Skip to main content

Sinead didn't have to publicly shame Miley

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
Miley Cyrus became a household name for families when her Disney Channel television show, "Hannah Montana," premiered in 2006. From there, Cyrus quickly rose to pop star fame and has been changing her appearance ever since. Miley Cyrus became a household name for families when her Disney Channel television show, "Hannah Montana," premiered in 2006. From there, Cyrus quickly rose to pop star fame and has been changing her appearance ever since.
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
Evolution of Miley Cyrus
  • Sinead O'Connor posted an open letter to Miley Cyrus telling her she's a victim
  • Peggy Drexler: O'Connor could have told Cyrus privately
  • She says now we have a woman-on-woman battle
  • Drexler: O'Connor makes good points, but delivery and intention matter

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- It's almost unfathomable to believe that Sinead O'Connor couldn't have seen this coming.

Earlier this week, in an open letter to Miley Cyrus, the Irish singer-songwriter offered the lately controversial pop star such tough-love advice as "you don't need to let the music business make a prostitute of you" and "They're there for the money..." and "Kindly fire any --- who hasn't expressed alarm, because they don't care about you."

Cyrus has certainly seemed to ask for such admonition -- and warning. In recent weeks, she's shocked the world with antics that have included a seamy, hypersexual awards show performance, a music video in which she swings around naked on demolition equipment and licks sledgehammers, and a Terry Richardson photo session in which she's depicted smoking blunts and violating herself with a red bodysuit.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

She has officially, and unfortunately, ushered the word "twerking" into the vernacular. In return, she's been called "crude," "a hot mess," and a lot worse. She's also gotten immense attention, which is, of course, the point of all of this.

When in a recent Rolling Stone interview Cyrus said that O'Connor's 1990 video for "Nothing Compares 2 U" helped inspire her own video for her new single, "Wrecking Ball," O'Connor, it seems, saw an opening. She swiftly posted a 1,000-word letter to her website and Facebook page, issued, she claimed, "in the spirit of motherliness and love" and telling the younger musician why and how she should value her body, which is "for you and your boyfriend" and not the music honchos who "will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body."

But by choosing to hand down her advice in such a public forum, O'Connor effectively proved that the aspiring yacht owners aren't the only ones out to get something from Cyrus. She easily could have sent Cyrus a private letter. Instead, O'Connor chose to initiate a very public shaming.

That, of course, provoked an aggressive response, igniting a woman-on-woman battle likely as damaging to young female onlookers as O'Connor's condemnation of Cyrus' self-exploitation. Once again, we have women beating down on other women.

Gauging reaction to Sinead's open letter

Sinead O'Connor pens letter to Miley
Jerry O'Connell's kids to be like Miley?
Miley Cyrus pokes fun at shutdown
Miley Cyrus: 'Weed is the best drug'

A near-teenager under attack, Cyrus responded like any near-teenager under attack might: Instantly and cruelly. She compared O'Connor to troubled actress Amanda Bynes, tweeting a screen shot of messages O'Connor had posted to Twitter two years ago about her own emotional health. Then she said she was too busy to get into it with O'Connor, because she had a "Saturday Night Live" gig to prep for.

O'Connor's sympathy for Cyrus, a "victim" in her eyes only hours earlier, immediately turned far less understanding as she threatened legal action if Cyrus didn't apologize and remove the tweets. She then mocked Cyrus in an objectifying way that was particularly ironic given such missives in her original note as "you are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal" and "women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality." She wrote that Cyrus "can take five minutes today between G-string (effing) changes to publicly apologize."

That's not to say O'Connor doesn't have a point -- or a good one. She has called for a public discussion of how male executives at record labels manage young female stars and whether their decisions are always or ever in a star's best interest. After all, who is looking out for Miley? Certainly not her parents and certainly not the men from her record company, who are making a ton of money off of her.

Larry Rudolph, best known for guiding the career of Britney Spears, is heading Team Cyrus, surely he must know there can be a price to pay when the act overshadows the talent. There is a shelf life on outrageous behavior, as so many young stars have found out who came before Miley.

So, one might give O'Connor the benefit of doubt.

Is Sinead's advice to Miley good for other girls, too?

She was concerned for Cyrus and thought, somehow, that insulting her in a public forum was the quickest and most direct way to reach her. But by assuming that Cyrus isn't in charge -- or, more poignantly, suggesting to Cyrus that she wasn't in charge -- and by inviting a global audience to sit in on the belittling, O'Connor was very carefully and specifically asking for a fight. And a fight she got.

The letter could have been the best and most honest advice Cyrus has ever received, but delivery -- and intention --matters. And O'Connor wasn't in it just for Cyrus, now was she?

For fans of Cyrus, the best bet is to focus on the music. Cyrus might not be role model material at the moment, but if you don't look to her for more than catchy tunes, there's less chance that she'll disappoint.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?