerking at the VMA awards back in August. That would be boring and predictable, especially coming from a Rabbi. I will not complain that Miley is pushing the envelope and sexualizing the culture, because, as everyone will point out, the same was said of Elvis and the Beatles.
Rather, my problem with Miley is simple and fundamental. Her essential message is that whatever talents a woman may have, her greatest asset is her vagina. She may be able to sing, but her breasts rather than her vocal cords are her vital organ. She may be a nuclear physicist, but her butt rather than her brain is what makes her really attractive. She may be able to dance, but it’s her legs rather than her agility that really wows. And she may a religious scholar. But her genitals rather than her piety is what begs the world’s interest.
I have no problem with women being sex objects. The book I’m about to publish, Kosher Lust, is all about the need for wives to remain sex objects to their husbands. But only so long as that’s not all they are.
Sigmund Freud apparently once said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a female teacher is just that, a teacher, someone whom male students have to focus on as a source of information and knowledge and not a collection of body parts. Sometimes a female news anchor is just that, a news anchor, rather than someone with a great chest or red-hot lips.
What the Miley Cyruses of this world are doing is stripping women of an intrinsic identity and making them a means to the libidinous man’s ends.
The message of feminism, as I understand and embrace it, is simply this: of all the qualities a woman has—from her beautiful body to her sensual nature—nothing is as important as her brain. Her mind dare never be subordinated to any other feature.
I believe that lust is the most important ingredient in marriage. A husband and wife who do not desire each other are essentially living in a prison. Whether it’s the children or the mortgage or shared previous experiences that are now imprisoning them doesn’t much matter. What does matter is that they are no longer in the relationship out of personal choice but due to some external factor that is regulating, and therefore, limiting, the relationship.
But desire is not simply of the body and lust is not limited to the flesh. It’s the entire package, capped by the power of a woman’s opinions and insights, that makes her so desirable. That’s why performing artists like Miley Cyrus seldom achieve any longevity. Their ability to shock will eventually wear off. And then what? How many times are we going to want to see Miley’s breasts, or legs, or whatever else she’s going to be forced to bare just to keep our interest?
Compare Ms. Cyrus with, say, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, or even Angelina Jolie—whose dignified role as a humanitarian Ambassador is laudatory—and you begin to understand the difference between women who demonstrate multi-faceted talents and those who simply bare their flesh. The fascination this weekend over Robin Roberts coming out as a lesbian derives not from the revelation about her sexuality but from the well of admiration Ms. Roberts has built up over a long career spent earning the public’s respect.
I’m raising six daughters. I believe passionately in female education. My message to my daughters has been that if they delve deeply into the characters of the Bible, if they read about the civil war, if they follow the ongoing debate about Iran’s coming nuclear arsenal, they will have deeper relationships, including with men. They laugh at the notion. “Really, Tatty. Don’t be ridiculous. Even the most educated men want women who go to the gym, wear tight clothes, and use tons of makeup. They don’t give a damn about Stonewall Jackson. Whether or not Hassan Rouhani is a reformer is not near the top of the list. You’re condemning us to lives of loneliness.”
To an extent they have a point. Men do want attractive women. But there is nothing as attractive as a mischievous mind, especially in a woman. Miley Cyrus has a dangerous body but not a dangerous mind. Her twerking raises our eyebrows … until it doesn’t. Britney Spears tried it all before. She jerked, twerked, bumped, grinded, and bared nearly all. But her career has been reduced to playing a two-year gig at the Planet Hollywood in Vegas, and even that’s a last-ditch effort to rescue her from terminal oblivion.
Miley Cyrus seems desperate for attention. I’m not knocking it. We all want to be wanted, need to be needed, desire to be desired. But passing attention is fleeting. More satisfying is deep interest. And the world takes a deep interest in women who know how not just to burn up the spotlight but when to recede into the shadows.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. Like Rabbi Shmuley’s Facebook Page /RabbiShmuleyBoteach.