The allegations against Melanie Martinez ask us to re-examine rape culture
Trigger warning: Rape and sexual assault
Over the last few months of 2017, a number of performers have come forward to tell the public about their experiences with sexual assault in the entertainment industry. Those accused of misconduct, assault, and harassment have ranged from small actors to big-shot producers, but almost all were male. Almost, but not all: female singer Timothy Heller recently accused alternative pop singer Melanie Martinez of assaulting her.
On December 4, Heller retweeted screenshots of text she had previously written detailing her experience being orally raped and raped with a sex toy by a friend. “When I wrote this story about my assault, I initially wasn’t going to make the abuser [known],” Heller tweeted about the story. “But I think it’s important for you all to know this is about Melanie Martinez.”
Although Martinez has since denied the accusations multiple times, the tweet still ignited public interest, and a number of media outlets covered the allegations. Heller spoke out again the next day, telling Newsweek that “I’ve been reading all the #metoo stories, and though I’m obviously in support of the people coming forward, I wasn’t sure if my story of being assaulted fit. People don’t really talk about this.”
While we may never know exactly what transpired between Heller and Martinez, Heller’s decision to speak out points to a very real phenomenon: women can be perpetrators of sexual assault, too. A 2017 study found that female perpetrators may not be as rare as people tend to assume they are. Other studies have found high rates of female perpetrators in particular spaces and contexts — like one study that found that over 90 percent of minors in a Tennessee juvenile corrections facility who reported sexual abuse by a staff member had been abused by a female staff member.
And yet the notion that women are rarely assailants persists. A simple Google search bolsters this: For example, searching the term “men accused of assault” reveals a long list of results featuring those from Hollywood recently accused, whereas the term “women accused of assault” reveals only three articles among the first 50 results that are actually related to women abusers (the rest were about male abusers).
One woman shared her personal experience feeling silenced after being assaulted by a woman at a party in an anonymous 2015 XO Jane post. When the author told the hostess of the party what had happened after the incident, she wrote, the hostess offered her a safe room but did not ask the alleged perpetrator to leave. “Those I confided in seemed completely unimpressed by the seriousness of the matter — from my friends, to my therapist, to my then-boyfriend,” the writer reflects in the piece. “These people are generally progressive and compassionate people, but they couldn’t seem to grasp the terrible brutality of the rape because my rapist was a woman.” The author goes on to say that she did not file a police report because after consulting with an acquaintance on the police force, she learned that her efforts would be fruitless.
It seems that at least part of our general inability to recognize that women are capable of committing assault is because we have perpetuated the idea that women are solely victims of misogyny. But this fails to recognize or validate the problematic reality that women internalize misogyny, too. The media depictions that enforce the idea that women are sex objects for one’s enjoyment is not taught only to men, but to everyone: We all consume media. Women are not exempt from learning to view other women as sex objects, and while we also deny the idea that women have any power in our patriarchal society — that it is therefore impossible for us to enact sexism or abuse — this clearly isn’t the case.
As we continue to hold people accountable for perpetrating sexual violence against women, therefore, we have to remain vigilant about how we view and treat gender and misogyny in these cases.
More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Media
More articles by Tag: Music, Rape, Sexualized violence