Why Wendy Williams fails to understand #MeToo
On the January 27 episode of The Wendy Williams Show, the eponymous host decided to share her take on the #MeToo Movement via a recent campaign to boycott R. Kelly given his alleged history of sexual misconduct. What followed was an unfortunate contribution to an already prevalent culture of victim blaming and silencing women.
Williams started her diatribe by referring to the recently launched hashtag, #MuteRKelly, that calls for a protest and ban of R. Kelly performances, due to activists’ criticism of the singer’s continued fame despite having been accused of sexual assault. “What is this, ten years too late?” Williams immediately commented. Her implication that the traumas of sexual assault have an expiration date — that victims lose their right to justice after a certain period of time — not only invalidates survivors’ pain, but places a time frame on their greater movement for justice as well. She implies that rape culture, sexism or any form of oppression becomes acceptable if it has gone undefeated for a certain amount of time.
Then, Williams turned to R. Kelly himself. While Williams acknowledged that Kelly is “a sick man,” she still ultimately refused to burden him with any blame for his actions. Instead, Williams blamed the underage girls in question and their parents. R. Kelly’s marriage to (then-underage) Aaliyah was sanctioned by her parents, Williams argued, adding that the 14-year-old girl who later accused R. Kelly of sexual misconduct allowed the behavior to take place. She asked how any of the parents of the underage girls who had alleged such behavior “allowed” R. Kelly’s misconduct to happen and questioned how what happened could be sexual assault if the girls showed up “voluntarily.”
Excusing perpetrators from the conversation about sexual assault is not going to undo the rape culture perpetuated in our society everyday. In fact, by failing to hold R. Kelly responsible for his actions, Williams perpetuates the culture of victim blaming that necessitated the #MeToo Movement in the first place. The girls in question were all girls — typically between 14- and 15- years old — not women; They were legal minors when these incidents took place. No matter if these girls said "yes," "no" or nothing at all in response to the sexual things R. Kelly told them to do or did to them, the fact is that R. Kelly was a grown man capable of assessing the morality and ethics of the actions to which these girls were too young to consent. What’s more, by asking where the girls’ parents were when this was all happening, Williams recognized that an adult should have stepped in to protect these girls from an older, rich, famous, and intimidating man. She failed to note, however, that that adult could have and should have been R. Kelly.
While reporting of Harvey Weinstein’s acts of sexual misconduct perpetuated against countless recognizable women in Hollywood brought the hashtag to mainstream prominence, #MeToo was always meant to be used by women of all backgrounds who had faced or were facing sexual harassment of any kind. Social activist Tarana Burke has spoken about starting the hashtag to give a voice to the all too often silenced victims of sexual assault and to create a way for victims to stand in solidarity with each other. By promoting the message that some perpetrators of sexual assault are to blame while others are not, however, Wendy Williams gives power to a system of oppression that already aims to make women voiceless. R. Kelly is undoubtedly a contributor to the issue #MeToo aims to fix — and now, so is Williams herself.
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