Malala gained worldwide fame last year when, aged 15, she was shot by a Taliban militant on her way home from school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. No one was ever charged with the crime but the Taliban have claimed responsibility. They say they will attempt to murder her again because they believe that campaigning for education for girls in Pakistan is ‘un-Islamic’ (It’s not, in case you were wondering). And this year, at 16, Malala became the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Not bad, right?
Miley, on the other hand, rose to fame as Disney Channel sensation Hannah Montana aged 13. She launched her solo singing career not long after and has since racked up millions of records sales. She’s also picked up 18 Teen Choice Awards along the way, whatever they are. But in the last year, 20-year-old Miley has become more famous for her incredibly skimpy outfits, near-nude photo shoots and performances that are, to put it mildly, provocative.
Here are two young women with near-nuclear levels of fame. While one is inspiring, brave, and stands up for what she believes in, the other is – well, Miley is daring, I’ll give her that, but who even knows what she believes in?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think making out with a sledgehammer, repurposing a foam spectator hand or giving yourself a frontal wedgie are really challenging the status quo. Miley has a huge following (more than 14 million Twitter followers, for instance) and what message does she choose to send out? That if you take off your clothes you’ll sell a lot of records. At least, that’s the only message I’m hearing, which makes me wonder are her records not good enough to sell without the accompanying nudey promos?
And don’t get me wrong. I’m all for women being able to wear what they want without being ‘slut-shamed’, but in fact all this cavorting in barely-there outfits only detracts from the fact that Miley actually does a fair bit of charity work. She supported TOMS as well as a dog re-homing charity and the Make-a-Wish Foundation last year.
The contrast between the two women was really brought home to me when I read Malala’s autobiography, published last week. Think a sixteen-year-old is too young to have a memoir? Think again – Malala’s shooting last year isn’t even half the story. From the age of eleven she spoke out, supported by her father, against the Taliban as they took over the Swat Valley. They imposed their strict moral code and destroyed hundreds of schools, murdering whoever stood in their way. It’s a harrowing read at times but Malala’s courage and determination are breathtaking to behold. And the way she writes about her father is so moving it made me shed a tear several times.
Malala is now essentially in exile, living in Birmingham with her family. I hope that’s where the parallels with Benazir Bhutto end. Bhutto was Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister – she was assassinated when she returned to the country after nine years in exile.
A prolific and powerful speaker, Malala says she wants to be a politician when she grows up. She continues to campaign for the right to education for children worldwide, via the Malala Fund. You get the feeling Malala would carry on even if no one was listening, but notoriety seems to be the oxygen feeding Miley’s ego.
I can’t wait to see what Malala achieves later in life, whereas I greet any news on Miley Cyrus with a mix of roll-eyed boredom and feminist dread. Wouldn’t it be great if she took a leaf out of Malala’s book and used her voice and very public profile for a more altruistic purpose? Somehow I can’t see that happening any time soon.
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban is out now, published by Orion Books. Get it from the Guardian Bookshop.