Unless you live under a rock, you have either heard about or seen the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” It’s all about the performing artist accused of horrendous abuse against women.
Movements have been underway to stop playing his music and for other artists to disassociate themselves from this otherwise undeniable musical talent. People attending his concerts, especially women, justify their attendance as keeping it “only about the music” and not the negative issues surrounding Mr. Kelly. The protests are having an effect, and his concerts are being cancelled, his music is being pulled from radio stations, and music streaming services are demoting his songs.
The question is whether society should take an active stance against someone who has made an undeniable impact and contribution to music for his alleged atrocities against women? These same issues are also occurring in the STEM community at an alarming rate. To me, this shouldn’t even be a question.
Consider a guy who is an acclaimed engineer/scientist inducted into the National Academy of Science and Engineering (NAE) and has been outed for his history of sexual harassment against women. For those of you that don’t know what the National Academy is, it’s like winning a Grammy or an Oscar for your performance. It’s on the life achievement-checklist of every person in academics. Once inducted, everyone around you is your new best friend because they want to use you to help them get in too.
In response to the alleged instances of sexual harassment, one of this guy’s colleagues defended him, not claiming that his buddy was innocent, but rather that the recognition and value of the scientific contributions of an individual should not be devalued, and that the individual’s stature by virtue of his membership in the Academy should remain intact.
This made me want to puke. I interpret this statement to say, “it’s no big deal if he grabbed a few broads’ butts along his career path. He deserves to get away with it because he created something cool and/or useful.”
Is there a society-level metric of atrocity, where behavior would strip someone of their honors? Of course there is, but it depends on how much value society attributes to the victims. What threshold needs to be surpassed before victims count? Right now, women don’t matter, and after watching the documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly”, it shows that black women are invisible in the victim value chain.
Furthermore, children can be petrified into silence, or their voice often is deemed unreliable, so they don’t rate either.
What threshold exists so that fans and supporters of these kinds of predators will not look the other way, but instead will put pressure on their idol to set these women free and get himself help? What about holding all the paid help surrounding these perpetrators accountable? They know and see what is going on, but keep their mouths shut, while countless young women continue to be conditioned into submission for further abuse and along the way, they lose their voice and courage to escape.
The argument that the contribution is separate from the person/artist only works if we separate rewarding, acknowledging, and advancing perpetrators’ careers from making use of their contribution. We are not saying let’s stay in the dark because the inventor of life saving or contributions to societal advancements may have been sexist jerks that treated women poorly.
When you reward someone, you further devalue the victims and it continues to empower the perpetrator to do more great things, but also terrible things. Laws enable victims to speak out against their abusers, but until society understands that a young woman conditioned by these monsters lose their ability to speak and that new laws must be written, more women will suffer. This can’t happen fast enough.
Families of these young women are still fighting year after year to get their daughters back. The only hope is to get people to realize they are contributing to feeding the blood supply of these perpetrators, when they turn a blind eye and say, “it is just about the music” or “it is just about the science.”
My thoughts are with all of these young women’s families. Stay fierce!