Miley Cyrus just dropped the first of three planned EPs on May 31 titled She is Coming. The extended plays will come together as a full length album at the release of the forthcoming She is Here and She is Everything. This is her first musical endeavor of 2019, since the album Younger Now in 2018.
I listened to the EP within hours of its release after spending a couple of minutes watching the drippy, sticky, fruity promotional videos on Cyrus' Instagram. I also recently had a discussion with someone who said something that rattled in my brain as I drove home from class, listening to "Mother's Daughter," the first track from the EP, and for days after: Womanhood is a performance.
I began thinking of all the ways myself and other women put on a show in order to be presentable for the world. We put on makeup, style our hair. There's an expectation, in fact, for women to do these things in order to be seen as valuable and, yes, employable. If you identify as a woman, chances are you also find yourself feeling the pressure to be nice, kind, and smile in your daily life. (How many times have we all been told we'd be prettier if we smiled?)
Womanhood, manhood, hyper-femininity, and hyper-masculinity are all performances we put on for the world and for ourselves. Gender, which is beyond biological sex and sexual orientation, is a performance of self-expression, mood, and our personal understanding of our identities. No one is wholly masculine or feminine. Humans perform gender in a variety of ways every single day, every hour, in decisions we make, things we say, feel, and do.
What I appreciate about "Mother's Daughter" is that it rejects the polite, delicate, soft-heartedness of traditional femininity. Cyrus calls herself "nasty" and "evil," likens herself to piranhas and crocodiles. The ego in this song is not afraid to be difficult, unlikeable. She's storming through without a care because she feels like it, and she's not waiting for the world to make allowances for her. This isn't a new idea (Kesha's "Woman" also comes to mind), nor is it wholly applicable to all women. Gender is a fluid thing, and identity is often complicated and found at the overlap of several intersections. Not all women or people are going to identify with Cyrus' devil-may-care ego, but I find it significant that this song opens a conversation about the ways in which women allow themselves to be complicit in the daily routine of performing femininity. Feminine energies, which are typically receiving, nurturing and collaborative, can be disrupted with masculine energies, which are typically risk-taking, decisive, controlling and competitive, and this further complicates how we perform gender.
(If you are interested in reading more about gender as fluid and socially-constructed, check out this blog post from Elizabeth Hungerford at the Liberation Collective).
In "Mother's Daughter" Cyrus takes on a masculine energy in the forthright verse "Don't fuck with my freedom," and yet she is inevitably commenting on the constraints of womanhood as she is a cisgender woman. She is actively performing between the boundaries of womanhood and masculinity. "She got the power" is another line where it is apparent that Cyrus is asserting her dominance and acknowledging the stereotypical expectations of femininity, which encompasses a level of subservience especially in modern Western society, and is making a claim against it. The fact that she has something to rail against, to rebel against, highlights that there is something trying to exist between her and what she wants: freedom, autonomy, and a place on top. This deviance from the traditional show of womanhood is evidence that there is more to all of us beyond the constraints of the gender binary, and that we may redefine who and what we are at any given moment.