There’s a fine line between the proper etiquette of an 18th century woman and an Instagram pop star.
That line is confidence, sass, selfishness and femininity, all of which form a wall, built by society to separate a woman from being who she is and who she should be.
Emma Woodhouse, arguably Jane Austen’s least likeable narrator, is self-centered, pompous and controlling.
She's one of Austen’s most risqué characters. She believes she will never marry. She’s selfish, outspoken and manipulative.
Austen famously quoted that she wanted to create a character only she would like.
This is where the line is drawn. Emma is the character every 18th century woman secretly wanted to be. She wasn’t timid or submissive. She wasn’t poised or dainty; she wasn’t proper.
And then there’s Miley Cyrus, the Internet’s most interesting person. She’s quirky, beautiful and confident. She’s loved and she’s hated. She’s the epitome of what women wish they could be.
I’m not saying every woman wants to chop off her hair, wear revealing clothing, experiment with drugs and constantly stick out her tongue, but it’s Miley's attitude that’s appealing.
The former Disney princess left the constraints of the castle behind to live freely amongst the street rats as whomever she chooses to be -- that’s what is inspiring about her.
I think it’s highly debatable to say she’s a role model for women, but it’s admirable she’s able to be herself without allowing society to dictate what a proper woman in the media should be.
This media-prescribed woman is expected to be conservative, uplifting and poised. She’s Anne Hathaway. She’s Meryl Streep. She’s Emma Watson. She’s not an outspoken, drug-influenced pop star, or an outspoken, selfish literary character.
But, we should admire those who step outside the bounds of societal norms, whether they’re fictional, literary characters or 21st century celebrities.
At any point within the text of "Emma," you can replace her name with Miley, and one describes the other.
I chose two paragraphs from the original novel, to test my theory. Let’s take a look at Austen’s words (kind of):
Miley Cyrus Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly 21 years (though Cyrus is 22) in the world with very little to distress or vex her…. The real evils, indeed, of Miley's Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.
It can be a real evil to think too much of yourself and not enough for others. The line between helping yourself and helping other is blurred.
While it’s all well and good that Miley is able to live life as her true self, there are downfalls to living life this way.
As Emma complicated a number of relationships due to her overbearing manipulations, Miley uses the public eye to manipulate the perception of her own character.
Like Emma, Miley believes in helping others. As Emma helps Harriet transform herself and find a worthy suitor, Miley started the Happy Hippie Foundation to help homeless youths get back on their feet.
On the surface, both acts seem selfless, but Emma was controlling.
She wanted a doll to manipulate, while Cyrus showcased her humanitarianism in public as a way to boost her reputation and do good. It was an effort to show there was a deeper meaning to her fame than the ability to live freely.
Like any good character, Miley’s demeanor is less than perfect.
Though the problem with the 18th century, assuming there’s just one, is that society was structured. Now, it’s more of a free-for-all, be-who-you-want-to-be and forget-what-everyone-else-thinks type of world, which is a gift for Cyrus’ character.
Emma was bound to the contours of society, like Miley to the hierarchy of Disney.
They both lived by a certain set of rules and expectations, but Miley was able to step outside of her boundaries and explore the selfishness of her soul.
We should all applaud Cyrus, forget her public mishaps and thank her for being the character every woman secretly loves.