The Grammys’ mixed messages on domestic violence

By Hannah Stein, JWI

In between dramatic performances, corny jokes and tearful acceptance speeches at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, President Obama spoke out against domestic violence. Obama reminded artists and the music industry that they have the power to shape a culture that denounces domestic violence and sexual assault. In his video appearance at the awards ceremony, the president encouraged artists to take part in the It’s On Us campaign. Just a week after NO MORE’s eye-opening Super Bowl ad, domestic violence and sexual assault were again in the national spotlight.

After the president’s message and before Katy Perry’s performance, survivor and activist Brooke Axtell shared her own story of abuse. Axtell emphasized the reality that violence is not love, preaching, “authentic love does not devalue another human being.” She spoke directly to the audience and delivered an important message: domestic violence is inexcusable, and we need to talk about it. It seemed that on a night typically known for it superficiality, the 2015 Grammys stood for something bigger.

Or at least they tried to.

While heightened awareness marks progress, there’s a much bigger issue at hand: the entertainment industry continues to glorify abusers.

Sunday’s Grammys sent viewers very mixed messages. Our president demanded that celebrities raise awareness for and stand up to domestic violence, stressing the importance of being proactive. Axtell shared her gut-wrenching story of survival, empowering people around the nation to get help and recognize their worth. Yet among the nominees for Best R&B Performance were two men whose careers include instances of mistreating women, R. Kelly and Chris Brown.

In addition to his indictment on child pornography charges, R. Kelly faced numerous rape accusations throughout the 2000s. He was eventually acquitted of all charges in 2008. Chris Brown, just before the 2009 Grammys, beat his then-girlfriend Rihanna so badly that she went to the hospital. He recently finished his court-mandated community service and faced no jail time.

Adding to the confusion of the night’s message-filled show, rapper Eminem won the Grammy for Best Rap Album. His music is known for praising violence against women, often threatening female icons in his lyrics. He has rapped about hurting women from Lana Del Ray to Christina Aguilera and his own wife. And the recording industry just gave this guy an award? Listening to his lyrics, we should ask what message young people who are learning what it means to be in a relationship receive, when we are part of a culture that rewards violent imagery, or too quickly forgets aggression toward women and girls.

Our culture idolizes celebrities and makes them into role models whether they like it or not. We have to hold artists accountable for their actions, showing that violence is never acceptable. It shouldn’t matter whether a person has one dollar or a million to their name — abuse is abuse, and it’s not OK.

President Obama asked viewers to take the #ItsOnUs pledge to end domestic violence and sexual assault. This is a great start, but it cannot be the only thing we do. Most people feel that taking the pledge means they’ve done their part, but there’s so much more work to be done.

Start the conversation with your friends. Provide support to a local domestic violence shelter. Raise awareness on campus. Every action matters because, remember, it’s on all of us to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

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