On Friday, Tory Lanez, legally known as Daystar Peterson, was found guilty of shooting Megan Thee Stallion, legally known as Megan Pete, during the summer of 2020.
It is encouraging to see that as a society we are less accepting of men abusing women without penalty. While the #MeToo movement awakened the public to the ongoing abuse that women face mainly at the hands of men, Black women’s voices have often been excluded from that conversation. This case was a test of whether we were willing to seek justice for and publicly acknowledge a Black woman’s pain, and luckily we passed.
Even with all the ways Lanez’s defense team and supporters have tried to muddle the fact that Megan Thee Stallion is a victim, the multitiered social issues that lead to Black women not being protected remain abundantly clear.
But there were moments when Megan Thee Stallion was failed during this ordeal, and we shouldn’t forget that.
In a New York Times video accompanying an op-ed she wrote in October 2020, she asks the question, what does it mean to be a woman of color? In the video, she answers her own question. It’s “constantly having to prove that she’s a victim, because society sides with a man.”
These poignant words describe exactly what she went through in her pursuit of justice.
While the question of who shot Megan Thee Stallion in the summer of 2020 has been debated since details of the incident became publicly known, there was little disagreement about the fact that she was shot. She had to undergo surgery to remove bullet fragments from her foot, so she was clearly a victim, but it is her sexual history that was on trial.
Throughout the trial, Lanez's defense lawyers characterized the violent incident as a jealous dispute between two women, claiming that Kelsey Harris, Megan Thee Stallion's former friend, was romantically connected to Lanez. She disclosed during her testimony that she had an intimate relationship with Lanez after previously denying that they were more than friends.
Her response to why she hadn’t previously shared the extent of their relationship was indicative of the internalized shame women who speak up often feel: “Because it’s disgusting at this point. How could I share my body with someone who could do this to me?” she said.
Not only has what happened inside the courtroom shamed a woman who experienced violence, but outside the courtroom, in the court of public opinion, where social media rules, many have vilified and mocked Megan Thee Stallion. She was “wrong” when she continued to speak up about what happened to her. She was “wrong” if she fired back at people for trying to belittle her pain. She was “wrong” for being sexual.
Megan Thee Stallion testified that the ordeal had greatly affected her mental health, with the rapper saying, “I feel disgusted, I feel dirty, my own partner is embarrassed.” She also said, “I wish [Lanez] had just killed me, if I knew I would have to go through this torture.”
Even with all the ways Lanez’s defense team and supporters have tried to muddle the fact that Megan Thee Stallion is a victim, the multitiered social issues that lead to Black women not being protected remain abundantly clear. Black women are more likely to be killed by men than their white counterparts and experience higher rates of violence compared with women overall. They’re also more likely to be labeled as hypersexual.
Megan Thee Stallion’s case isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of slut-shaming. It’s visible in many trials that involve a woman having been sexually assaulted or the victim of gender violence. When we blame a woman for violence committed against her, we buy in to the problematic idea that only certain kinds of women are allowed to be considered victims. Statistics say more than 1 in 4 women worldwide experience gender violence, and guess what? Every one of them deserves grace and compassion. The slut-shaming that Megan Thee Stallion experienced is the latest public example of society trying to divide women into two narrow categories: virgin Madonnas or whores.
In her songs, Megan Thee Stallion has promoted the idea of women feeling comfortable and deserving of embracing sexual freedom. Yet, this trial showed that, as a society, we are still willing to punish women who don’t fit into the stereotyped gender roles we’ve carved out for them. Megan Thee Stallion is a grown woman who is not only sexually active but dares to publicly promote the idea of women enjoying sex.
When websites that have supported her career all of a sudden make lists of men she’s reportedly dated, they take away her power and cultural cachet. The public elevated Megan Thee Stallion for her messages of freedom, but when it came time to really protect her freedom, it leaned back on societal norms that see women through a thin binary.
Toxic masculinity is a key part of this equation. When we slut-shame women, we are also protecting a specific version of masculinity that relies on women’s subjugation. One detail in the case that kept coming up that encapsulates this was the comment she says Lanez spewed at her before shooting her: “Dance, b—h.” On a literal level, the words appear to have been a warning for her to run or move her feet, but looking deeper, it alludes to a kind of performance — skittering and looking helpless — for the male gaze.
Thankfully, a jury voted to hold Lanez accountable. But in the aftermath of the ugliness of the trial, which Megan Thee Stallion said made her feel embarrassed and like she wanted to die, we should continue to reflect on what it means to be women and particularly women of color going up against a legal and cultural system that is stacked against them.
Slut-shaming women for violence committed against them won’t protect women from further violence. An imperfect victim doesn’t negate that they deserve justice, and failing to believe Black women won’t result in anyone’s liberation.