Your open letter to Miley is really about you, Sinead

An open letter is attention-seeking and the polar opposite of private

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It has been seven(ish) hours and 40 days since Miley Cyrus twerked in a nude latex bikini at the MTV Awards. In those 40 days a lot has happened; most noticeably the pop star has released a single and video in which she licks a sledgehammer and straddles a wrecking ball in the nude. So far it has received 183 million hits on Vevo – a record-breaking 19.3 million of them in the first 24 hours.

In the meantime, as the internet buzzes with people liking and stridently hating Cyrus's work, the spectacle of a 20-year-old former child star publicly discovering her identity and sexuality has become unavoidable. Depending on where you stand, it has thrown an ugly light on to society's knee-jerk misogyny, or on to its voracious appetite for celebrity trash.

Either way, it was inevitable that at some point all of the tweets and comments and warnings from Elton John would coalesce into an open letter. Attention-seeking, solipsistic, viral-prone and the polar opposite of private – nothing encapsulates the times more than an open letter. This one came from the keyboard of pop star-turned-papal scourge Sinead O'Connor. Cyrus has acknowledged the Irish singer's "Nothing Compares 2 U" video as an influence on her own "Wrecking Ball". In return, O'Connor wrote an open letter, "in the spirit of motherliness and love", to tell Cyrus that she is obscuring her talent by allowing herself to be "pimped" by greedy male record company executives, and worse, that she is sending a "prostitution is cool" message to her young female fans. "It is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent," she wrote, sensibly.

Cyrus, like most young women who are told to put on some more clothes and stop messing about, didn't take the advice too well. In fact, she took it with some ill grace, tweeting: "Sinead, I don't have time to write you an open letter because I'm hosting and performing on SNL [Saturday Night Live] this week." She also compared O'Connor to the troubled actress Amanda Bynes and shared a picture of O'Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope on SNL in 1992. (The latter, I think, just proving that there are more ways for pop stars to get people talking than with latex and licking). Events took a turn for the slangy when O'Connor wrote back, again openly, to take exception to Cyrus mocking mental illness. It will most likely rumble on for some time yet. And we will most likely continue to eavesdrop, willingly or not.

One thing O'Connor is right to question is who is advising Cyrus. The list of child stars turned car crashes continues to grow and yet the entertainment industry continues to refuse to take responsibility. Cyrus may be being exploited by lecherous A&R men, she may be doing it for herself. Either way she is 20 and grown-up advice is what she, like every 20 year old, needs. Should that come in an open letter and the media circus that brings, or a private note from someone who knows her? If we're really talking about motherliness and love, the answer is clear.

+++++

David Cameron is a feminist. Last week he wasn't sure, telling Red magazine: "Umm … I don't know what I'd call myself … It's up to others to attach labels." Perhaps, like Beyoncé, he believes that we "need to find a catchy new word for feminism, like bootylicious". This week, he had a rethink on Channel 4 News. "When I was asked that question, what I should have said is if that means equal rights for women, then yes. If that is what you mean by feminist, then yes, I am a feminist."

That is exactly what feminist means, so that is good. But is it enough? As any good feminist knows, it is deeds not words that bring about equal rights. Cameron might like to look at his Conservative Party board. Out of 22 members, only three are female. Or to put it another way, there are as many women making top-level decisions about the party as there are men called Steve.

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