Feministing Chat: Kitty Pryde takes on rape culture and Danny Brown’s on-stage blow job

Ed. note: This is a joint post by Maya and Alexandra in response to Kitty Pryde’s recent article at Noisey about the on-stage assault of her friend and  fellow rapper Danny Brown, with whom she has been touring. As KP wrote, “This past Friday, in Minneapolis, the tour made some waves when a female fan pulled Danny’s pants down in the middle of the show and started performing oral sex on him.” Before Kitty’s piece, the public response had mostly been a mix of congratulations and criticism for Brown, with no acknowledgment that what had occurred was an assault.

Alexandra: The first thing I have to say is that I’m so, so glad this was written. I’ve been really pro-KP for a while, but I’m even a bigger fan now. Kitty makes a lot of really good points about why people haven’t understood the assault of her friend for what it was. I thought her analysis of why Danny Brown was paralyzed by expectations of masculinity was really spot on. She wrote:

If he had figured out a way to gently push the girl off him immediately without looking like he was smacking her in the face, he’s faced with attacks on his masculinity by every douchebro in the building. Yo dude, you don’t want your dick sucked, bro? Are you gay? Haha you’re gay you don’t want girls to suck your dick haha gay dude bro man swag! And that’s a rapper’s literal nightmare.

We often talk about how gender roles in rap–and, you know, life in general–constrain women, but here’s a really powerful instance of a man forced to sustain physical violence in order to maintain his public masculinity.

Maya: Definitely. And Kitty also brings up the point that, even aside from that aspect, the whole being unsure of what do when someone assaults you is probably pretty common. She points out that she had her pants ripped off onstage, and didn’t know what to do either, “because being naked in front of 1000 people is incredibly scary and there’s not much quick decision-making happening in your brain during that sort of thing.” I think that’s an important point to make, too. Because while Kitty says that other people got mad on her behalf when she was assaulted on stage, we also know that that’s not universally the case. So many survivors–regardless of gender–are asked, “Well, why didn’t you do anything?” Freezing is a real and normal response, for men and women, and people need to understand that.

Kitty Pryde, left, with Danny Brown

Kitty Pryde and Danny Brown

But for sure expectations of masculinity come into play here. And that pressure to maintain a masculinity that is supposed to be always thrilled to receive a blowjob, at all times and places and from anyone, was then totally reinforced by the “high-five, brah!” reaction to news of the incident. I mean, in many ways, I think this dynamic is especially relevant when it comes to understanding the experience after the fact, since, as Kitty said, you’re probably not doing any real decision-making in the moment. And when I say “understanding the experience,” I mean both collectively as society and individually as a survivor of sexual assault–since those are not as distinct as we’d sometimes like to think. As a (rape) culture, we make it pretty difficult for many survivors–again, regardless of gender–to identify their experience as a violation. And when everyone is giving you props, when the possibility that you didn’t want that to happen is not only dismissed but never even entertained, that just makes it all the harder.

Alexandra: Exactly. But one problem I had with Kitty’s analysis was where she located the source of this oppressive power. Obviously a woman was in the wrong here, but it seemed like she’s arguing that ladies have some sort of privilege–to fight back, to claim victimhood–like a ‘reverse sexism.’ Men, as we were saying, are hurt by gendered expectations, and often in different ways than women are–but it’s the same sexism, the same patriarchy that constrains everyone. We can acknowledge men’s unique problems within this system without pretending the scripts are flipped and women are rolling in power now.

After all, part of the reason we have so much trouble imagining a woman assaulting a man is that we can’t break the assumption that masculinity equals aggression and power while femininity equals passivity and weakness. It’s not a woman’s privilege that allows her to get away with terrible violence like this, but that we can’t conceive of her holding any power at all.

Maya: True, well said. Permission to be seen as a victim–“to at least attempt to kick the shit out of you”–is super important, particularly if you don’t have it. And, as we’ve said, it’s not just male survivors who often don’t. Think of the New Jersey FourCeCe McDonaldMarissa Alexander, and all the women of color in prison for acting in self-defense against domestic and sexual violence. (I mean, it’s really only the “small white girls” like Kitty who even have that permission–and then only if you’re not drunk or wearing a slutty outfit. Oh, and being a virgin would help.) But that permission is not actual power, and it’s also not going to fundamentally change a culture in which people think it’s ok to do things to other people’s bodies without their consent. Although I feel like Kitty would probably agree with that? I dunno, it seems like she gets it.

Alexandra: That’s fair, but I think without an explicit acknowledgement of that we risk providing MRA fuel–though yes, she definitely recognizes that the nuance of the power dynamics at play. And the races of Danny and his assailant, of course, add a whole other dimension. By Kitty’s account, the girl was white. White women are stereotyped as innocent, and black men as sexually voracious, so the assault doesn’t fit any of the predetermined narratives to which we, as a society, are so deeply committed.

Maya: Yes, I think this is key–especially, as Kitty points out, in terms of constraining Danny’s options for reacting during the assault. “Guys pushing girls is not a good look when people are taking photos,” but especially black men pushing white girls. And the fact that as a black man, Brown is automatically considered hypersexualized is only compounded by the fact that he is also a dude in hip hop, and one who has a very sexualized persona and lyrics. (I’m not super familiar with his work, but Lori tells me that he’s got a rebel rockstar kind of sex appeal that is very sexual but doesn’t necessarily adhere to traditional ideas of masculinity–which sounds pretty awesome and I will be checking out asap.) So those are a few strikes against him right there.

Alexandra: I think that’s what I find so powerful about Kitty’s piece–this idea of “disqualifiers” from survivorhood. Because who is the perfect victim? I’m part of this online survivor community and so many people are really weighed down by the strikes against them: that they were dating their attacker, that they’d slept with him or her before, that they’re black, that they’re queer. Of course, none of these factors excuse violence, but you can be smart advocate and still be sensitive to the ways your narrative deviates from the standard, “correct” story you’ve internalized. Luckily, most of us don’t have to figure this out literally on a stage. I’m grateful to Kitty for bringing this issue forward, and hope Brown’s able to find the time and support he needs.

Maya: Indeed. Oh, and I think it goes without saying, but apparently it needs to be said: I hope people stop sexually assaulting their favorite musicians. As Grimes wrote recently, they are not “an object that exists for their personal satisfaction.” They’re people.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

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