This month, countless stories about musicians and celebrities violating women have been circulating the internet. The music industry has always protected violent men, and we all — men included — need to be having more open and honest conversations about it. The FADER staff discuss the problem with supporting abusers, and what we can do to disrupt the cycle.
Lakin Starling: It's only been a week since we learned that it's very likely that R. Kelly is emotionally, physically, and sexually abusing young women and underage girls in his “cult." But it feels like everyone has already forgotten. My social timelines have shifted to other conversations, and the only mentions of the sleazy singer are memes that joke about his exploitation. I swear it’s like crimes against women call for cultural amnesia. I went into a slight anxiety attack after Jocelyn Savage released a video in response to her family’s press conference to try and convince the public that she was safe. The shadow on her shirt that signaled for her to stop talking when she was asked about her living situation sent me into a dark place. I had to leave work for an hour to sort through the deep wave of sadness that hit me after I saw that.
Online, people laughed about the shakiness in Savage's voice. But was clear that she tripped up because she was being told what to say and do. I’m still shocked to see people who claim to be against violence towards women liking tweets that mocked Savage.
Why aren’t alarms going off around the country to get her and all the other young women out of R. Kelly's custody? One thing we know for sure is that black girls aren’t protected, but men in positions of power are.
Aside from this historic neglect, perhaps the reason a lot of people weren’t visibly outraged was because reading the details of the cult was emotionally taxing. I tweeted my fury in all caps but I still felt like I didn’t have the words to express how helpless and angry this shit made me feel. How has it been going on for so long?! On one end, it’s triggering because some of us have to relive the sobering truth that men who abuse women still get paid and never lose work or recording contracts. Male artists in the entertainment industry have repeatedly preyed on young girls and women — so much so that the culture dismisses it as a part of the lifestyle.
Fans of abusers don't seem to want to make the decision to stop supporting those artists — even when they hold women as captives and sexually exploit teens. R. Kelly’s fuckery is so blatant and undeniable that people don’t bother to refute the accusations against him. Instead, they make light of them and bring up his legendary hit-making abilities. Stop it. It’s insane to praise him for creating a timeless music catalog and not hold him accountable for his legacy of exploiting young women and girls along the way.
Aimee, did you expect for noise to die down so quickly about the R. Kelly news? Do you think some people protect men who abuse women without knowing that that's what they're doing?
Aimee Cliff: I feel a little whiplash from how quickly this R. Kelly scandal broke, went through the news-to-meme cycle, and now is seemingly already being forgotten. But I wouldn't say I'm surprised. We went through the same thing four years ago, when Jessica Hopper wrote for Village Voice about the historical sexual assault allegations made against Kelly. It was such a big story at the time that Vice asked, “Have R. Kelly’s Alleged Crimes Finally Ended His Career?” In hindsight, the answer to that question was a resounding “No,” and I’m afraid that could still be the case now. How many more revelations will it take?
Watching these stories drift away over and over again sends out a message to women everywhere: our suffering is less important than the reputations and profit of powerful men. That’s the message sent by Sony’s complicit support of R. Kelly, and by Casey Affleck winning his Oscar, and by Johnny Depp being given a platform at Glastonbury festival this year. That’s what I feel when I read that Kesha is still fighting to be released from contractual obligations to her alleged rapist.
I absolutely believe that a lot of people end up supporting and protecting abusive men because they don’t realize — or will not admit to themselves — that that’s what they’re doing. The simple fact is that it’s harder to recognize and call out abuse when it’s being perpetrated by someone that you know and love (even if that’s someone you only feel like you know, through fame and music). It’s so much easier to look the other way. I’ve seen the effects of this personally: women stay silent, not wanting to go through the exhaustion of yelling into a void. They know that the men who hurt them will be protected by their peers. The pain of victims gets written out of the narrative over and over again.
Leah, how important do you think it is for men to hold other men accountable for violence against women? In the public conversation around stories like the recent one about R. Kelly, what can men do better?
Leah Mandel: I’m struck by something both Aimee and Lakin have touched on: silence. I often feel like I’m screaming into a void — it is exhausting to feel my anger be written over or silenced. It can leave me winded because I feel I've used up all my words trying to make others understand my frustration. When I’m angry, I’m angry for a reason.
A few weeks ago, an older man sat next to me on the subway and started asking me about myself. He seemed nice enough at first, so I answered his questions before I got off at my stop. When I got home I texted my boyfriend that the exchange had made me feel uncomfortable, and he told me the dude was probably just being nice. “Everyone talks,” he said. Well, actually, it’s not like that, I said. I reminded him of the episode from the first season of Master Of None in which the show’s women ask the men in their lives to listen to them when they say a man is not treating them with respect. We know how we are being treated. Don’t make excuses for other men without thinking about it. Telling a woman not to make a big deal out of an interaction — or ignoring the dubious actions of other men — is a dismissal of women as humans with real thoughts and emotions and a need for respect.
As is the erasure of O.J. Simpson's domestic abuse. And the continuing coverage of XXXtentacion. It’s when people know about abuse but stay silent and let it go on and taint more and more lives. And it's North Carolina passing a law that says once consent for sexual penetration has been given, there’s no taking it back.
I have been harassed and body shamed (and more) by both strangers and people close to me. And I feel an unspoken intimacy with fellow women and femmes, because we all experience this constant belittling of our bodies and minds.
So what can men do better? They can be outraged. They can shut up about themselves and fucking listen for once. They can look into themselves, and look around them, and think critically about what it means to be on this earth. THERE IS NO "I" IN EARTH. OR WORLD. OR HUMAN. If we don’t work together — all of us — we will continue to destroy ourselves. When women scream out in anger about anything, be it rape and assault or microaggressions, it doesn’t help to be the only ones yelling. Men, please yell with us.
Ali, why do you think men stay silent regarding the abuse of women? Is there any way to make men understand women’s lives affect them, too? What will it take for them to take the side of compassion as opposed to fellow men?
Ali Suliman: I think male silence is simply easier to partake in rather than committing to earnest discourse for a lot of reasons but here’s two: 1) the conversation is inconvenient for men, and men don’t like to feel uncomfortable or slighted in the course of dialogue, and 2) conversations like these force us to check ourselves and our own actions, and who wants to feel or be told they’re being shitty? (Spoiler alert: a good man.)
Even when men call out other men for their abusive or shitty behavior, they always seem to play out as performative theatrics rather than a genuine change of internalized behavior. We’ve seen men turn the idea of “respecting women” into detracting memes, as well as lauded artists (Diplo) and comedians (Zack Fox) turn abusive situations into jokes for the RTs, with no respect for the traumatic events that women continuously go through. Time and time again, the only people really calling out this kind of trivializing behavior are women. Men need to do better in checking other men — but before that we need to do better in checking ourselves.
Men far too often selfishly rationalize abusive behaviors, even their own mounting microaggressions, because they personally benefit from them. It’s incredibly disheartening and unjust to women that it takes cases like R. Kelly and A$AP Bari for discourse on abuse accountability to take place. I think nearly every man is guilty of abuse in at least the micro-sense — myself included — and although it might not be rape or holding women captive, there exists smaller aggregated behaviors amongst men that have become so normalized. This results in much lower standards for men — and yet we still continue to play limbo and fall under the bar. Men are trash, and we need to listen to women when they flame us with the truth about ourselves. It’s only when shitty behaviors are confronted that true personal behavioral change begins to takes place.
As trash as men continue to be, I like to remain hopeful that some of us are trying to do better and might just not know what to do in holding abusers, and their friends, accountable for their shitty behavior.
Ruth, what do men need to be doing more of? Does an appropriate time or place for conversations like these to take place exist? How do we cut through the flood of vanity callouts by men online to instead engage in real, effective action?
Ruth Saxelby: You hit the nail on the head, Ali. For things to change, men need to get over their fear of feeling uncomfortable — it is a signal that a situation is not okay and should be addressed, not avoided. Women and femmes are abused and raped and murdered by men because other men do not hold them accountable. We can only reach a climate of accountability by having uncomfortable conversations. Men: if your friend is hollering at a woman in the street, check him. If your little brother is boasting about a sexual conquest, talk to him about consent. If your favorite artist turns out to be an abuser, tell all the other men in your life why you’re no longer supporting them.
Battling the patriarchy is a full-time job that is overwhelmingly led by women. Yes, the patriarchy is founded on the oppression of women, but it oppresses men too, by feeding them lies about what being a man means. We need men to join us on the frontlines — speaking out in person and online — not only to shutdown abuse and abusers, but to help develop more nuanced ideas about gender and sexuality.
Toxic masculinity is very real. Not feeling like a "real man" is often what drives men to try and "prove" their masculinity to other men. The easiest way of doing that is to position themselves in opposition to women: to point to a woman's body and assert their power over it. And over the centuries, they’ve come up with multiple ways to do that. Marriage is a system born from the idea that women are property. Rape culture is the result of centuries upon centuries of the misguided belief that women owe men sex. Street harassment is as much a performance of masculinity for other men as it is about the objectification of women.
If men don’t have uncomfortable conversations with one another about the shittiness of their behavior, women and femmes will continue to be abused and raped and murdered. If you can’t see that street harassment is part of the same system that supports and protects abusers, then you are lying to yourself and you need to listen to the women in your life.
Women and femmes are emotionally intelligent because we have to be. We need to process all the crap the patriarchy feeds us and find our own sense of self-empowerment to exist within it, and succeed despite it. Power is often seen as the ability to exert control over others, but real power is the ability to exert control over yourself and strive to learn and grow.
Juliana, what do you think it will take for men to start holding one another accountable for abusive behavior? Is this something we should be instilling at a young age? Are there any resources that you would recommend for men and women to read?
Juliana Pache: I am so tired of teaching men. I am tired of being patient with men. I am tired of spending time making men better. Sometimes I feel like, if men are as smart as they have convinced the world that they are, why can’t they do the work themselves? The same is true for white people. At some point, we have to take the training wheels off.
A few years ago, a bunch of friends and I had a gathering with the purpose of teaching our men friends about our experiences as women, and how they could be part of the solution. The men were talking the entire time. They had various “solutions” for our problems as women. One of which, was an elaborate plan for women to “assemble circles” to surround men in clubs when they harassed women. Great, more work for us!
There are so many “solutions” that require men to do nothing. “Solutions” to prevent rape that do not require men to stop raping. “Solutions” to prevent the wage gap that do not require men in high positions to pay fair wages to women. “Solutions” to prevent predatory behavior that do not require men to stop preying on the vulnerable.
“Solutions” that do not require men to do the work are not solutions, they are just more work for women.
There have been many times in my life where I’ve said something to a man, perhaps some sort of suggestion or idea, and it was taken seriously only after another man repeated it. This is true on a global level. This is true within families. This is true in the workplace. This is true in politics. This is true fucking everywhere. Men are not listening to us, but they do listen to each other.
Men are often socialized from birth to believe they, and their voices, are superior. Society says men’s voices matter, and women’s don’t. So when I say something that makes complete fucking sense, it means nothing, because whatever neurons that exist in men’s brains dedicated to hearing the sound of a woman’s voice probably die off by the age of 14.
There is hope, though. The only hope is that men get it the fuck together.