From R. Kelly to Brett Kavanaugh, we're done with men's performative rage
It has been a little over two months since the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries aired on Lifetime—and in that time, more action has been taken in regards to R. Kelly’s sexual abuse allegations than in the past 20 years. In February, the ”I Believe I Can Fly” singer was charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse involving four women who were underage at the time of the acts in question.
This isn’t the first time Kelly has been in trouble with the law because of alleged sexual misconduct—but this time around, he is breaking his silence. On March 6th, Kelly appeared on CBS This Morning alongside interviewer Gayle King to defend himself against these accusations. Kelly alleges that the only thing he is guilty of is having a “big heart” and allowing himself to be betrayed by the parents of alleged victims he welcomed into his home—like his apparent girlfriends Joycelyn Savage, 23, and Azriel Clary, 21. Families of both young women have struggled to contact and see their daughters, and believe the young women have been brainwashed by Kelly and are being held against their will.
In other words, Kelly is claiming to be a victim himself and sticking to his questionable script. Typical.
During the first few minutes of the interview, Kelly appears calm and collected but still blames the allegations on money-grubbing families and social media’s power to spread false rumors. King appears to hit a nerve when she asks Kelly if he has ever held women hostage in his home (referencing the alleged “sex cult” reported by Jim DeRogatis in BuzzFeed News). Kelly bursts into a toddler-like tantrum, and King keeps her composure like an unbothered mother trying to talk him down by simply calling his name. Soon after, Kelly dismisses King and looks straight into the camera to speak to the public, referring to viewers as “guys” and “y’all.”
In his most theatrical performance to date, Kelly stands up, paces back and forth, and thumps his chest while insinuating that the public is trying to assassinate his character. He pleads with viewers, whom he says he has “given 30 years of his life to,” calls the sexual abuse allegations against him “stupid,” and asks viewers to use their “common sense.” Kelly attributes his emotions to the fact that he has never spoken about the allegations publicly, but King (and, as social media trending topics prove, the general public) senses that Kelly is playing the victim to gain sympathy and resorting to male rage as a defense mechanism.
I’d love to say that Kelly’s explosive behavior is a unique situation, but male rage is a phenomenon that society is conditioned to deal with—even more so when powerful male figures are asked to publicly defend themselves against women’s accusations.
If R. Kelly’s outburst felt familiar to you, think back to Brett Kavanaugh during the U.S. Senate hearing on sexual misconduct allegations prior to his Supreme Court appointment. Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, calmly recounted her alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh when the two of them were in high school—which motivated at least three other women to step forward with their own allegations against him. Kavanaugh believed that these claims were the work of liberals aiming to block his confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice. Republicans came to his defense, similarly displaying anger about the accusations.
During the hearing, Kavanaugh raised his voice, cried, and snarled. He went on emotional tangents about his young children praying for Dr. Blasey Ford and about keeping a calendar as a teen because his late father taught him to do so.
Kelly uses similar tactics in his CBS This Morning interview. Both Kelly and Kavanaugh use relationships with their children to deflect from conversations about their alleged violence. Kelly states his wish to rebuild his relationships with his children—though he is now in custody for failure to pay child support. As Spencer Kornhaber writes in The Atlantic, Kavanaugh and Kelly’s emotional episodes and alleged crimes aren’t identical, but their undertones, goals, and general stances are the same—trying to win the court of public opinion through irrational outbursts, claims of character assassination, and intimidating aggression.
While their rage is inevitably recognized because of its volume and physicality, it is not welcome.
In light of the #MeToo movement, women are no longer remaining silent about sexual misconduct. More women have found the courage within themselves to speak out against their abusers, and the opposition takes the form of men’s anger. It’s evident that fury exhibited by powerful men accused of sexual violence is misogynistic and fear-driven, stemming from the fact that previously manipulated women have reclaimed their voices and power. Society has been taught that this particular display of wild, reckless emotion is okay coming from a man (especially a man in power)—but if women display this kind of behavior, they are met with endless ridicule and claims of hysteria.
I think men are shook that toxic masculinity is being called out like never before, and that’s why we see this anger from them. Of course, R. Kelly’s recent outburst and the support of Kavanaugh’s aggressive testimony prove that this toxic defense mechanism is alive and well, but women are standing against it.
From King’s unbothered reaction to Ford’s ability to tell her story despite intimidation to Kavanaugh comparisons emerging as a trending Twitter topic when Kelly’s interview aired, it’s clear to me that society is in for a rude awakening. In fact, the frequency of men relying on aggressive outbursts to “defend” themselves against violent allegations only proves that their toxic masculinity runs much deeper than they’re willing to acknowledge—so deep that they probably don’t even realize it exists.
Overall, it seems that Kelly is digging himself into an even deeper hole. In the clip of R. Kelly’s CBS This Morning interview that aired on March 7th, Kelly’s “girlfriends” Joycelyn Savage and Azriel Clary came to his defense. However, while the two young women stressed the singer’s innocence, King reports that at one point Kelly disrupted the interview (he had been asked to stay in a nearby room where he was not visible to the girls). Moreover, King said that Kelly coughed throughout Savage and Clary’s interview as if to remind them that he was there. If Kelly’s furious performance on CBS This Morning hasn’t already damaged any remaining credibility, this behind-the-scenes intimidation surely ought to.
CBS will air the entire R. Kelly interview on March 8th at 8 p.m.