We Can't Only Demand & Refute Justice When It Serves To Help Our Men

Her Voice

I've previously asked, what comes first: our identity as a woman or as a Black being? Personally, I knew that the answer was and always will be my racial identity at the forefront of my entire being.

My blackness is so deeply ingrained in me that I can't see myself, including my gendered experience without it. One of the most prevalent characteristics informed by this identity of Black womanhood is the obligatory task of hoisting cisgendered, heterosexual Black men on our backs and breathing life into them—even when they're undeserving.


When I say "undeserving," I'm speaking on the men who women experience physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of. I'm speaking of the men who are guilty of their sins and the men that we, sometimes, continue to support.

As Black women, we find ourselves tasked with raising all black men except we aren't always raising them — at times, we're loving them to death. It's as I've heard said so many times before, "we raise our daughters and love our sons." This insulates a sense of entitlement that Black men can't afford to have and the entitlement ensures them the right to a fight for justice with the mighty fist of their women despite the evidence that may accurately and justly prove his guilt.

We remain silent about our own abuse and pain because we fear that we're otherwise contributing to the demise of our brothas and aiding the white folks' agenda to continuously and publicly criminalize them.

Unlike the hegemonic culture, we give the benefit of the doubt to our men instead of our women in cases of sexual assault, which I feel are both dangerous practices, that could result in an injustice for either party. Nonetheless, it's a practice we must find a smart balance with and learn to navigate in the age of social media, where a trial of public opinion is almost always made.


We continue to support entertainers and athletes after reports and, in some cases, admission of abuse in many forms, simply because it's a privilege typically reserved for white men and we tend to relish in the thought of attaining that status. With full assurance from the "What Would White People Do" committee, we find comfort in escaping punishment as if it serves as justice for the injustice we faced during the crimes we were falsely accused of. So, when it seems like our men can escape the consequences and live in a white man's world, we allow them to live out that fantasy.

Even if for only a moment.

We've seen this with R. Kelly who has had a 30-year career unscathed until recently, or in Angela Rye's quickness to defend radio host Charlamagne, who has had one too many misunderstandings and instances of improperly articulating his position on rape culture once too many times for my own liking. This defense was especially prevalent in the early stages of Bill Cosby's accusations coming to light.

I don't like it, but I do get it.

With our culture so closely observed under the microscope of white America, we don't want to provide more reasons to be demonized. We don't want to be the reason another Black man is imprisoned, but we have to realize who we're marginalizing by only demanding justice when it serves the Black men in our community. And it's us, Black women. There has to be a certain level of accountability that we hold ourselves and our men too. After all, a crime is a crime.

We can't tolerate and consciously advocate for a crime to go unpunished to simply "one up" the justice system.

A justice system that does not serve all people is not a justice system that we want, and furthermore, one that only serves to acquit men of their toxic masculinity is one where no woman is safe.

The idea that Black women's hurt has to go on ice to unjustly protect Black men doesn't sit well with me. It's an injustice, and especially to our little girls, as it sends the message that their voices won't ever be heard when they fix their lips to say, "Me too." Not really.

With Ava DuVernay calling for the head of R. Kelly, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement holding men accountable, it's clear that we're making progress. The "woke" rhetoric is spreading like wildfire and even if it is only the latest social justice trend, we need to ensure that we're fanning the flames in the right direction and holding the right dialogues.

This means educating women on the implications of supporting seemingly guilty men. This means understanding what rape is because at its core, it means ending the slut-shaming and victim-blaming that says women deserved it because we were being "fast," whether that be portrayed through an ensemble or actions. But especially deading this whole logic and ignorance, by having these discussions with our little boys and girls.


However, what this does not mean is going on witch hunts for women who we feel aren't doing their part to hold men accountable, as I have seen done to Angela Rye and any other woman who has not verbally spat on those accused of sexual assault. And just one more time, for the people in the back: it does not mean protecting guilty Black men at the cost of further denying Black women safety and peace of mind. That includes creepy uncles, fathers, boyfriends, and strangers alike. It is not our duty to create a safe space for abusers or any crime against women.

Black women have learned how to carry the burdens of Black men since the dawn of time, making ourselves and our self-care an afterthought. We can't continue to be the Black face of vigilantism, not if we're really going to create change in our community.

If we intend to do that, it's time to put them down and lift us up.

Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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