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By Peggy Drexler, Special to 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.


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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.

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.

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