Well, well, well. That Miley Cyrus, eh? When the whole VMA storm broke and everyone and their Auntie Ethel blogged about it / wrote columns/ discussed in the pub, I kind of let it pass me by. After all, I am not and have never been her target market. But then yesterday she released a statement about the furore surrounding her performance. "Madonna's done it. Britney's done it," she said. "Every VMA performance, that's what you're looking for; you're wanting to make history…what’s amazing is I think now, people are still talking about it. They're over-thinking it. You're thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. I didn't even think about it ‘cause that's just me.”
It got me thinking about choice. About we women who have it, and the millions of women who have less than us, or none.
Are you a woman with choice? Ask yourself the following questions. Did you/ will you get to decide when and how your education ends? Do you get to decide if/ where you work? Did you choose your own sexual/ life partner? Are you in charge of your own sexual health and contraception? Can you move around the world freely and alone?
If you answered yes, then you are a woman with choices and I would say this to you. We have a responsibility to choose well. Given that we have so many options, we are accountable to women all over the world who have few or no choices. If we have possibilities and opportunities and platforms and we’re wasting them, what hope is there for women who are at daily risk of rape and sexual assault, forced marriage and genital mutilation, and who are denied the right to education, property and autonomy?
So here’s my manifesto. It isn't prescriptive, because I don’t hold with telling people what to do. But these are the choices I plan to live by – and the choices I wish Miley Cyrus and other women of influence might give a thought to.
Choose education. UNESCO statistics show that education for girls and women is a primary indicator for improved maternal, health, reduced infant mortality and a reduction in crime and poverty across the community. It stands to reason that is as true in North London as it is in Malawi. Education gives empowerment and choice. If you have the chance to get it, grab as much of it as you can.
Choose information. As above. The internet is full of the stuff. So are books, newspapers, magazines and the television. Arm yourself with information on all issues so you can make informed decisions. Think, think, think.
Choose financial independence. You never know what’s around the corner. No matter how lovely your life is now, how committed your relationships, how supportive your family… nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. Be ready. Save. Have the capacity to work and earn, even if you’re not working now.
Choose good relationships. Whether they’re romantic relationships family ties, work connections or friendships, choose well. If someone is degrading you, abusing you, or damaging your self-esteem, walk away and choose better. Don’t let them rob you of your power and autonomy. I also know this is easy to say but difficult to do.
Choose positive influence. If you are in a position of power, and people look up to you, consider how you express yourself (yes, Miley, I’m talking to you). If you’re looking for a role model, think about what the person you look up to stands for.
Choose thoughtful creative expression (yup, another one for you, Miley). If you’re a creative, what does your work say? If you’re a musician, actor, writer, comedian… does your work show you as a complex multi-faceted human being? Particularly if you’re a young woman, are you showing off more than your beauty and sexuality?
Choose to help other women. I attended an event at the Houses of Parliament earlier this year to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison. The roster of speakers was incredibly impressive, women of power and influence in a wide variety of fields. The one thing they all agreed upon is this – if we are in positions of influence, we should mentor, promote and help other women, not pull the ladder up after us.
Choose positive sexual expression. I’m all for sex. I like doing it, and I find it arousing to see it depicted well. But here’s a question to ask. If you’re expressing yourself sexually (actually doing the deed, dancing, posing for pictures, whatever), think about what you’re doing. Is it genuinely exciting for you? Is it turning you on? Or are you acting out a male/ pornified fantasy because you've been taught turning someone else on is more important? That’s my issue with La Cyrus’s performance. I’m not indulging in middle-aged tutting because she was being ‘sexy’. I’m asking whether what she was doing was sexy for *her*.
Choose to vote. No-brainer, Seriously. I won’t even lay a suffragette guilt trip about how women died so you could vote. It’s just so obvious that the government have control over every aspect of your life – your financial well-being, your home, your health care and education. You've been given the right to hire and fire them. Use it.
Choose choice. What we don’t realise when we are young is that so many of the choices we make, sometimes blindly or impulsively, can close doors. The wrong relationship. A dead-end job. A baby born when we couldn't really afford it. You can’t plan for everything, but you can always try to keep doors open – keep your career moving, avoid obvious health pitfalls, end poisonous relationships. Look after yourself and your dependents before trying to please other people.
Choose. Because you can.