Leave Miley and Lily alone! The shock new faces of feminism

Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen have provoked outrage and awe in equal measure, but the singers have kick-started a fresh debate about women and their place in the modern world

Sarah Morrison
Sunday 17 November 2013 01:00
Power in pop: Miley Cyrus at a recent red carpet event
Power in pop: Miley Cyrus at a recent red carpet event

She spanked a twerking dwarf, simulated sex acts with a foam finger, swung naked on a wrecking ball and has been warned against “prostituting” herself to the music industry.

But Miley Cyrus has picked up some new and unexpected fans. Before her X Factor performance this evening (that is eagerly awaited or dreaded, depending on whom you speak to), leading female artists, comedians and professionals have credited the 20-year-old pop star with prompting a modern feminist manifesto.

It has not been an easy ride. Sinead O'Connor went head to head with Cyrus in an open letter last month, warning her about "allowing herself to be pimped" by the music industry. After Cyrus replied, Lily Allen sparked further headlines last week when she released her new single, "Hard Out Here", parodying the increasingly sexualised nature of pop videos. Cyrus hit back, claiming: "I'm one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women not to be scared of anything."

American performance artist Amanda Palmer has called for an provocative and new approach to 'a feminist-loving world'

The debate moved up a notch this weekend when American performance artist Amanda Palmer and British artist Bryony Kimmings unveiled their new "hopeful and provocative manifesto for a peaceful, feminist-loving world" at the Other Club in London. It called for an end to sisterly in-fighting, an active alliance with men, and a "de-shaming" of the word feminist, among other things.

"It wouldn't have happened without Miley Cyrus doing what she did, or Sinead or Lily doing what they did," Palmer told The Independent on Sunday after the manifesto was unveiled. "Say what you like about it or the provocation it caused, but it's generated enthusiasm [about feminism] that hasn't existed in my lifetime. A window has opened and if we don't stick a fucking log through it, it will close."

The former The Dresden Dolls performer said she never used to identify herself as a feminist for fear of being "put in a box". Although feminism is "simply believing in equality between men and women", the term "has been dragged through the dirt". "Now, we have a window to take the word back and make it equal and forward thinking," she said. "There's a feminist revolution brewing."

Key to the duo's new manifesto, which will be posted online this week, is the desire to "allow and actively encourage" men to join in. "We've got to allow men to be in our club and actively pursue feminist rights on our behalf and on their behalf," Kimmings added.

Some men are already on board. Joss Whedon, the film-maker and creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, tried to rebrand the word "feminist" during a recent speech, offering up "genderist" as an alternative. "I would like this word to become the new 'racist'," he said. "I would like a word that says there was a shameful past before we realised that all people were created equal. And we are past that." While Whedon received a bit of a backlash from those who did not want to see the word "feminist" disappear, most people agree that the fight for equal rights is still far from over.

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Jo Swinson, minister for women and equalities, told The IoS that "Whether you look at the pay gap, media sexism or violence against women and girls, it is clear we still need a strong feminist movement to drive change.

"I'm often puzzled when people seem reluctant to describe themselves as a feminist when it is about nothing more controversial than equality. Perhaps this message needs to be expressed more clearly, so that men and women alike can feel comfortable embracing feminism without feeling it is in some way a man-hating crusade."

Tomorrow she will join a group of women, including the Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh, to debate whether feminism needs to be rebranded. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, does not think it is necessary: "This is an incredibly exciting moment for feminism. Thousands of young people around the country are coming to the movement fresh, while social media is enabling it to spread virally and democratising it, too."

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