2013 Was the Year of Twerking

Could Lilith Be the Miley Cyrus of Jewish Tradition?

Everyone’s Problem: Miley Cyrus shed her Southern good-girl skin this year when she danced provocatively with singer Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.
Getty Images
Everyone’s Problem: Miley Cyrus shed her Southern good-girl skin this year when she danced provocatively with singer Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

By Elissa Strauss

Published December 30, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Miley Cyrus isn’t Jewish. Baruch Hashem. She isn’t ours to worry about — to define, to defend, to forgive or condemn.

We can’t get off that easy, however. We may have had nothing to do with the creation of Cyrus but all of us had our part in setting the stage, physical and otherwise, upon which she performs.

The transformation of Cyrus from a sweet Southern Baptist Disney star to a scandalous bra and undies-clad twerker was, whether we like it or not, the single biggest cultural event this year. Time magazine shortlisted Cyrus, along with Edward Snowden and eventual winner Pope Francis, as the person of the year, and MTV named her the best artist of 2013. No cultural figure was responsible for more spilled ink, or keys clicked by feminists, music fans and cultural critics on the left and the right than Cyrus. And very few of them actually discussed her songs.

Cyrus’s recent provocations include: miming masturbation with a foam finger, performing in see-through tops, exposing a curlicue tongue in every photo, and, yes, finally, twerking. If you haven’t seen it, to twerk, according to its recent appearance in the Oxford Dictionaries online, is to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

The crux of the debate surrounding Cyrus is the question of who’s in charge in a culture where girls-gone-wild is the surest way for a female entertainer to get a whole lot of attention and a whole lot of money. Is Cyrus a victim of a culture that forces women to get nude to be noticed, as Gloria Steinem suggests? A pawn of the pimps in the music industry, as Sinead O’Conner told her in an open-letter? Or a “genius” and “provocateur who has launched a conversation about female sexuality” as pro-Cyrus magazine editors defended her in a backlash to the backlash trend piece in the New York Times style section?

What the many opinions surrounding Cyrus make clear is that as a society we are still not quite sure what to do with female sexuality. We throw around words like “slut-shaming,” “porn-culture,” “sex-positive” and New Yorker writer Ariel Levy’s term, “female chauvinist pigs” as we attempt to make heads or tails of the fact that women have, and enjoy, sex. The semiotics of a scantily clad woman is one of contradictions and, as the Cyrus conversation reveals, we still can’t get beyond these things as either empowerment or exploitation.

It may seem like we have heard this story before, though Cyrus’s antics did mix things up a bit. Sure, she is yet another young starlet who is marking her transition into adulthood through sexual rebellion. But unlike the many that came before her, Cyrus’s sexiness is a coarse, sometimes even ugly one, and she appears to aim to frighten rather than please. (Cyrus also showed her rebellion through an appropriation of black culture and the use of women of color as background props in her performances. This is a topic that is also worthy of, and has been subject to, a fair amount of digesting and critique.)


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.