Shortly after a judge ruled reality television star Kim Kardashian single, her ex-husband, rapper and producer Kanye West, demonstrated once again how the internet can be used to crowdsource misogynist harassment and domestic abuse.
West released a video to his Instagram channel in which a Claymation version of comedian Pete Davidson, who has been dating Kardashian, is kidnapped, tied up, and buried alive. The lyrics include threats to “beat Pete Davidson’s ass.”
West has been engaged in similar attacks on Davidson for some time. He’s been sharing screenshots of texts from Kardashian and Davidson on social media, with his own insulting comments added. He sent Kardashian a truckload of roses on Valentine’s Day. If there was any doubt that that was effectively a threat, he included a similar truck of roses in the Davidson-burial video.
Kanye’s apologized for his behavior and said he needed to do better. And then he’s gone right back to being horrible. His actions may in part be tied to manic episodes and bipolar disorder. But whatever their cause, the effects are still abusive and dangerous.
Celebrity relationship drama is treated by media and social media as light entertainment. As many commenters have pointed out, though, Kanye has crossed numerous lines. He’s actively putting Davidson, Kardashian, and his own children at risk.
In the age of the internet, misogynist narratives can take on a terrifying life of their own. In 2014, Eron Gjoni, a disgruntled, angry man much like Kanye, posted a 10,000-word screed online claiming that his ex, game developer Zoë Quinn, was a terrible person.
Gjoni wasn’t as famous as Kanye, and didn’t have anything like the rapper’s reach. Nonetheless, his payload of misogynist bile went viral. Lots of other angry men (and some angry people of other genders) decided on his say-so that Zoe Quinn was an unethical demon who had harmed a good man and started to send her their own hate-filled messages. Her social media accounts were swamped and unusable. Employers were contacted. She started to get credible death threats. Soon the hate campaign metastasized and became a floating harassment campaign that targeted and threatened the lives and careers of numerous women in the games industry over years. Some of the harassment is still ongoing.
There are plenty of other examples. When Professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward to say that Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in college, she received so many death threats she was unable to continue working. E. Jean Carroll, who accused former President Donald Trump of raping her, was fired from her job at Elle magazine because of the backlash against her.
Feminist philosopher Kate Manne has explained this dynamic through the concept of what she calls “himpathy.” Himpathy refers to the way that we tend to empathize with and take the side of powerful men. Because of misogyny and patriarchy, people of every gender tend to see men as entitled to women’s attention, women’s affection and women’s loyalty. People also see men as entitled to harm or discipline women who fail to behave with sufficient deference or with too much autonomy. Himpathy, Manne says, “is intended to encompass all of the ways we collectively ignore, deny, minimize, forgive, and forget the wrongdoing of men who conform to the norms of toxic masculinity, and behave in domineering ways towards their historical subordinates: women.”
Kanye has a huge following, and many people love his music and his art. When he spends weeks insisting that his ex-wife has done him wrong, he can leverage a lot of sympathy and a lot of misogyny. Whether or not Kanye plans to harm Pete Davidson, Kim Kardashian, or physically himself, when he fantasizes about doing so in public, he puts the idea in the heads of legions of fans and onlookers. People who feel himpathy for Kanye now have targets. Inevitably, harassment, death threats, and possibly worse than death threats will follow.
Kanye’s public harassment isn’t just a threat of domestic abuse. It effectively is domestic abuse. Kanye’s creating a climate of fear and terror that will, and is intended to, restrict where Kardashian can go, what she can say, and (especially) who she can date. He’s using his massive platform to control her.
The harassment is difficult to stop because Kanye is famous and powerful. Millions of people care about him and want to hear what he has to say. Ignoring him—by, for example, not writing this article—isn’t effective, because so many other entertainment and news outlets are covering him, and so many people want to know about him. Instagram and other social media platforms might help a bit by taking down posts that engage in targeted harassment. But TOS definitions get complicated when Kanye embeds his harassment in his music and art.
The problem isn’t just Kanye, personally, though. The problem is a society in which people are invested in male entitlement to women’s attention and invested in male entitlement to women’s fear. When Gjoni or Kanye want to hurt some woman, they can count on a lot of people crawling out of the patriarchy to help them. Kanye’s just one person. But in targeting Kardashian and Davidson, he has a great well of hate on his side.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Wealth of Geeks.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.