Stop Blaming Feminists for Men’s Actions

Stop Blaming Feminists for Men's Actions

Written by Rachel Biggio

“I’m boycotting Sony,” I announced to my mother yesterday. She raised her eyebrows knowingly.

“Is it because of Keesha?” she inquired, mispronouncing the name of musician Kesha Sebert with typical parental obliviousness.

With the type of outrage only an offspring can muster over a mispronounced word, I pounced on her error. “No, Mom. It’s not because of Keesha!” (from my tone, you’d think I was saying It’s not because of Hitler).  “It’s because of Kesha!”

And it was. I am boycotting Sony because of their refusal to release Sebert from a contract requiring her to create six more albums with the company before releasing any music not affiliated with Sony. The corporation’s refusal comes despite Sebert’s allegations that her Sony employed music producer, Dr. Luke, has sexually harassed her, drugged her, raped her, and threatened to destroy her career and family if she ever came forward.

The tragedy of the truth of Dr. Luke’s threats and the tragedy that a New York judge upheld Sony’s right to imprison Sebert because it was “the commercially reasonable thing” speaks volumes about the enduring rape culture in America. In response to Sebert’s predicament, the Internet lit ablaze. #FreeKesha trended on Twitter, and various celebrities, including Her Royal Highness Kween Lady Gaga, Lorde, and Ariana Grande, vocalized their support of Kesha as devastating images of Sebert sobbing in a courtroom surfaced.

But amongst the important online discourse regarding sexism, a seemingly out of place conversation arose: What did pop megastar Taylor Swift have to say about Sebert’s plight?

In a series of vague tweets, fellow musician Demi Lovato seemed to criticize Swift’s silence. After using the social media platform to express her own allegiance with Sebert, Lovato tweeted “I’m also ready for self-proclaimed feminists to start speaking out or taking action for women’s rights,” along with “Women empowerment is speaking up for other women even when it’s something uncomfortable to speak up about.” That these words targeted Swift, who has been equal parts lauded and criticized for a brand of feminism many feel is whitewashed and self serving, became apparent to fellow tweeters. A social media uproar began. Less than a week before, Swift accepted her Grammy for Album of the Year with a speech urging young women to resist misogynistic limits on their abilities. In the past, she has proclaimed, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help each other.” Where was Swift’s feminism now? The Internet wondered.

Initially, I too was disappointed with Swift, a musician who I have followed since I was in elementary school. But redemption came quickly for the artist — within days, Sebert’s mother and Swift’s spokesperson revealed that, in fact, Swift donated a quarter of a million dollars to Sebert to assist with legal expenses. Despite my own relief that I could listen to “Blank Space” without betraying the feminist cause, Lovato still seemed unsatisfied. “Take something to Capitol Hill or actually speak out about something and then I’ll be impressed.” she tweeted.

Despite my own initial upset and participation in the dialogue regarding Swift, I began to recognize the similarities between the criticisms of Swift and other feminists amidst the reveal of sexual misconduct on the part of a man. In December 2015, fans of rapper Nicki Minaj, who frequently raps and speaks on female empowerment and independence, fumed at Minaj after her brother was arrested for raping a twelve year old girl. Critics deplored that Minaj’s mother mortgaged her home, purchased by Minaj, to post bail. In November 2015, sex worker Stoya accused ex boyfriend, fellow porn actor, and self proclaimed feminist James Deen of raping her. In response, the internet attacked Deen’s best friend, a journalist and YouTuber named Gaby Dunn, made famous as a fierce advocate for women and queer rights.

Feminists frequently discuss the nefarious phenomenon of victim blaming. But another dangerous way for rapists and sexual deviants to escape the ire they deserve lies in a trend increasing in popularity as prominent women more frequently devote themselves to women’s rights. We need to stop blaming women, specifically feminists, for the actions of men.

There are two main reasons why women like Swift, Minaj, and Dunn face persecution for actions they did not commit. First, people — including many feminists — love to reveal the proverbial chinks in the armor of other feminists. Despite the fact that the year is 2016, the concept of feminism still terrifies many who fear an uprising of unshaven, braless women who spend their holidays getting abortions. By highlighting alleged hypocrisy and by holding feminists to a standard of perfection unattainable for any individual, foes of feminism hope to destroy a movement far larger than a single person. Feminists act reactionarily — in an effort to dispel the myths of feminism being an anti men movement rather than a pro women one, feminists shun weak links to protect their own ideologies.

Second, we as a society still struggle to hold men accountable for their actions. Boys will be boys — and women will be the ones to suffer the consequences. This is why women’s clothing and sexual history are used against them when they make allegations of rape. The assertion that men cannot control themselves or their physical urges not only insults the abilities of men to act like humans rather than the animals, but also effectively devalues women. Sorry, this logic asserts, your safety and happiness are less important than a man’s right to act on his urges without consequence.

By shifting the narrative of sexual misconduct to one of feminist bashing, rapists do not face the public distaste they deserve. Dr. Luke should have been trending on Twitter, not Taylor Swift; Nicki Minaj’s brother should have been written off by Minaj’s fan base, not Nicki Minaj; James Deen was the traitor to feminism, not Gaby Dunn. By perpetuating a story of a feminist wrongdoer and a forgotten male villain, those focusing on feminist reactions rather than male depravity degrade feminism in multiple ways.

I am not a perfect feminist. I listen to music with misogynistic lyrics. If a man offers to pick up something heavy for me, I will let him do it. I rant about inequality in sports, but rarely watch girls’ games (in my defense, I don’t really watch sports games in general unless Beyonce is performing). I believe that recognizing hypocrisy and contradiction in other feminists’ actions is important to help these individuals improve their activism. I also think this effort is even more important if individuals are profiting from feminism or acting as spokespeople for the ideology to the nation and the world.

However, I will never agree with the concept that an ideology based on rejecting institutionalized misogyny shuns individuals who grapple with the consequences of growing up in that environment. We need to stop rejecting feminists who make mistakes, and rather, teach them.

Feminists will be feminists, and boys will finally face the consequences.

To join a petition to boycott Sony: https://www.change.org/p/sony-boycott-sony-products-and-music