"You know, everyone's a little bit gay," Miley Cyrus said this weekend at popular London club G-A-Y. "It's the truth. Everyone's gay: All it takes is one cocktail. And if that doesn't work, sprinkle something in their drink. That's what I always do."
Controversy and Miley Cyrus go hand in hand. However, these five lines mean much more than any of her other tabloid-friendly antics. It's not just "typical Miley" or her "begging for attention, again." It might be a small joke, but it's part of a huge problem: When someone who calls herself a feminist make light of rape in front of thousands and barely gets called out for it, it's clear that pop music has a major rape problem.
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Sexuality is something that should be celebrated and not suppressed, and Miley has long led the pack in that regard. She is a poster child for awkward, overwrought, coming-of-age sexuality. She may be lewd, but she's provocative in a lot of positive ways. That only makes it worse when she fails to grasp the significance of a problem we as a culture need to address now more than ever.
In the past few months, we have seen way too many college-related rape stories. Many rapists get away with their crimes. Victims are the ones who are punished. Many schools try to sweep these issues under the rug.
Rape jokes help them do that. They normalize a violent act, which ultimately leads to rape acceptance, which ultimately leads to widespread rape culture on college campuses and elsewhere. Thirty-five percent of men report that, to some degree, they would commit rape if they were assured that they wouldn't be caught. One in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be raped or experience attempted rape in their lifetime. These numbers are probably much higher in reality, but because of the stigma that victims face, they do not come forward. Still, 82% of rape victims say that rape has permanently changed them. Many develop PTSD and depression.
Today we live in a world where most rapists get off scot-free. Ninety-seven percent of rapists will never face jail time and date rapists get high-fived by their frat brothers, and are even encouraged to take advantage of women who cannot consent. That's largely because our culture deems it acceptable to reference rape for entertainment's sake. Music runs rampant with "date rape" anthems. Rick Ross gave us all this lovely image: "Put Molly all up in her champagne / She ain't even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that." Jamie Foxx's "Blame It (On the Alcohol)" casually ignores the fact that the incident it describes sounds like date rape and should probably be blamed on the character in the song. And as for date rape jokes, they're just not funny, and far too prevalent: comedian Daniel Tosh once threatened an audience member, implying that she should be gang-raped, while rape jokes run wild all over forums like Reddit and 4Chan.
But it's all for the "lulz," obviously. That's all that matters.
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Miley is young. Her audience is young. Many people who joke about rape are young. So are 80% of rape victims. When she plays venues like Barclays Center, that's for an audience of 18,000. If half those members are female (a conservative estimate) and the rape statistics hold, 1,500 people would have all too good a reason not to laugh at her joke.
But even worse, Miley and pop music as a whole seem to think male rape doesn't exist in any sort of concerning way. Just because Miley is a woman (and an attractive one at that) does not make this joke cute, either. Yes, the venue is a gay club with a history of raunchy shows. But gay men are often subjected to rape and sexual assault. The idea that slipping roofies into a straight guy's drink to make them "gay for the night" is equally destructive. A major psychological side effect of heterosexual assault is concern about the victim's sexual orientation, which can ultimately lead to mental health issues. Just because women are the most vocal victims does not negate or lessen the pain that male survivors feel. It doesn't change the fact that, on average, men wait 20 years before reporting rape. And while rape by a woman is not uncommon, as most think, it's commonly thought of as something men, surely, wouldn't mind.
Miley may be known for being provocative — she, after all, was behind the twerk heard 'round the world — but some things deserve more respect. This is one of them.