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Bill Cosby and Rape Culture

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In 2018, comedian, television personality, and serial rapist Bill Cosby was convicted and sentenced by a jury of his peers to three to ten years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. The Constand rape was the crime for which Cosby was convicted, but he was accused of very similar crimes by no fewer than 60 women, including two who were underage girls at the time of their alleged assaults. Cosby’s conviction was hailed as a major success for the #MeToo movement, which aims at long lasting change when it comes to misogyny and rape culture in the United States. At last, it seemed, we might finally be starting to see the end of the ability of men, especially powerful men, to get away with sexual transgressions. Even “America’s Dad” was not too powerful to be held accountable for how he treated women — or so it appeared. On Wednesday, June 30th, 2021, Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Cosby’s conviction and he walked away a free man.

The court did not vacate the conviction because new information came to light concerning Cosby’s guilt. They did not overturn it because Cosby was actually innocent of the crimes for which he was accused and convicted. Instead, as is usually the case in these kinds of proceedings, his appeal prevailed because of a technical legal issue — in a split decision, the court found that Cosby’s due process rights had been violated. Cosby agreed to testify in a civil case related to the same allegation because a prosecutor guaranteed him that the case would not be prosecuted in criminal court. A different person, who claimed that they didn’t make the promise and were not bound by the agreement, prosecuted Cosby in the criminal proceeding in 2018. Cosby’s testimony in the civil trial was used against him in the criminal proceeding. The Pennsylvania Supreme court ruled that this violated Cosby’s rights against self-incrimination. In depositions related to these matters, Cosby has acknowledged giving quaaludes to women with whom he wanted to “have sex.”

It’s important that our justice system is procedurally fair. As a result, it’s equally important that we have an appeals process that corrects procedural unfairness. It’s extremely unfortunate that there was a technical mistake in Cosby’s conviction — based on the evidence presented at his trial, the finders-of-fact determined that he was guilty. People who have done extremely bad things are released for reasons of procedural unfairness all the time, and this is as it should be. We don’t want a criminal justice system in which prosecutors and other players in the system can bend the rules. If this were the way the system worked, anyone could be steamrolled for anything. What’s more, the victims of that kind of procedural injustice are frequently members of oppressed groups. Abandoning procedural fairness would only make these problems much worse. That said, there are many unfortunate consequences of the court’s ruling and they highlight the fact that we still have a long way to go to create an environment that is safe and peaceful for women and survivors of sexual violence.

First is the disingenuous response of Cosby himself. On Twitter, he posted a picture with his fist held high as if in victory with the caption, “I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence.” This is at best a non-sequitur and at worst an attempt to gaslight and deceive. The court didn’t find evidence of his innocence. In fact, if Cosby had not incriminated himself, that is, if he did not admit his crime in the civil proceeding, the court would not have been able to overturn his conviction in the first place.

The behavior of close friends of Cosby’s did not help matters. His long-time television wife, Phylicia Rashad, tweeted the following: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” Rashad now serves as the Dean of the Fine Arts College at Howard University, and she quickly faced considerable backlash for her online remarks. In response, Rashad released an apology to Howard University students and parents saying, among other things, “My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault. I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence.” She committed “to engage in active listening and participate in trainings to not only reinforce University protocol and conduct, but also to learn how I can become a stronger ally to sexual assault survivors and everyone who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.” Notably absent from her apology was any discussion of the Cosby case specifically or the fact that she had misrepresented the reasons for his release or suggested that the substantive evidence supporting his conviction had been somehow undermined by the appellate court.

Overturning Cosby’s sentence led to a mountain of celebrity apologetics online — enough to make rape survivors feel very uncomfortable. When celebrities are involved, many people succumb to confirmation bias — in this case they have affection for the wild-sweater-wearing, Jell-O-pudding-slinging, television super dad of their youths, and they don’t want to believe that a person they liked so much could be capable of doing the things for which Cosby has been tried and convicted.

The fact is, survivors of sexual assault watch all of this happen and they see how eager people are to trust their heroes and how reluctant they are to trust accusers. This impacts the willingness of a victim to come forward because they see how they might be treated if and when they do, even in cases in which the evidence is overwhelming.

This case emphasizes the moral necessity of educating our children in more comprehensive ways when it comes to rape culture and the kinds of biases that come along with it. We need to teach children not just about the mechanics of sex, how to engage in family planning, and how to avoid STDs. We also need to have open and honest conversations with young people about the nature of consent.

Unfortunately, some state legislatures are quite unfriendly to the concept. For instance, this year, lawmakers in Utah rejected a bill that would have mandated teaching consent in schools. Their reasoning was that teaching consent suggests to children that it might be okay to say yes to sex before marriage. The majority of the state’s lawmakers favor an abstinence-only policy. But refraining from talking to students about what it means to grant consent results in people having ill-formed ideas about the conditions under which consent is not given. This leaves us with a citizenry that is willing to pontificate on social media about whether giving someone a quaalude in anticipation of “sex” is really setting the stage for rape. Our children should all know that it is.

Children should be taught further that even the most affable and charismatic people can be sexual offenders. In fact, having such traits often makes it easier for these people to commit crimes unsuspected and undetected. A real commitment to ending rape culture entails a commitment to speak openly and honestly about sex and sexual misconduct. In practice, abstinence only policies are, among other things, a frustrating barrier to the full realization of women’s rights.

Examining Masculinities: Why Gillette Struck a Nerve

A drawing of a king holding an old-fashioned safety razor with the message "Gillette Safety Razor: King of Them All"

Editor’s note: This article is the second of a brief series on Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” ad that aired on January 13, 2019. 

The recent Gillette short film “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” has received vocal backlash from some viewers.

Gillette’s commercial film touched on critiques of “toxic masculinity” (also known as “hegemonic masculinity”). But the short film is also firmly rooted in empathy and concern for those who identify as male and takes up male victimization. The recurrent protagonist is a boy running from a group of relentless bullies. Terry Crews is also featured, a beloved advocate for positive masculinity who has spoken out about his experiences as a victim of sexual harassment and as the child of domestic abuse. The film also references the #MeToo movement in media montages and a mock sitcom where a white man harasses a cleaning woman of colour. It exhibits ”benign” examples of misogyny, including a moment where the camera focuses in on the expression of a woman at a corporate-looking table as her male colleague silences her and speaks over her, “Actually, what I think she’s trying to say…”

At the thirty-five second mark, the camera pans across a line of men towering over barbecues, arms pugnaciously crossed, muttering in unison ”Boys will be boys will be boys will be boys” ad infinitum. The film highlights how this classic, reductive tautology serves as a straitjacket for the supposed beneficiaries of “traditional masculinity” as much as a fortress against those who are excluded from it.

It is revealing that much of the outcry against the commercial revolves around this same circular cry, “Boys will be boys!” The backlash has a confusing logic, however. Contrary to what critics say, Gillette offers positive examples of masculinity. Its very title suggests masculinity can be more than benign – it can be superlative. The film showcases a group of young men resolving a conflict among themselves, a father nurturing his tiny daughter’s self-confidence, male figures intercepting bullying among children and checking a catcaller in his tracks, and ends with lingering shots on the thoughtful, trusting, hope-filled faces of young boys.

To what, then, do its critics object? Certainly, the commercial scrutinizes a still-prevalent version of performed “masculinity.” But gender scrutiny is deeply embedded within culture and within advertising as a particularly influential capitalist cultural medium. Femininities are regularly examined. Women are routinely exposed to media and discourses that tell them how to be women. These injunctions include impossible expectations of thinness and narrowly Western beauty ideals, enforcing traditionally female occupations overcoming workforce barriers without seeming too female, balancing being caregivers, breadwinners, and managing an enviable “lifestyle” for themselves and their loved ones while exhibiting positive emotion and self-control in all things, being confident and assertive without coming across as aggressive, being maternal without giving up one’s career and vice-versa, et cetera (for more details on women and perfectionism, click here, here, and here). These themes are so ubiquitous as to be immediately recognizable in satire. (One such satire is “Man who has it all,” a social media experiment that switches the male for the female gender in providing “helpful lifestyle tips” and highlights the pressures which advertisers and culture-at-large place on women to be perfect in every way to achieve minimal respectability.)

Masculinities and femininities are undoubtedly subject to interrogation and contestation. But it seems peculiar for a short film to inspire such controversy for encouraging men to be role models for the next generation by rejecting abuse, violence, and unreasoning defensiveness.  Some may question whether companies are best positioned to further our social conscience, while others welcome corporations taking on responsibility even if driven by a profit motive to be on the side of social evolution.  

Gillette’s ad ultimately advocates an extremely parsimonious set of norms — a minimum bar of human decency by any gender standard. Some could even argue that it does so by endorsing some traditional conceptions of masculinity as honorable and strong or ‘’virtuous’’ (in its etymological connotations of ‘’manliness’’). For some, the ad endorsed truly “manly” behaviour, reminiscent of the concept of a “gentleman,” which, along with its conceptual counterpart of “ladies,” is also grounded in highly specific gendered, racial and classed identity and performance.  

The American Psychological Association recently came out with its first guide to practice with men and boys. This represents a moment of introspection in psychological discipline. The APA has had a guidebook for treating women and girls since 2007. But the need to examine masculinities as an object of observation to the sciences and not merely as the default subject is overdue by much more than a decade. As in other disciplines, the typical psychological subject was presumed to be a white male, a standing point that served as a proxy for the whole human race. While psychology is not unique in assuming a European-descended male as its implicit subject this moment is revealing how limiting a privileged standing point can be, even to those who accrued social benefits from being silently and exclusively represented as the default in the network of knowledge and power domains.

The default male figure as the unquestioned subject of knowledge traditionally understood can now also be the object of social gaze and reflection. Perhaps it is inevitable for this to be the source of some anxiety. In this case, the APA’s guidelines are well-timed to this social moment.

Judd v Weinstein: Reexamining Ex Post Facto

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In the United States hundreds of new laws come into effect every year at both the state and federal level. Some of these laws criminalize actions that were once legal, while others simply serve to reform the existing judicial system. The concept of retroactive punishment has been a concept debated in the philosophy of law since the beginning of time. At the heart of this debate lies the relationship between the law and morality as well as the purpose of the law itself. One recent example which demonstrates the tension between the law and morality is Ashley Judd’s lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein. In the case, Judd cites a law which prohibits sexual harassment of the nature which Judd is alleging. However, Judge Philip S. Gutierrez dismissed this charge because, at the time of the alleged harassment, late 1996 to early 1997, the law cited did not extend to producers such as Weinstein. While Judd is still able to pursue a defamation charge against Weinstein, the dismissal of the harassment allegations seems troubling, especially considering Weinstein’s current legal standing with sexual harassment and assault. Was it wrong for Gutierrez to dismiss the charges? Should a person be punished for an act that was not illegal at the time that it was committed? And is the purpose of the law inherently tied to morality?

The allegations against Weinstein that began in 2017 not only ushered in the #MeToo movement, but also posed questions about the ties between the law and morality. In one specific case, Ashley Judd vs Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein’s actions toward Judd, which include harassment of a sexual nature while he was in a position of power over Judd, were found to be legal for Weinstein at the time that he committed them. Despite the fact that Weinstein’s actions would be illegal today, a judge found that he could not be charged with these allegations in the present. The inapplicability of retroactive laws, otherwise known as ex post facto, is an important concept in the philosophy of law. An ex post facto law is defined as “a criminal statute that punishes actions retroactively, thereby criminalizing conduct that was legal when originally performed.” Currently, there are two statutes in the United States Constitution that prohibit ex post facto laws, Art 1, § 9 and Art. 1 § 10

The prohibition of ex post facto laws is not unique to the U.S. with many countries observing the unjust nature of such laws. In fact, the illegitimacy of ex post facto shares widespread support in part due to its prevalence in U.S. courts since the 18th century. U.S. Supreme case Calder v. Bull (1798) established the fundamental aspects of ex post facto laws including laws that “create or aggravate the crime or increase the punishment or change the rules of evidence for the purpose of conviction.

A more recent Supreme Court decision which is often cited is that of Beazell v Ohio (1925). In this case, the majority held that “any statute which punishes as a crime an act previously committed, which was innocent when done, which makes more burdensome the punishment for a crime, after its commission, or which deprives one charged with crime of any defense available according to law at the time when the act was committed, is prohibited as ex post facto.” Ex post facto is not only considered essential to the integrity of the judicial system but can also be argued for on the basis of morality.

While one might admit that Weinstein’s actions were morally wrong, one could ultimately hold that it is unjust to punish him for an act he committed that was (unfortunately) legal at the time. Punishing him might set a bad precedent that would essentially undermine the value that laws hold. Why even pass new laws making sexual harassment illegal if one can be punished without the laws taking effect? On the other hand, proponents of punishing Weinstein would argue that what makes Weinstein deserving of punishment in this case is the abhorrent and immoral nature of his actions. If the purpose of law is to either punish those who deserve to be punished or contribute to the welfare of society, then Weinstein could be justifiably be punished either way. But can we truly pick and choose which actions justify ex post facto and which do not? If I were to buy cigarettes today and it becomes illegal to purchase cigarettes in 2 weeks, should I be punished for the time I bought cigarettes? What if I were to prank-call my neighbor? Or drive the speed limit in the fast lane? Though these scenarios are small, they all demonstrate that it seems silly and unreasonable to apply ex post facto punishments in every situation, but it also becomes hard to draw the line in which cases are appropriate. The judge’s logic in this case as well as the general attitude that law and morality should stay separate is relatively popular within legal positivism.

On the other hand, some proponents of natural law might argue that retroactive laws can and should indeed be enforced. This is because the justification for punishment stems not only from the breaking of a man-made law, but also a moral law. Though an act might not have been illegal within code, it is still against the fundamental moral laws reinforced by a higher power. Debates about ex post facto laws were especially prevalent during the international Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals. The state of international law during the Nazi era did not indicate an illegality of some of the most morally repugnant actions of Nazis at the time, including the Holocaust. Regardless of this fact, many in the international political and judicial community felt that officials in the Nazi regime should be punished for their crimes against humanity. However, not everyone agreed, including Jewish legal scholars, such as United States federal judge Charles Wyzanski Jr., who stressed the violation of the ex post facto principle in several cases during the Nuremberg trials. But perhaps, to many people, the decision to punish Nazis for every morally reprehensible act they committed is necessary and just regardless of the circumstances. If the purpose of law is to punish, prevent future crime, or both, it seems that there are many instances, Weinstein’s included, that could morally merit the application of ex post facto punishment.

Though Judd will not be able to pursue sexual harassment charges against Weinstein, many others are successfully pursuing their cases of sexual assault against Weinstein at a trial in New York in 2019. While many would argue that Weinstein’s harassment of Judd should have been illegal in the first place, it is also possible to recognize the importance of upholding the integrity of the law and the ex post facto principle. As we continue to modify and enhance laws against sexual harassment, one can hope that cases such as Judd’s find proper legal and moral justice in the future.

The Ethics of “Media Men” Lists, One Year Later

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Editor’s note: This article contains use of a vulgarity.

At around this time last year a Google spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men” began being shared by a group of women who worked in various positions involving the media. The document was intended to be a place where women could anonymously make reports about inappropriate conduct of men who they worked with, ranging from unsolicited advances or generally creepy behavior, all the way to accusations of sexual assault and rape. Moira Donegan, the creator of the list, explained her intention at The Cut as “an attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault.” As Donegan goes on to note, “informal alliances that pass on open secrets and warn women” called “whisper networks” have been common for a long time. In creating a more widely accessible document, however, Donegan wanted to provide access to this information to a much wider audience, allowing those who might not have been part of a whisper network to gain information and share their experiences.

Once the existence of the list became public knowledge, however, it started to receive backlash. Some worried about the claims on the list being unsubstantiated, and that the men accused on the list were unable to respond to the accusations made therein. And there were repercussions for being named on the list, with some men having investigations performed by their employers into their conduct, and others being fired. The prominent worry, then, was that the accusations made on the list could be false, and the consequence of a false accusation is the punishment of an innocent man.

Recently, one man named on the list, Stephen Elliott, filed lawsuit against Donegan for damages, to the tune of $1.5 million. On the “Shitty Media Men” list Elliott was accused of sexual harassment and rape, amongst other things. In an extensive reply, Elliott has denied all accusations, and claims that as a result of being accused he has suffered in the form of reduced book sales, being cut off from professional contacts, and suffering psychologically.

The fear that innocent men will suffer from being falsely accused is becoming increasingly common in the wake of the #metoo movement, as well as with what appears to be a very gradual shift towards taking women’s accusations of sexual assault seriously. For instance, the response to the recent swearing in of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been divided between those who believed that the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford ought to have been given much more consideration, and those who believed that to take the testimony of Dr. Ford seriously would be to risk derailing a man’s career on the basis of accusations that they thought did not meet the proper standards of proof. Recently, Donald Trump expressed that it was “a scary time” for men, even going so far as to act out a one-man show in which a falsely accused son explained melodramatically to his tearful mother why he had lost his job.

The ethical worry surrounding things like the “Shitty Media Men” list, then, is that it potentially puts innocent men at risk: merely being named on the list has potential consequences, and since anyone can make accusations anonymously, the worry is that not only will such false accusations be possible, but prevalent. Of course, the existence of such lists also have the potential to bring about a lot of benefits. As Donegan explains, it is often the case that “for someone looking to report an incident or to make habitual behavior stop, all the available options are bad ones”; notably, that “police are notoriously inept at handing sexual-assault cases” and that within a corporate environment, “human-resource departments…are tasked not with protecting employees but with shielding the company from liability.” The benefits of such lists, then, are that women can help other women avoid potential harm, and that women can have an alternative option to make a report. While those like Elliott claim psychological harms from being named on the list, the existence of such a list could also prevent a significant amount of psychological harm suffered by women whose reports are not taken seriously, or who feel that they really have no other way to name their accusers.

One way that we can evaluate whether it’s a good or bad thing to have a “Shitty Media Men” list is by weighing the potential goods versus the potential harms that could come about as a result of its existence. As many commentators have noted, the fear of men being falsely accused tends to be exaggerated: although it is difficult to get an exact idea of how common false accusations are, various sources have put the rate at around 5%, although that number might be as low as 2% or as high as 10%, at least in America. At the same time, while it is again very difficult to get a sense of the numbers, there is good reason to think that sexual assault is generally underreported. It seems likely that providing additional avenues for reporting would then help with the problem of underreporting, which would be a significant benefit to many women. If these lists result in significantly more potential benefits than potential harms, then, there is reason to think their existence really is a good thing.

Calculating costs and benefits in this way, however, may not seem to be very satisfying. Indeed, we might think it would be better if the existing options that women had to report assault weren’t so bad, perhaps if police, human resource departments, and political leaders were better trained. And it may seem callous to suggest that men who are falsely accused are an unfortunate but necessary collateral damage. That being said, given the obstacles that women continue to face in having their reports taken seriously, the continued existence of such lists seems inevitable. In considering whether this is a good or bad thing, we need to keep in mind both the relative paucity of false accusations, and the benefits that the existence of the “Shitty Media Men” list could bring.


This article has a set of discussion questions tailored for classroom use. Click here to download them. To see a full list of our discussion questions, check out the Educational Resources page.

On Supposed Harm

Image of Sen. Grassley with two people behind him

Editor’s Note: The confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him, and the subsequent congressional hearing interviewing Dr. Blasey Ford have spurred many difficult, complex reactions. This week, we will be publishing varied perspectives on the spectrum of topics brought to the fore by Dr. Blasey’s hearing. This is the fifth article of that series.   

This past week, Brett Kavanaugh claimed his life and family were significantly harmed by Dr. Ford recounting her experiences with him: “My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations.” The possibility that he may not receive the position of Supreme Court Justice has been framed by many as a punishment for behavior he performed as a youth, and therefore too stringent a comeuppance. Further, Kavanaugh “losing out” on this opportunity has been cast as part of the current climate brought about by the #metoo movement where supposedly men must be on their guard and are under unjustified attack.   Continue reading “On Supposed Harm”

Combating Bias? Nicki Minaj and the Merit of “Twitter Beef”

Photograph of Nicki Minaj on stage holding a microphone

Four years since her last album, Nicki Minaj released her fourth album Queen on August 10th, 2018. According to The Observer, the album was scheduled for its release on June 25, and its delayed and surprising release has had fans reeling. The release of the album and the rapper’s personal life have been imbued in controversy, and considering the standards female celebrities are held to, it is not surprising. However, the Queens native has taken to Twitter and other platforms to declare that this time around, she will not be silenced. While there has been substantial noise and personal opinion regarding Nicki’s actions and Twitter posts, whether you agree or disagree with her approach, the rapper has raised several points that require further ethical examination. Among these points are the contradictory and inconsistent standards that female artists are held to by music critics, and the unequal treatment of female artists by streaming platforms.

Nicki has been greatly criticized for collaborating on “FEFE” with rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine (Daniel Hernandez). Hernandez was found guilty of using a child in a sexual performance, pled guilty in 2015, and has been arrested on multiple counts of assault since then. With this in mind, is it ethical to promote the fame and monetary advancement of  someone who has been known for abusing women? In an article for Pitchfork, Shanita Hubbard writes: “The choice to use her platform to further legitimize a sexual predator is in direct contrast with the nationwide, black women-led movement to silence music’s most infamous abuser [R. Kelly].” According to CNN, Spotify enacted the Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy, which included taking R. Kelly off all Spotify Playlists. This has been in part inspired by the #MeToo movement and the voracity with which sexual violence has been amplified and condemned on social media. Furthermore, the principle of non-maleficence would say that actions that cause harm should be completely avoided, and promoting the music of convicted sexual offenders causes an immeasurable amount of pain to people who have been affected by sexual violence: they might be forced to relive their pain when they listen to a sexual offender’s music. Not to mention that the tacit or explicit support of sexual offenders contributes to rape culture.

While the production of “FEFE” is arguably an ethical breach on Nicki’s part, Nicki points to a certain amount of hypocrisy within the criticism she has received. On Twitter, Nicki questioned the praise that Lady Gaga received on her collaboration with R. Kelly by Pitchfork. This leads one to wonder whether Black women are held to a higher standard when it comes to eradicating rape culture, especially considering how the #MeToo movement was started by Black women. Is an unequivocal repudiation of all art created by sexual offenders needed in order for criticisms, such as the ones Nicki is facing, to be just? Additionally, this speaks to what bodies can be “aggressors” and be granted “forgive and forget” privileges. Nicki points to the forgiveness with which Lady Gaga was treated; however, one could argue that at the time of Lady Gaga’s collaboration with R. Kelly, there weren’t as many efforts to boycott artists who engaged in unethical and illegal practices. On the other hand, one could also argue that R. Kelly’s problematic sexual conduct has been public record for decades, and collaborating with him is unethical regardless of the contemporary awareness the #MeToo Movement has created. Furthermore, when dealing with unethical actions, how can unequal responsibility be mediated? Nicki also claimed that she knew of people getting paid to slander her on different news outlets, and Tweeted, “I’m supposed to keep letting these ppl get money to bully me behind the scenes & not say anything. Yikes.” Through her Tweet, Nicki emphasizes how she is expected to keep quiet, even when she sees herself targeted unequally. This speaks to the ways in which women are commodified, especially in the music industry. Audiences want to consume their music and celebrity presence without humanizing them.

Nicki Minaj has also spoken out about potential foul play by the streaming company, Spotify. Nicki took to Twitter with this issue and stated that Spotify purposefully did not advertise her album sufficiently, since her album premiered slightly earlier on iTunes. She also pointed out that when Drake dropped his latest album, Scorpion, he was overwhelmingly featured on Spotify Playlists and promoted on the streaming platform. Some might suggest that Nicki is stirring controversy on Twitter to increase her album’s visibility (Queen was No. 2 on the Billboard 200, behind Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD). People who claim that Nicki is simply pulling a publicity stunt might be ignoring the historic silencing of women of color: protesting “peacefully” and “properly” is coded as something only white bodies can do. Furthermore, Nicki does call attention to the inequities that exist between men and women in the music industry, especially within rap.  Whether Spotify recognizes that they treated the release of Drake’s album differently than Nicki’s, an unconscious gender bias could have been at play.

Through her new album, Nicki  Minaj is making a statement: her contributions to rap will not be belittled because she is a woman. Nicki took to Twitter to protest in the quintessential 21st century fashion, and her Tweets and interviews have sparked debate and judgment with many arguing that she is uninformed, ignorant, and dramatic. However, this reflects the silencing that women of color experience when they share their perceptions and life experiences and are told to be quiet. Women of color also experience policing when it comes to their tone and choice of words, which is congruent with the criticism Nicki’s Tweets have received. Whether one agrees with “Twitter beef” and the increasing use of Twitter to settle disputes, it is important that audiences read between the lines. When a woman Tweets “injustice,” the immediate response should not be “exaggeration.”

Chance the Rapper came out in support for Nicki and Tweeted, “I cant [sic] imagine what it’d be like to literally not be able to show yo frustrations with actual inequities and subjugation. Without being called bitter or angry or a liar or crazy. Mfs a literally tell a BW ‘I feel u but u not goin about it the right way’… what?” Chance the Rapper’s Tweet is important, because it highlights the harassment women of color face when they call out oppression; however, it is important to consider the Chicago rapper’s positionality when examining his Tweet. As a man, Chance has the ability to influence a public audience with more credibility. On the other hand, Chance is using his position to uplift the voices of women of color. While justice demands that all voices are heard equally, on and off the “Twittersphere,” this is still not the case. Nevertheless, these are all factors one must consider when assessing the political potential of Twitter.

Eric Schneiderman and the Moral Wrongs of Hypocrisy

Image of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman was the New York Attorney General since 2011 and a strong opponent of President Trump’s policies to end DACA. Most recently, he sued the Weinstein Company over sexual harassment and civil rights violations while being a vocal supporter of the #Metoo movement. His clear stance as an advocate for civil rights, and specifically feminist goals, has made the circumstances of his recent resignation particularly frustrating.  Schneiderman resigned as New York Attorney General the first week in May in response to claims that in four past relationships, he had physically assaulted his partners.

Continue reading “Eric Schneiderman and the Moral Wrongs of Hypocrisy”

NFL to Cheerleaders: Down Girl!

Photo of cheerleaders performing at the 2006 Pro Bowl

I’ve always thought there was a problem with cheerleading. However great they are as athletes and dancers, cheerleaders give the impression that a woman’s place on an athletic field is to cheer on the men. But now we’re learning that there are also problems for cheerleaders. NFL cheerleaders are subject to a truly bizarre list of conduct requirements, as well as regular sexual harassment.

The story has been told in a series of New York Times articles (April 4, April 10, April 17, April 17, and April 24), but perhaps most compellingly in this interview of Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, on the New York Times podcast, “The Daily.”

Continue reading “NFL to Cheerleaders: Down Girl!”

Opinion: Non-Disclosure Agreements and the Ethics of Paying for Silence

An image of Stormy Daniels speaking at a conference

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about hush money. A week before the 2016 election, Stormy Daniels, a porn actress, was paid to be silent about an affair she may or may not have had with Donald Trump in 2006, shortly after his wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have also been in the news because they have been used by Harvey Weinstein and others to buy the silence of women they allegedly harassed or assaulted. And in the last few months, it’s also become public knowledge that this legal device has been used to insulate members of Congress from scrutiny after allegations of harassment.

Buying the silence of an accuser is evidently common practice and legally above board. It’s surprising, then, that it’s a misdeed or even a crime—the crime of blackmail—for an accuser to aggressively sell their silence. “I’ll pay you to keep my behavior a secret” is fine if Trump said it. But “I won’t keep your behavior a secret unless you pay me” is unacceptable if Stormy Daniels said it.

Continue reading “Opinion: Non-Disclosure Agreements and the Ethics of Paying for Silence”

Trusting Women and Epistemic Justice

An anonymous woman holding up a sign that says #MeToo

Over the past three months, public figures have been exposed as serial sexual harassers and perpetrators of sexual assault. Survivors of harassment and assault have raised new awareness of toxic masculinity and its effects in a short period of time.

However, as time goes on, supporters of the movement have been voicing rising concerns that something is bound to go awry. There is an undercurrent of worry that an untrustworthy individual will make an errant claim and thereby provide fodder for skeptics and bring the momentum of the movement to a halt. In response to this, it may seem like more vetting or investigation of the claims is the way forward. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be unfortunate to erode trust and belief in women’s stories in hopes of keeping the very momentum in service of hearing women’s voices?

Continue reading “Trusting Women and Epistemic Justice”

Telling Stories, Seeking Justice: The #MeToo Movement

"Women's March Austin-1" by Lauren Harnett liscensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

When Tarana Burke served as a youth worker, she heard her “share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents.” A little girl, Heaven, reached out to Burke to talk in private, relaying stories of “her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body.” Unable to handle the horror, Burke interrupted and directed the girl to a different counselor. Haunted by her response, Burked reflected, “as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain.” Shocked and hurt by the rejection, Heaven walked away, and Burke remembers the moment: “I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too.”

Continue reading “Telling Stories, Seeking Justice: The #MeToo Movement”