The Internet is Bothering Me, Quavo and Saweetie Edition

We're terrible at talking about gender-based violence, and this week proved it

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Stacy Lee Kong

Apr 02 2021

9 mins read

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Content warning: This newsletter contains references to femicide and intimate partner violence.

 

A few weeks ago, the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice & Accountability released its 2020 report on the sex/gender-related killings of women and girls in Canada. Its findings were stark: 160 women and girls were killed last year and in 90% of the cases where an accused was identified, the alleged perpetrator was male. Women aged 25-34 accounted for 17% of the victims, the second-largest proportion behind women aged 55-64, and men aged 25-34 accounted for 25% of the perpetrators. In cases where we know the relationship between victim and accused, 50% were current or former romantic partners.

At the end of the report, there's a list of all the women who were killed. It's four pages long and I was ashamed to see how few of their stories I recognized. But that only underscores the report's point: There's plenty of outrage when men commit mass killings motivated by misogyny, but when they kill individual women, or multiple family members, society still tends to look away. And as in all things, intersectionality matters: “even less attention is paid to the violent deaths—femicide—of marginalized women and girls who face greater risks of being violently victimized or killed,” the report says. “This includes, but is not limited to, Indigenous and other racialized women and girls, women and girls living with disabilities, elderly women, women and girls living in rural and remote regions of our country, LGBTQ+ and others who experience overlapping layers of oppression. So, while femicide is a universal phenomenon, it disproportionately impacts some groups of women and girls more than others.”

 

Then this week, the internet is joking about what went down in the elevator with rappers Saweetie and Quavo.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: what the fuck?

 

What *did* happen with Saweetie and Quavo?

ICYMI, the couple—who were the subject of a loved-up GQ profile last year—broke up in March, seemingly over cheating allegations. Saweetie announced the split on Twitter, saying, “I’m single. I’ve endured too much betrayal and hurt behind the scenes for a false narrative to be circulating that degrades my character. Presents don’t band aid scars and the love isn’t real when the intimacy is given to other women.” Quavo said his piece on Twitter (“I had love for you and disappointed you did all that. You are not the woman I thought you were. I wish you nothing but the best 🙏🏽”), Saweetie demolished him via quote-tweet, which still makes me laugh, and then we all moved on. Until.

 

On Tuesday, TMZ posted footage of a physical altercation between the duo. Reportedly filmed in 2020 at an apartment complex in West Hollywood, the video opens with the then-couple standing outside of an open elevator, Saweetie tries to punch Quavo. According to TMZ, “Quavo dodges the hit, dropping an orange Call of Duty case in the process ... which Saweetie tries to pick up. Quavo grabs it, and as they struggle for the case, he grabs her arm and swings her into the back elevator wall, then they both go down.

 

“As Saweetie lay on the ground -- possibly injured -- Quavo stands there without helping her up. Eventually, the elevator opens with a guy standing outside ... but he doesn't get on and the door shuts again.

 

“Finally, the door opens on another floor and Quavo starts to get off with the case, using it to keep the door open ... and Saweetie picks herself up and limps off.”

 

Suddenly, “presents don’t band aid scars” sounds a lot darker, right?

 

Everyone had jokes—but none of them were funny

 

Except Twitter didn't think it was all that dark. 

For every thoughtful post or article, there was a joke about the last celebrity altercation that went down in an elevator. (Weirdly, for all the Solange jokes, no one brought up the clearer parallel: then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s 2014 elevator “incident,” in which he punched his fiancée, Janay Palmer, so hard that she was literally knocked unconscious.) There were endless tweets about how physical fights with your partner are normal, that Quavo didn’t do anything wrong, that it’s a double-standard to criticize him and not her. Quickly: no, physical fights definitely are not normal. Quavo did do something wrong. And while it is absolutely a double-standard to take women’s abuse allegations seriously while ignoring or downplaying men’s, the idea that Saweetie pushing Quavo somehow nullifies his actions is not only false, it also plays into toxic ideas about how victims ‘should’ behave, many of which are grounded in misunderstandings around victim psychology and a subconscious desire to uphold the patriarchal system that we live under.

But in addition to fact-checking the comments themselves, I think it’s important to think about the motivations behind them and why there are so many people, including many women, who feel compelled to make light of gender-based violence. Remember in January, when rumours started swirling about Armie Hammer? As I noted back then, jokes about cannibalism distracted from what seemed to actually be going on: grooming, controlling and manipulative behaviour and even non-consensual sexual acts. Well, many of those jokes were from women and about how happy they’d be if Hammer… uh, ate them. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Brandi Glanville was probably the most famous example (she sent a now-deleted tweet saying “Dear @armiehammer You can have my rib cage💗how do you just keep getting hotter and hotter #letsbbq” on February 8, weeks after most people had realized how dark the allegations actually were), but she was far from the only one to post thirsty messages about the actor. (Effie, the woman who first posted the allegations anonymously, has since publicly come forward and hired lawyer Gloria Allred.)

Or what about the confounding, but consistent, support for R. Kelly? As a reminder, the R&B singer married Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27, has been sued multiple times by women who say they had sexual relationships with him when they were teenagers—which is statutory rape, for the record—and has been charged with 33 counts of child pornography. There is credible evidence that he trapped young Black women in a sex cult, including an entire six-hour documentary, Surviving R. Kelly. The doc led to 10 new counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, 11 charges of sexual assault and abuse against a minor aged between 13 and 16, two separate indictments on sex trafficking charges and prostitution charges. There's so much evidence that it’s impossible to believe anyone would still defend him. And yet, people—some of them women—do, even now. When Lil Nas X’s new music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” sparked accusations of devil-worshipping and outrage over its religious imagery this week, some critics pointed out that the backlash was more than Kelly received for his behaviour. The response was predictable: Twitter users replied with passionate, sometimes all-caps defences of the singer.

  

There are real-life consequences for this type of thinking

 

Of course, there’s a vast difference between Quavo’s actions and R. Kelly’s (or even Armie Hammer’s). But the support each of these men receive from fans and random internet folk has a similar throughline: society’s disregard for women’s, particularly Black women’s, safety—especially when it's in the interest of protecting a male celebrity. As Saida Grundy, an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Boston University, noted in a column for The Atlantic in 2019, lasting support for Kelly can at least partially be explained by the idea that “representing one’s race in the mainstream by achieving individual, odds-defying success absolves people from harm they have perpetrated against other members of the race.”

 

This idea—or other “racialized rape myths,” like the idea that ‘they’re’ just trying to bring a good Black man down—“serve a purpose for men who see themselves as competing to achieve a higher social standing and for other men who see themselves as trying to maintain their current social standing,” she goes on to say. “The myths also validate the self-defeating views of women who see their status as primarily linked to their male counterparts, whereby men’s interests and protections stand in for the interests and protections of the race writ large. The survivors in these respective groups, however, continue to suffer the consequences.”

 

It's not hard to see how these ideas could also be applied to Quavo, or other abusive men, regardless of race. It all builds to the same thing: a system where we’re all predisposed to protect men over both cis and trans women and non-binary folks.

Back in January, when I first wrote about Hammer, I received a message that perfectly illustrated the logical outcome of this type of thinking. Someone in her early 20s told me that her friend group had been messaging about Effie's allegations for days, because they’d immediately seen what so many internet commenters and even media commentators hadn’t: Hammer's behaviour was abusive. And they recognized it immediately because many of them had experienced that type of treatment themselves. I was kind of shook; even though I know this is silly, part of me hoped that young men would be… I don’t know, maybe better than that?

 

But if we look back at those femicide stats, it’s easy to see the truth. The largest group of abusers are young men, and the second-largest group of victims are young women. And downplaying Quavo’s behaviour or trying to shift the blame to Saweetie helps to explain why.

 

And Did You Hear About…

 

Vulture’s close read of Demi Lovato’s documentary, which it describes as “a masterclass in celebrity construction in real-time.”

 

This wild story about an academic who found out a stranger was not only plagiarizing his work, but also impersonating him at conferences—down to his tattoos!

 

Writer Clay Cane’s powerful op-ed about “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. (P.S., you know Lil Nas X wasn’t the first to inspire pearl-clutching from conservatives. Here’s a round-up of previous satanism controversies in pop music.)

 

Bust writer Samantha Mann’s recent op-ed about Katherine Heigl, “tomboy taming” and why it was so easy to believe she was difficult and bitchy in the early oughts.

Former Toronto Raptor Norm Powell's heartbreaking farewell letter to the city. (I would maybe grab a tissue before reading 😭)

Bonus: The feel-good Twitter thread about people’s nicest celebrity encounters.

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