On August 31, as the world gathered to honor the incredible life of music legend Aretha Franklin, rape culture made sure to also demonstrate its attendance. It should not come as any surprise that rape culture was present in this most sacred of places. Following the flood of #MeToo disclosures last October and ongoing, it should be old news that sexual harassment will occur in every facet of our lives, that no place is actually sacred.
If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that following Ariana Grande’s performance of Aretha’s classic “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)”, Bishop Charles Ellis III groped her breast while making a racial slur about her name. At this moment, as Bishop Ellis sexually assaulted a person on live TV and in front of hundreds of mourners, rape culture began to unfurl in three distinct ways.
First, it showed up in the utterly pointless coverage of the length of her dress. A sexual assault had occurred, and the (social) media stratosphere was more concerned with the length of her dress. So obsessed is our culture with policing people’s bodies (especially those coded as feminine), that coverage of her actual performance was nonexistent in the onslaught of criticism for the length of her dress. This then became inextricably linked to the assault Bishop Ellis chose to commit against her when gospel Reverend R.L. Kemp tweeted: “He was wrong. Arianna’s dress was to [sic] short. Women know just what they are doing when they wear a short mini black dress. She got what she deserve [sic], attention…and then some. The Bishop got carried away and did what most of the guys on the platform and in the audience wanted to do”. As our Violence Prevention Educators have taken to saying around the office: there’s a lot to unpack here.
Briefly, the Reverend begins his post with the statement that the Bishop was wrong but then undermines this point by defending the actions of the Bishop, stating Grande asked to be assaulted by wearing a piece of clothing, dismissing assault as attention, and calling forth the stale ideologies of Saint Augustine and original sin. This is one example of a victim-blaming framework which arrives as if on cue each time another story of sexual harassment and assault is spread across social media.
Second, it showed up in coverage applauding the actions of the bishop. Mike Colter, headliner for Netflix’s series Luke Cage, tweeted “Now THIS is how you shoot your shot! Zero FCKS!!! 😭 😭 😭” . This builds on the idea Reverend Kemp proposed in his tweet: that every man wanted to do the same thing and that wanting to do so is grounds to do so with or without the consent of the person being objectified. Colter identifies here the blatant nature with which the Bishop undertook his assault. “Zero FCKS,” he says before laughing about it. This is rape culture apologism; he identifies the behavior as abnormal and then lifts it up as an acceptable norm. He has since issued an “apology”.
This brings us to the third blatant appearance of rape culture, “apologies” and their media coverage. Google Bishop Ellis’ crime and you will see numerous articles with the headline “Bishop apologizes…” but when you read the text of his apology, no true apology appears. He discusses his wholesome intentions, links them to the church being about love, and then says, “Maybe I crossed the border”. At no point in his apology, even when he seems to walk back the validity of his intentions, does he state definitively that his actions were wrong and inappropriate. He places the full blame of the incident on Grande’s interpretation of the event. His intent and her interpretation are null and void when confronted with the clear fact that Bishop Ellis groped a person’s breast without their consent. This is arguably the most insidious element of rape culture now gripping our nation: the fake apology. Mike Colter did the same thing in his “apology”, calling on his innocuous intentions and laying the blame on people taking it wrong. We saw the same with Kevin Spacey, Aziz Ansari, and to a certain degree Louis C.K. These. Are. Not. Apologies. They are platitudes designed to look and sound like apologies while still avoiding any responsibility.
As the nation becomes increasingly aware of the reach of sexual violence and gender discrimination, the PCA and others like us are repeatedly asked how we as a nation will heal and move forward. The answer is simple: we will begin to heal and move forward when perpetrators of violence and discrimination are held truly responsible for their actions. Until we refuse to accept platitudes dressed as apologies and demand social accountability, the cycle will continue. The power of the #metoo movement is that of increased awareness. Now armed with awareness, we are charged to end it.
To learn more about how the PCA is working to end it, see https://www.thepca.org/prevention-education/ or follow us on social media!