Thursday, September 12, 2013

Twerk, Miley: Ownership of the Female Body


First, I am exhausted with the term ‘twerking’(which is also spelled with an ‘i’ or ‘u’ before the ‘rk’ in the English colloquial lexicon). I believe society is exhausted with twerking. But most of all, I feel “some type of way” about Three Six Mafia member Juicy J offering a $50,000 scholarship to the “best twerker” via his Twitter account. In the words of the hit Rap/Hip Hop song, “Some Type of Way” by Rich Homie Quan, Juicy’s benevolence “makes me feel some type of way.” The mere fact that Jordan Houston aka ‘Juicy J’, a native and fellow Memphian like myself, and a Grammy award winner, has taken to cyberspace to reward an educational scholarship, though he did not specify what he meant by ‘scholarship’, to the best twerker, and I am assuming he means ‘female’ twerker, has me conflicted. Like any other blue-blooded heterosexual man on planet Earth, I have no problem with being a voyeur or audience member to a female body gyrating and moving her hips and mid-section at a rapid, sometimes slow, and sensual pace, but I do find it off-putting to offer a woman money, particularly for a presumed educational opportunity, solely because of her ability to “twerk”and, subsequentially, sexually arouse a male with money—Juicy J in this case.
          To surmise the history of twerking, one will find its origins in the New Orleans bounce music scene of the early 1990s, specifically DJ Jubilee’s “Do the Jubilee All” in which he chanted, “Twerk, baby, twerk, twerk, twerk.”  The dance, which involves the fast or slow gyrating of the buttocks and hips, spread from the clubs to the strip clubs and became immensely popular in the notorious strip clubs of Atlanta and Houston. Hip Hop took twerking mainstream with the Ying Yang Twins’ 2000 hit single “Whistle While You Twurk”.  Since then, numerous popular Rap artists have mentioned the term “twerking” in their lyrics.  The term seems to be synonymous with the exhibitionist and voyeuristic, if not sexually lustful denigration of the female body.  And because of the aforementioned, rapper Juicy J has chosen to further perpetuate the notion that the worth of women is restricted to their ability to sexually satisfy men—be it through physical sex or the simulated act thereof.     

          My internal conflict and psychological conundrum lies in my gift and my curse in viewing almost every single nuance of not only my life, but society as a whole, from a ‘scholarly’ lens, which I believe, be it naivety or ignorance, most people do as well.  The question is whether it is a woman’s civil and human right to do whatever it is she wants to do with her body as long as it is not physically harming another.  The debate of female sexuality as a tool of empowerment has been at the forefront of our social morays since slavery, and it has been adopted as one of the main talking and selling points of the woman’s suffrage, feminist, and womanist movements and the intersectionality of the aforementioned.  Sure, no individual, particularly and specifically those of the male gender, should be the comptroller of the female body, but when, if ever, does the autonomy of the female body and the movements thereof become explicit? In addition, should women participate in the exploitation of their bodies when it is often grossly displayed on the grand stage of American media as a tool of amusement and an embodiment of female subordination, subjugation, and degradation? 

           Upon first seeing Miley’s adventures in twerking, via YouTube, I thought she was just another white artist stealing from the Black American canon of entertainment, and after her performance at the MTV  Video Music Awards in Brooklyn, New York, I was sure she was mimicking the likes of Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and Justin Timberlake, but I have reanalyzed and redirected my position on Ms. Cyrus—she’s just “doin’ her” which is what any artist or person has the God-given right to do.  Sure, she is not the best twerker in the game, and it may merely be a gimmick to destroy the shadow of Hannah Montana and offer herself up to the world as a grown-up (musical) artist.  Nevertheless, I believe Miley may be embracing the autonomy that women at the forefront of female equality have created for her.  Who knows?  Maybe somewhere in America Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker are twerking their tails off.

                                                                                                           -Gee Joyner