Millennial… Feminist… Sexuality… What’s it mean?

Laura Koch March 12th, 2017

Millennial… Feminist… Sexuality

In many of our current forms of popular culture, the millennial female has been identified and characterized by her sexuality. Throughout every influential medium, especially television and music culture, how these women define themselves as feminists is in direct correlation to their larger cultural representation. People such as Lena Dunham, Miley Cyrus, Tomi Lahren are examples of people in the limelight who differ in how their sexuality is executed to the public. Through the various popular culture mediums, such as news coverage, music videos, and television, each medium works to serve a different purpose in how women define their sexuality. In my opinion, the concept of sexuality is personalized by the individual, where the identity of the term itself is not defined by the barriers that is presented to us in the media. By studying the discourse of influential figures in our popular culture, I believe we can reevaluate how we as a society judge, praise, or criticise the varying forms of sexual representation. Sexual identity is often disparaged in popular culture through the discussion on feminism. Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball, Lena Dunham’s Girls, and Tomi Lahren’s Final Thoughts, share the ability to express how a very specific type of female works to tell a different story.

Popular culture has bled into the average citizen’s life in an all consuming manner. This means that we see ourselves through the lens of a much broader category. For instance, the primary sources that I have chosen, are mass media products in which millions of people have seen. We do not watch these videos without our personal reflections in mind, meaning that we align ourselves with those same sexualized representations of the celebrity. What these celebrities are saying and doing are then reflected to their audiences in some form. Especially when looking at the millennial female, the idea of how feminism and sexuality work into our culture is analyzed through technology. Through technology and varying perceptions of both terms, creates a divisive stance on right and wrong, or feminist and anti-feminist. We have been bred and groomed alongside these public figures, like Miley Cyrus, Lena Dunham, and more recently Tomi Lahren. We see ourselves through them, and build our reality around what they create, how they are portrayed, how they portray themselves. Of course, this is not in everything that we do or that of who we are. Or is it? Not only the millennial female, but everyone who has been apart of this digital age is vulnerable to taking on these celebrity ideals because we have been trained to build our perceptions on and around it.

For instance, take Miley Cyrus’s music video Wrecking Ball, which has reached over 871,580,115 views in counting and follows one of the most famous female millennials in the world. The video epitomizes the synergistic world around the celebrity millennial female. In the most popular version in which the majority of the world has seen, Cyrus leaves very little to the imagination, or possibly a whole lot. The minimal environment and appearance is overshadowed by the expectation that we have for a millennial celebrity who was once the comedic family actress. I think Cyrus makes evident that the female life is messy, powerful, sexual, and sometimes gratuitously glorified. It is up to the individual, Miley Cyrus, to participate in the ideas around female sexuality and explore it in a way that attracts viewers while also completely discrediting the idea that you have to be a “lady” or you have to show just “enough” skin. I think the video also shows the multiple sides to Cyrus; she is both vulnerable and strong. Below is another picture from the music video. The first image depicts what a mass audience sees, while the second one, I think, shows “a” meaning behind the previous image.

Miley Cyrus. Outtakes.

Many interesting ideas were brought up in an article that pertains to female sexual agency. The foundation of Brady’s article is based on the findings around Miley Cyrus comparing Wrecking Ball to Sinead O’ Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U. This celebrity encounter created a feud between the two celebrities because Sinead publicly denounced that comparison because of Cyrus’s overtly sexual content, which in Sinead’s opinion, does not promote empowerment like her “respected” video does. Who is she to define empowerment and disparage Cyrus’s? Then again, who is she not to? The feud is then taken into a larger context and used to talk about celebrity culture that “draws on post-structuralist feminist theory to question the positioning of celebrity feminism as exterior to an imagined “feminist movement (Brady).”

This is important because there are competing ideals on how to represent feminism and what specific types of popular culture do more harm than good. In the eyes of many, the music industry is “parasitic” to female identity and makes specifically millennials think that they have to use nudity and sexualization to express empowerment. However, by saying that there is a right and a wrong in how celebrities and the industry work, we take the power away from those who choose to express their sexuality. Feminist liberation is a working topic that is criticized by shaming. An “emphasis on ‘choice’ as definitive of third-wave feminism (Brady),” is another important part of understanding how our culture works to represent us, giving the same opportunities to consumers of celebrity culture.

When analyzing Tomi Lahren as an example of millennial feminist, I would say that as a popular political figure who disparages the idea of feminism, her sexual representation in the media is constantly used to benefit her. Whether Lahren is aware of that persona, she is able to give a conservative opinion on how exclusively defining feminism is an issue. In an article written by Mike Wendling on anti-feminist Lahren, her ultra conservative reporting for Dallas’s The Blaze is significant. Lahren’s view on feminism brings up a lot of controversy because of her seemingly negative reaction to anything and everything that supports the movement in the public eye. Her popularity on social media has reached over millions of views. She is infamous for arguing against many liberal social issues, such as the Women’s March. After reading this article, I had a transformative learning moment, because it brought up a good point on Lahren’s videos. Wendling states that, “ on women’s issues she hits at a popular theme on the right these days, that feminism was in the past a laudable quest for equality but has been taken “too far” by campus radicals (Wendling).” Whether conservative, liberal, or democrat, Lahren’s influence over her audience has been a result of her ability to affect popular culture, while basking in her sexuality, whether she believes it or not. She questions the label “feminist” because of its arguably “confusing” definition.

The above picture is a snapshot from the scene titled, “We’re the Ladies” of HBO’s second season of Girls. In the very beginning stages of the series, audiences were just getting to know the characters of Hannah, Shoshanna, Jessa, and Marnie. At first, our opinions of these fascinating and dynamic females were built on the stereotypes that existed pretty heavily around the millennial female identity. Prior to the air of Girls on HBO, these sort of honest female characters did not exist. Girls explores the concepts of millennial female identity by exploring the girl’s differences in their sexuality, emphasizing the idea that not every girl resonates with the female label of a lady. More importantly so, the show explores what previous generations have been unable to see on their television shows.

Comparatively, to shows such as Sex in the City, Girls is a revolutionary story that takes apart stereotypical terms to redefine how people think of post feminism and new feminism ideals. For instance, the picture from the scene above the characters are talking about who identifies as a “lady” (Shoshanna) and who is negates the term (Jessa).There is a re-establishing of cultural norms that takes place in the show by satirizing itself. As stated in the article, “By reflexively questioning and challenging its influences from earlier generations of second wave feminism and post-feminism, we argue that Girls allows for a re-articulation and re-mobilisation of post-feminism for a millennial generation (Nash).” The article also suggests how these earlier generations led millennials to speak out on how we want to be represented.

This is an extension of many of the points that I am bringing up in my essay because it accurately delves into taboo discussions on sexuality and feminism in popular culture. This is crucial in creating a conversation for the differences in millennial female representation throughout our culture as a whole. The expectation for women to be portrayed as sexual human beings is a part of the post feminism motive. Girls is both aware of this and uses it for both the show’s advantage, and the audience’s learning. This gives women the power to define and redefine their existence through their own input on how sexuality is seen in popular culture.

When researching traits that I identify with, I had to think of these markers in regards to an idea that is much bigger than myself. It is interesting to think of oneself on a more global scale and how that reflects into a broader and more generalized version. By researching the “millennial female,” and how popular culture portrays this specific type of person in the media, I found that the term is not so specific. Instead, it made me come to the conclusion that even if you align yourself with a certain identity traits, such a feminist, there a varying definitions and perceptions that make its meaning personal. Mostly, if not always, when the millennial female is on screen, her identity is categorized and explored through her sexuality. Whether that is by the means of conversation or synergistically, it is always present. I personally see this as a more positive than negative part of our culture because we have many strong women who are creating content that speaks up and speaks out. The conversation through the content discussed above in turn expresses personal sexuality; giving a voice to those who are watching and to those who have their stage.

Work Cited

Brady, Anita. Taking time between g-string changes to educate ourselves: Sinéad O’Connor, Miley Cyrus, and celebrity feminism. 8 May 2016. Web. Accessed 17 Feb 2016 < http://www-tandfonline-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/doi/full/10.1080/14680777.2015.1137960?scroll =top&needAccess=true >

Nash, Meredith. Twenty-Something Girls v. Thirty-Something Sex And The City Women
Paving the way for “post? feminism” 17 June 2016. Web. Accessed February 2017. < http://www-tandfonline-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/doi/full/10.1080/14680777.2015.1050596?scrol l=top&needAccess=true >

Wendling, Mike. BBC News. Tomi Lahren: the young Republican who’s bigger than Trump on Facebook. 30 November 2016. Web. Accessed February 2017. < http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38021995 >

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