Culture

Why Is Everyone Only Calling On Women To #FreeKesha?

It is men who have trapped her. It shouldn't fall to women to set her free.

This post discusses sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Kesha Rose Sebert is living through a nightmare. In 2014, the pop star alleged that her producer Dr. Luke drugged and raped her when she was 18. She claimed he then subjected her to years of psychological and physical abuse, which led to her suffering from an eating disorder and struggling with other mental health issues. Kesha is now 28, and on Saturday, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that she must uphold her obligations to her label, Sony, by producing six more albums with the man she says destroyed her entire 20s.

One could argue that the label failed in their obligation of duty of care long before Kesha even brought this suit, but this particular hearing was only focused on contract law. Accordingly, the judge stated in her ruling that “[her] instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing”. It’s a tacit acknowledgment of the lack of morality in the legal process; one which many took issue with through the hashtag #FreeKesha. It is this movement that provoked fellow singer Demi Lovato to tweet this:

My first instinct was to applaud her. Where was Taylor Swift? Or Beyoncé? What about Nicki Minaj? Why weren’t they leading this charge against sexism in the music industry? What the hell kind of feminists are they anyway? And then I pulled myself up. I was asking the wrong questions of the wrong people, and so was Lovato.

“Sisterhood” And The Weight Of Obligation

Given the horror of the situation, Lovato’s support of Kesha and call for other women in the industry to stand behind her makes a lot of sense. Many assumed that the tweet was in fact a not so subtle dig at one of those young women in particular: Taylor Swift, a performer who’s evolved into something of a feminist icon for the #SquadGoals generation. During her speech following her recent Grammy win for Album of the Year, she even catered to this: “I want to say to all the young women out there: there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame”. She was likely referencing Kanye West, but it was a strong message nonetheless.

Now, her silence has many asking if it was little more than feminist lip service to suit her own agenda. Should we expect her to speak up like this all the time? Lovato thinks so. In fact, after Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha to help with her legal fees on Monday, she demanded a public statement instead.

Similar scrutiny has been given to Beyoncé, who believes that girls “run the world” and samples Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her work, and Nicki Minaj who’s also worked with Dr. Luke. The former famously stood in front of a huge sign that read ‘FEMINIST’, and the latter is an icon of intersectional, sex-positive feminism. What good is that if they don’t make those voices heard? Or so the logic goes.

As women, when we are harmed by men it’s tempting to lean on “the sisterhood”; the grand female friendship circle of which we are all apparently a part. This is, perhaps, a question of empathy. We are all victimised in similar ways, so it makes sense to look to each other for support and to hold women (that we know or admire from afar) to a higher standard than their male counterparts.

But this isn’t entirely fair. After all, why is it the responsibility of women to fix the mistakes of men? Particularly young women who are still at their professional mercy.

Where Are All The Men?

Here’s the thing: women stand to lose a lot by speaking out against sexism, and you know who stand to lose almost nothing? Men. Particularly the straight, white men who continue to dominate the music industry from top to bottom. Despite this sway, very few of them have used the #FreeKesha hashtag (with the somewhat surprising exception of Snoop Dogg). But I can guarantee that the instant they do, they’ll be celebrated for being progressive and kind-hearted, while their female counterparts risk criticsm for being single-issue and emotional.

We are allowed to ask more from our favourite celebrities and I think Lovato’s passion is extremely well-intentioned. But women fight through double the amount of bullshit to get heard half as much so, hey, maybe we can give them a break. At the very least we shouldn’t expect them to do better than people with miles more privilege. Kesha is a victim of a patriarchal society and a sexist industry and if women feel secure talking about that publicly — as Lady Gaga, Lily Allen, Lorde and many others have done — then, great, they should do that. But if I’m docking points for not speaking up, I’m docking them from men first.

Sure, I wish that Taylor Swift had accompanied her donation with a public, unequivocal statement of support for Kesha (though I’d wager in the short term the money is proving pretty useful on its own). It would certainly be welcome if Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj launched a Sony boycott or refused to work with Dr. Luke again. However, asking that of women of colour who have worked as hard as they have in an industry that favours white men while not asking it of the white men themselves is nonsensical.

It is men who have trapped Kesha. It is Dr. Luke, but it is also every man who is unwilling to take a woman’s word. It is every man who is willing to look the other way when their mates are sexist; every man who continues to elevate the narratives of abusers over the stories of their survivors. It is men who have trapped her. Why should it fall to women to set her free?

Brydie Lee-Kennedy is a writer and comedian currently touring the UK. She tweets at @BrydieLK.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.