Monday, November 7, 2011

Men of Scandal--What Justin Beiber and Herman Cain Teach Us

I don't know if any of the allegations against Justin Beiber or Herman Cain are true. What I do know is that the reactions to these two scandals reveal some things about our societal norms and perceptions.

Let's start with Justin Beiber:
Justin Bieber

A spokesperson for Beiber stated today that the pop star will take a paternity test in wake of allegations that a 30-second, backstage hookup with Mariah Yeater resulted in the birth of her child. Beiber denies any truth to the rumors, and it all sounds pretty ridiculous, but regardless of the truth in the matter, the reactions surrounding the allegations have revealed some pretty interesting/disturbing things about the way we view sex.

This woman is claiming not only that she had sex with a minor in a backstage bathroom, but also that she took his virginity. There's some really interesting power dynamics in play. Here is an older woman who suggests that she is taking a younger man's (or, boy's, really) virginity. In that scenario, she's very much in control of the situation. But added to her allegation is that once they got inside of the bathroom, Beiber became "more aggressive" saying that he wanted to "f*ck the sh*t" out of her. It reminds me of the stand-up comic who joked about rape, attempting to justify his disgusting actions by claiming that the woman was physically stronger than him. By pointing out Beiber's alleged aggressiveness, is Yeater attempting to deny her own agency in the act? Or is she simply trying to re-position herself as the dominated sex partner? Even if the allegations are true, it's fascinating that she would tell the story in this way--first making herself the aggressor and then pitting herself as dominated. And if the story is a fabrication for attention and publicity, what does it say about our societal views on sex that she felt the need to position herself in this way?

Then there's the rather depressing claim that the story can't possibly be true because this girl is too ugly to have sex with Justin Beiber. Really? That's the part of the story that seems unreasonable?

Then there's Herman Cain:
Herman Cain 

Again, I have no idea if the allegations against Cain are true, and that's not really what I'm focusing on here. 

After the most recent--and first public--allegation came forward, the reactions have gotten interesting. 

As Jill at Feiministe points out, many news reports are couching this woman's claims as "sexual harassment." However, Sharon Bialek's accusations are pretty extensive: "He put his hand on my leg, under my skirt, reached for my genitals. He brought my head toward his crotch." And that's not "sexual harassment," or "inappropriate behavior." That's pretty clearly sexual assault. 

Finally, several people are asking (in comments, mostly) why this woman didn't come forward until now (since the alleged incident happened over a decade ago). Some of the other comments, however, might hold a possible answer. Several commenters suggest that, by not protesting when Cain updated her hotel room to a suite and having dinner with him, Bialek knew what she was getting herself into and should have expected the advances. In fact, many suggest that--if the story is true--she's the one being unreasonable. The following comments are from the CNN article on the topic:
18EYes that what any reasonable person would do after being fired from a major corporation, that lasted less than a full six months.  Fly two hours from the city you worked in, to the nations capitol, where the CEO's office is located.  Car service and check into a  WDC hotel suite.  Go out to dinner at night with the CEO, to ask on help or advice on getting a job.  Right. 
I'm still trying to figure out what he did wrong here.  So he approached him for a favor and he hit on what.  It happens everyday.
And maybe this isn't the first time something like this has happened to this woman. In fact, since she's a pretty successful woman that works among men frequently, it's probably not the first time this has happened. (If you need a reminder that the world is still full of gender inequality, go over and take a look at  #mencallmethings on Twitter--a look at some of the things feminists on the internet get called over and over again). If that's the case, maybe Bialek didn't come forward with this earlier because it didn't register as something worth reporting. Cain assaulted her, she said no, he backed off. In a world where sexual harassment is commonplace, that might not get the attention it deserves--even from the person experiencing it. I know there are times when I've been harassed in workplaces (like a manager coming up to me at the fast food restaurant I worked at in high school telling me "if I were ten years younger or you were ten years older, the things I would do to you") that I didn't report. Things that seem inconvenient, but also unavoidable. Things that are part of the culture we live in.

And that's what interests me the most about this story. If the allegations are true, these women are coming forward because other women are coming forward. It isn't until this man is in the spotlight for the highest position in the country that people would listen (and, even then, many are rejecting the alleged victims as silly women who don't understand the way things work). How many people would have listened before?

Photos: cukuskumir, Gage Skidmore

1 comment:

  1. Ugh, I do NOT want to talk about politics, but OK FINE TWIST MY DAMN ARM.

    What kills me about the Cain kerfluffle is how many of my conservative friends (yes, I have some, everyone should, they keep you sharp) are automatically defending Cain and assuming the accusers are all lying. "Oh, look, she's reading from a statement about something that happened TO HER. Can't keep her story straight, huh?" And that's from a woman.

    I don't recall any of my liberal friends casting doubt on Anthony Weiner's accusers, or, back in the day, Bill Clinton's. And maybe it's because Clinton and Weiner are pretty much just your garden variety leches who abuse their power and what Cain did crossed the line into sexual assault, but still. What IS it about Cain that has people rushing to his defense like this? Why won't conservatives at least engage in conversation about it?