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IT'S JUST GIRLS

While trying to defend himself, R Kelly gave a masterclass in misogyny

R Kelly Investigation
AP Photo/Matt Marton
“I am not a controlling person, it’s just that I am in control of my household.”
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This story has been updated after R Kelly was released from jail

Singer and alleged sexual predator Robert Kelly—known as R Kelly—who was just released from jail in Chicago, where he’d been held for failing to pay child support, gave a long interview to CBS News’s Gayle King this past week. The TV channel aired a widely shared excerpt first, and then last night (March 8) showed the entire Q&A session during prime time.

In it, King confronts Kelly about the numerous sexual abuse accusations—some from women who were minors at the time of the event—that have long been moved against him, and which once again gained prominence following the airing in January of the Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly.

The CBS interview is punctuated by upsetting moments: Several times, Kelly angrily interrupts King to get his point across, and he even has a full-on meltdown in which he stands up, shouts, and cries, with a man identified as his “crisis manager” massaging his shoulders and whispering to calm him down. The singer completely denies any wrongdoing—be it that he had sex with minors, that he physically abused and held several women (to whom he often tellingly refers as “girls”) in what amounts to captivity, or that he ran what’s been defined as a “sex cult”—and he tried to confute the accusations in the interview.

But the arguments he used to defend himself did little more than present the full extent of his thinking, showing a litany of sexist tropes and stereotypes, and serving as an unwitting “ABC” of misogyny.

1. Don’t believe women

King asks Kelly whether he ever broke the law with his behavior toward women, and, after he says “absolutely not” and denies it repeatedly, she notes that it’s difficult to believe given what so many women say about him. He interrupts her, and with a tone of condescendence, he repeats “what women said about me?” The tone in his answer seems to suggest that the fact that women say something about him in itself makes it less credible. He elaborates the thought further, rhetorically asking, “So nobody is allowed to be mad at me and scorned and lie on me?”

In doing this, Kelly resorts to one of the most stubborn stereotypes threatening the credibility of victims of sexual crimes: that they do it for some kind of revenge. It’s the idea that a woman romantically rejected will do anything in her power to destroy the man who hurt her. The quotation “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” from the 17th century, is still commonly used today. Kelly is quick to go there because he feels it’s a line of defense likely to find at least some ready to believe it.

2. A woman’s worth is her body

Kelly is accused of having had sexually abusive relations not just with adults, but with teenagers as young as 14, but when King asks him if he ever had sex with underage women, he says he never has, asserting that the allegations against him are “rumors.” King then asks him why, given his reputation, he continues to see young women (his current live-in girlfriends are 21 and 23). His response is perfectly telling of what he values in a female companion: “I know older women as well! I know 43-year-old, their body is tight, they cool.”

3. It’s a man’s place to be in command

Kelly’s answer to whether the accusations that he is “controlling” have any grounds offers great insight to his view of a relationship, and the role of women in it. “No, no, no, no, no,” he says, “see, the thing is I’m not a controlling person, it’s just that I am in control of my household.” He continues, explaining the hierarchies: “If you live with me, I consider myself the king of the castle—and you’re the queen of the castle.”

4. Accusers are just looking for fame

When King asks Kelly why so many women who don’t know each other would have such similar details in their allegations against him—saying, for instance, the they’d need to ask him permission to leave their rooms—he once again goes back to the trope of the scorned woman, and raises it to a fame-seeker: “Thirty years in the business, relationships didn’t work out,” he says, and rumors get started easily. “And if you get any traction from that, if you’re able to write a book from that, if you get a reality show—OK?—one girl, then any girl that I had a relationship with in the past that just didn’t work out, she can come and say the same exact thing.”

5. A victim doesn’t wait to speak up

“Why now?” Kelly asks of some of the accusations that have been brought up recently, long after the alleged crimes were committed. When King answers that women are more likely to speak now because “it’s a different time” and they might feel more likely to be believed, so they are “more comfortable” sharing their accusations, he retorts, once again with a doubting tone, “Comfortable?”

Though as King reminds Kelly, all the literature on survivors shows that women are likely to bury the trauma, and might not speak about it for a long time, his line of defense is very common; it was, for instance, one of the prevalent arguments used last year to discredit Christine Blasey Ford when she came forward to accuse now Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

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