Race, Gender, and Fan Harassment

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In a widely-republished and quoted article by Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES titled I Will Not Accept Online Misogyny, we’re given a wearying glimpse into the type of sexually explicit messages directed at Mayberry, the only female member of CHVRCHES. Despite the “YOU TELL ‘EM, GIRL!!” collective reaction of the Internet, Mayberry’s piece is less an excoriating screed against fan misogyny, and more of a tepid plea for it to cease. “I identify as a feminist but subscribe to the pretty basic definition of a feminist as ‘someone who seeks equality between the sexes'” Mayberry hedges, “I am now, and have always been, in bands with smart, supportive guys, and have many amazing men in my life as family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful.”

She goes on to ask “Would you condone this behaviour if it was directed at your mother/sister/daughter/wife/girlfriend?”, the go-to response to men who lack the capacity to sympathize with women with whom they have no relation. Mayberry’s piece is important, but almost every point is underscored with “This isn’t too much to ask!” and “No, I don’t hate men!” It says a lot that Mayberry felt it necessary to qualify that.

For the most part, Mayberry’s plight with fan harassment is being taken seriously. It’s so familiar for women (especially if you are the only woman in a band) to receive gendered and creepy solicitations that, while they are no longer surprising, it’s not a stretch to believe that it’s a problem. The contrast to this is an article that was published on the same day as Mayberry’s Guardian piece, posted at Gawker titled Danny Brown Admits That His Onstage Blowjob Wasn’t Sexual Assault.

For those that don’t remember, earlier this year rapper Danny Brown’s show in Minneapolis made headlines when a fan pulled down his pants and began to perform oral sex. Danny’s tourmate, Kitty, wrote in Vice that Brown was sexually assaulted, adding “It’s obvious that the reason nobody cares is because a girl did it to a boy.” Brown himself remained relatively quiet about the matter, until Pitchfork quoted him as saying “I look back at it and see that it takes two to tango. As much as it was [the young woman at the concert’s] fault, it was my fault, too.”

In conjunction with a quote from Complex where Danny says “It shouldn’t be a big deal. I just felt embarrassed because I wasn’t all the way hard yet,” the Gawker piece gleefully jumps to the (implied obvious) conclusion that Danny Brown wasn’t sexually assaulted. But why is it so hard to believe that a man could be sexually assaulted, or even that he would have trouble admitting it if he was?

“Everyone wants the option of blaming it on Danny, because people can’t accept the fact that a white girl raped a black dude in front of a bunch of people” writes Kitty, getting to the crux of the racial and gender dynamics of the incident and how that shaped the public’s reaction. Masculinity, and the perceived invulnerability of black men are the reasons why Kitty’s piece was met with widespread skepticism, and the gleeful I-Told-You-So taunts from Gawker illuminate the fact that if we are so unwilling to consider the possibility that Brown was assaulted, there’s no reason to think that it would even be an option for him to come clean about it.

Brown’s situation is just as much about fan entitlement as Mayberry’s. Both Brown and Mayberry were put in sexual situations that they did not ask to be a part of, but only Mayberry can be the victim. Female victimhood is expected because of publicly-scorned-yet-widely-practiced behaviors, and therefore inevitable. A man, especially a black man, being the victim of sexual assault challenges gender existentialist views of strength and power. As Gawker illustrates, people don’t want to let go of those views.