"PC Police", Academic Book, Bill Maher, Boobs, Breasts, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, Gender Expectations, Gender Fluid, Gender Trouble, Henry Killinger, Henry Kissinger, Jack Halberstam, Judith Butler, Lady Gaga, Lesbianism, Luce Irigaray, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Miley Cyrus's Tongue, Millenial, Pansexuality, Passive/Active Sexual Performance, phallocentrism, phallus, Queer Theory, Sexual identity, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, This Sex Which Is Not One, tongue, Vagina, vaginal imagery, Woman's Body
I like Miley Cyrus. I recognize immediately that this statement is sure to lose me some friends, associations, professional contacts, and they key to the hall of Badassery (I’ll miss the swans the most), but I am willing to make it because I admit freely that I’m not a huge fan of her music. While Cyrus has behaved erratically from time to time, her work in the LGBT community, specifically her work with raising awareness for Trans homelessness is something truly admirable. Miley Cyrus as a musician is likely to be remembered the way Madonna or Lady Gaga will be remembered: the record will reflect that some music was made, but for the large part what will be studied is how these women affected the public perception and discourse around the female body. Miley then will most likely be recorded because of her tongue.
While my own reading tends to deal more with male sexuality and body image, understanding perceptions of women are just as, if not more, important because usually the best method of determine the nature of a thing is to understand fully what it is not.
The reader may immediately object by noting that: Gross, you’re gross, seriously what the fuck? Why are you even talking about her tongue? Are you some tongue obsessed serial killer? You’re just, weird man. Ew, just, ew.
Now that you have that out of your system I’ll continue.
Miley’s tongue is a discourse unto itself, and while popstar’s body parts typically derive cheap entertainment fodder it is interesting to observe the populace, as well as Miley herself, fascinated by the recurring image of her tongue stuck out. Simply Google image searching the name Miley Cyrus reveals several images of this action after the first few lines, and should the reader search “Miley Cyrus Tongue” they’re greeted with an entire page. Cyrus has explained in an interview with Barbara Walters that this sticking out of her tongue is simply her trying to cope with always being watched or stared at by cameras since she doesn’t know how to smile. It would be enough to leave it there, but alas a great portion of the population possesses a not-so-well-hidden perversion in trying to understand and dissect the sex lives of celebrities and as such Miley’s Tongue has become a discourse that is worth exploring.
The reason for this is the idea of phallocentrism. Before I get to that though I need to address Cyrus’s gender and sexuality.
Originally the inspiration for this particular essay was Bill Maher. I don’t consider myself a liberal by any means, in fact my mantra for politics is usually “fuck liberals and fuck conservatives, Elmo/Cookie Monster 2016,” but between the bouts of self-righteous dick waving the man can be legitimately funny. I honestly can’t remember the set-up, he was likely complaining about the “PC Police” and during his “New Rules” monologue he made some random comment about a “Millennial’s blog post about Miley Cyrus’s Tongue.” I laughed at first because I was positive that such an essay probably existed and it probably would confirm every bad stereotype about Millennials, but upon deeper reflection I really began to think about it. Writing about tongue’s would have to involve discussing sexuality, and when approaching the topic of the public’s fascination with celebrity bodies this actually becomes something relevant, as well as something which has been done before.
Jack Halberstam has written a book entitled Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal which, while I haven’t read it, explores aspects of Queer theory within popular culture and this idea becomes something pressingly relevant given the fact that more people probably know the name Miley Cyrus than they do Henry Kissinger.** Miley Cyrus is not just a wannabe celebrity desperate for attention, she’s become a figure within the public consciousness, and unlike previous instances of “the IT girl,” Miley is unashamedly queer.
Miley Cyrus has openly identified herself as gender fluid and pansexual. If you don’t know what either of those are I’ll provide a basic explanation. Gender fluid is a state in which individuals self-identify as both genders, but rather than have it fixed all the time as man and woman it depends upon a person’s feeling or individual mood. She has said in one article:
On not conforming to gender stereotypes, she continued: “I don’t relate to what people have made men and women into. I know I’m more extreme and badass than most guys, but that doesn’t make me a boy.
“And the other night I wore a pink dress because I felt cute. I can bake a cupcake and then go play hockey.”
Gender fluidity is not free-for-all, nor is it simply “what I feel like at this moment.” Gender fluid is one of the most mistaken gender identities because it is derogatorily perceived as someone just being weird or confused. Despite naysayers which would argue that this is a vapid identity structure, it is a conviction that one simply does not recognize a gender binary (the idea that there are only men and women) as the core of their identity. As for pansexuality this a sexual preference in which individuals do not center their erotic attraction based upon gender. Whereas straight men and cisgender lesbians are attracted to women, and likewise straight women and cisgender homosexual males are attracted to men, the pansexual is open to a wide variety of body types and gender identities. This is sometimes mislabeled as the Cole Porter hit “Anything Goes,” and if the reader is confused do not feel bad for both this gender identity and sexuality is often poorly represented in cinema and television so understanding will not always be direct. Pansexuality, like all sexuality, is nuanced and for each person there are preferences and fetishes. Simply put: the Pansexual person does not hold one gender as desirable, but in fact believes that any human being they encounter can be sexy regardless of sex, gender, or sexuality. For lack of better clarification I’ll let Cyrus speak for herself:
“I’ve had really bad anxiety and depression in my life and a lot of that stemmed from the way I look,” she confessed to the publication. “Now I really try not to give a f**k. If you’re funny enough and cool enough and confident, that’s what will make you feel beautiful.”
With all of this in hand understanding the public discourse of Cyrus becomes easier for too often the critics talking about her often use “her.” Even I’ve done it if you’ve been paying attention, and while Cyrus hasn’t made any public comment about pronoun usage this does complicate all the talk about her tongue.
Looking at the tongue in general the average image association can become rather phallic. Gene Simmons the base player of KISS has even gone so far as to suggest openly that Cyrus has attempted to “steal” his tongue “look,” and given the fact that Gene Simmons is Dr. Love immediately Cyrus’s physical gesture becomes connected to the idea of the phallus(I believe the colloquial term is “The D”). The tongue during sex becomes a pseudo-phallus penetrating the vagina and stimulating it and thus the figure using it becomes the “active penetrator.” Which is an elaborate way of saying the one using the tongue is “the man.”
The problem with this is that this is bullshit, at least as far as Cyrus is concerned. Cyrus’s tongue can’t be a penis because that would be an aspect of gendering her. To get a clearer perspective of this the reader should consult Judith Butler’s seminal text Gender Trouble in which she explores her thesis that gender is a performance rather than the innate biology. Looking at the way human beings gender bodies she notes:
Pleasures are said to reside in the penis, the vagina, and the breasts or to emanate from them, but such descriptions correspond to a body which has already been constructed or naturalized gender-specific. In other words, some parts of the body become conceivable foci of pleasure precisely because they correspond to a normative ideal of a gender-specific body. Pleasures are in some sense determined by the melancholic structure of gender whereby some organs are deadened to pleasure, and others brought to life. (95-6)
The reader may be wondering what that exactly said seeing as how Butler’s work is incredibly academic, and also tremendously theoretical (in the humanities sense, not the scientific sense). Butler is arguing that sexual pleasure is often centered in the erogenous zones of the breasts, vagina, and penis because society designates them as erogenous zones. The reason the penis is the sight for male pleasure is because men from birth are told that they are men, that the penis is the sight for orgasm and all pleasure, and any other physical pleasure is either unnatural or else a fetish. The same dialogue takes place over breasts. The reader most likely has a friend who often shares photos or videos of women breastfeeding in public and being scorned or else told to go somewhere else (it’s me, I’m your friend that does this, it’s an important issue). The reason for this is because our society has over-sexualized women’s breast to the point they have negated their original purpose. Breasts by design are meant to produce milk and feed babies, yet the rhetoric of pornography and advertising has inundated the public at large with the paradigm (sort of a standard of behavior or ideology) that breasts are sexual objects and “the bigger and less saggier the better.”
The reader may then ask, well so what? Why is that important or relevant to Miley Cyrus? Why should I give a damn?
The reader should give a damn because Cyrus’s tongue is being sold and mass marketed as a phallus. Miley Cyrus’s body has become a discourse and corporate product, and the sexual rhetoric around her becomes problematic. I will try to look at both interpretations.
Miley sticking her tongue out is photographed, recorded, and contextualized alongside her misunderstood sexuality to sell either “lesbian” pornographic fantasies, or else to make her tongue appear as a pseudo phallus.
The tongue is sold to heterosexual audiences, either of mainstream media or private pornography, as the lesbian’s main sexual tool. I think the reason for this is that straight audiences fall back upon Butler’s argument, and can’t process anything outside the typical erogenous zones best explained in the equation “dick = great.” Straight people more or less write the tongue off as the lesbian’s “penis” and this attitude is best expressed by a joke a friend of mine, who happens to be straight, told me during high school:
What do you call a homosexual woman with an extra-long tongue?
A well-hung lesbian.
This attitude repeats itself, and what’s important to note is how the vagina, labias, clitoris, fingers, and lips are totally absolved from erotic responsibility. The tongue is a penis where there seems only absence. Recently I’ve begun a book This Sex Which is Not One by Luce Irigaray and the opening passages held some interesting insight into this matter:
Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the opposition between “masculine” clitoral activity and “feminine” vaginal passivity, an opposition which Freud—and many others—saw as stages, or alternatives, in the development of sexually “normal” woman, seems rather too clearly required by the male sexuality. For the clitoris is perceived as a little penis pleasant to masturbate so long as castration anxiety doesn’t exist […] and the vagina is valued for the “lodging” it offer the male organ…
In these terms, woman’s erogenous zones never amount to anything but a clitoris-sex that is not comparable to the noble phallus organ, or a hole-envelope that serves to sheathe and massage the penis in intercourse […]. (23)
Ultimately it all comes down the idea best expressed by a work colleague of mine expressed so eloquently: “Everybody, apparently, is a fan of “The D.”
Irigaray’s arguments are valid, though it’s important to note that her book has more to do with women’s bodies that a gender fluid person’s body. For now we’ll work with the fact that Cyrus possesses similar physical territory and work from that. Regardless, Cyrus’s tongue is often comparable to a penis and Irigaray’s is able to express clearly how this pollutes the concept of a person’s, specifically a woman’s, erotic anatomy. It’s not just that the penis becomes the only object of importance during sex, it’s the fact that a woman’s vagina is treated and perceived as useful only for receiving the penis and holding it during the act of sex. Nevermind the fact that lesbians have been using vaginas for sex, and apparently enjoying themselves just fine, for centuries without the need for a penis.
In the case with Miley’s tongue, the rhetoric around it suggests that it is a lesbian-penis but it can’t really be that because lesbian’s don’t like penises unless you watch “lesbian” porn in which case there’s phallic objects galore…or so I’m told (*cough*). This may be getting too theoretical for the reader but I promise I’m almost done. To me part of the lasting impression is a point Irigay makes a few pages on when she says:
But woman has sex organs more or less everywhere. She finds pleasure almost anywhere. Even if we refrain from invoking the hystericalization of her entire body, the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is commonly imagined—an imaginary rather too narrowly focused on sameness. (28).
Sex is not limited to just the interaction of genitals but too often people are told, sold, and buy the idea that the penis is the center of all sexual activity and this is a problem. Sex is not just stimulation, ejaculation, and then some Conan before bed. Sexuality involves the entire body from the shoulders, to the stomach, to the thighs, and even, to the tongue. If it’s not clear at this point that this was never really about Miley Cyrus then I really don’t have anything else to offer you except a few more closing thoughts.
It is rather ridiculous to spend the time and effort to write up an essay around some pop-star’s tongue, but going over these ideas of genderization and phallocentricsm I really don’t think it is. Talking about sex and gender may be the stuff of bad blogs you make one semester while you’re finishing up your core with a gender studies class, but the way we talk about sex and gender at large does matter. Miley Cyrus by her own admission isn’t a lesbian, but neither is she straight, but because the public at large is still catching up to the nuance of sexuality and gender expression a discourse has emerged because she stuck her tongue out during a few dozen pictures. Looking at these images casually it’s easy to simply write Cyrus off as a lesbian, but it’s also incorrect. Just as it’s incorrect to assume that that the only way two women can have sex is through tongues because that’s the closest thing to a phallus besides a finger.
The tongue is part of the body and as such holds the potential to become an erotic instrument, but instead of simply looking at the tongue as a second penis there exists the alternative to realize: it’s just a tongue. That’s all it is. Like so many things in life it really doesn’t matter what you think of it, it just matters how you use it.
With that bad joke, I’m out.
I’ve included links to a few random articles I found while working on this essay that deal with the topic of Miley’s Tongue. They range from using the images of it to talk about her health, to her activism, to her performances. Enjoy.
Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State for Richard Nixon and is widely regarded, by me and a few others, as one of the world’s most revolting human beings. Apart from prolonging peace talks with the Vietcong while helping Nixon lead bombing raids against civilians in Laos and Cambodia, he was also partly responsible for the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, a dictatorship maintained through a systematic employment of torture, incarceration, censorship, and execution that lead to the deaths of at least 40,000 people. And don’t even get me started on Cyprus.
Case in point: More people know Miley Cyrus than they do Henry Kissinger, which is depressing if only for the fact it makes the Henry Killinger reference in Venture Brothers that much more confusing.