On August 12, Justin Bieber posted photos on his Instagram all hugged up with 17 year old Sophia Richie, hinting that they were a couple. Shortly after, fans began leaving comments on the photo(s) as well as tweeting both Bieber and Richie.
Needless to say, “Beliebers” weren’t too thrilled. Fans began sending them hateful comments and tweets. They sent Richie death threats and even told her to kill herself. Fans went on to say that Bieber belonged to them, not her.
The singer warned fans that he’d make his Instagram private if their hate continued. The harassment escalated rather quickly, which prompted him to deactivate his Instagram account. People flooded Twitter with memes, making fun of Bieber deactivating his account, and even got #JustinDeactivatedParty trending.
Even if this was weeks ago, this is a subject that requires discussion, because we live in a culture that normalizes and even glorifies predatory behavior and statutory rape. While many shared jokes and memes about him deactivating his Instagram, I didn’t see many people asking why the hell is it okay that a 22-year-old man is chasing after a 17-year-old girl. And, better yet, why do we see this trend so often with men in, and outside of, the limelight?
Why did Tyga and R. Kelly get so much flak, but Bieber gets a pass?
Stars like Tyga and R. Kelly have come under fire for dating and hooking up with underage girls. But where is that heat for Bieber? It seems like typical anti-Blackness. Yes, people should be question Kelly and Tyga’s behavior around/with underage girls, but I don’t see even a fraction of this calling-out directed at Bieber, and I don’t think — in fact I know it isn’t — a coincidence.
Every generation, it seems there’s always a handful of male celebrities who are caught dating, hooking up with, or grooming underage girls. We’ve seen countless stars coercing underage girls with their celebrity and wealthy status. After his death, many found out — for the first time — that David Bowie had coerced underage girls as young as 13 throughout his career. Even long before that, in 1958 famous singer Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, when he was 22. Sonny Bono started his relationship with Cher when he was 27 and she was 16, and that’s only a drop in a vast ocean of overlooked predatory behavior.
Actor Dough Hutchison married Courtney Stodden in 2011 when she was just 16 and he was 50. Lewis and Hutchinson are just two prime examples of child grooming. Many men often “groom” underage girls in this same manner. They carry on close “platonic” relationships with girls until they’re finally of age to consent.
It’s not even just celebrities. This goes for men in general. Even guys in the hardcore and punk music scenes are notorious engaging in sexual relationships with young girls.
Celebrity predators are nothing new
In 2013, Bustle wrote about the predatory behavior of celebrities, including Kelly. “Many women who grew up in Chicago shared their stories of seeing R. Kelly hanging around junior high schools (and of course the young girls that attend them). There is much knowledge of this predatory behavior, but little consequence.”
Writer Amy McCarthy goes on to say, “while these celebrities might claim age might be a number, power differentials are very real. The public … has balked at middle-age teachers engaging in a relationship with [teenage] girls, and not only because it is illegal. Most of us realize that there is a distinct power dynamic between a teacher and student … When it comes to actors though, we seem to forget the power and influence that a celebrity can exert over a teenage girl.”
We see this same thing perpetuated all around. We witness it in pop culture, and in the porn industry as well. Many porn production companies cater to men who like young girls, and even feature performers who they all “barely legal,” or feature themes with “innocent girl” tropes. It’s easy to recognize that the sexualization of minors is nothing new.
That said, sure, Bieber — with all of the disgusting things he’s done (i.e. appropriation of Black bodies, fatphobia and misogyny, etc.) — is pretty much a walking joke at this point. However, where the hell are the people talking about how he’s going after underage girls now, especially since a heavy portion of his fan base is young girls? Instead of making jokes, we should be asking him why he’s trying/wanting to date a 17-year-old.
Instead of Nick Cannon making jokes about Tyga on his show Wild n’ Out, we should be asking why the hell he’s not only been chasing after Kylie Jenner since she was 17, but also made underage fans on social media uncomfortable. Instead of applauding Kelly for being so “sexy,” why aren’t we talking about how he’s been chasing after and exploiting underage girls for years?
Also, it’s extremely important to note that we can be critical of these men without anti-Blackness, without using it as an excuse to paint all Black men as sexual predators. Simply put, if you’re going the extra mile to be critical of Tyga and Kelly, but you aren’t saying anything about white folks like Bieber, or white guys in the punk and hardcore music scenes — in your area or across the country — then it isn’t predators that you don’t like, it’s Black men.
In McCarthy’s words: “Power, money, and fame, according to the dominant narrative, make it possible for men to sleep with any woman they want, but what happens when the women they want are still in high school [or even younger]? Apparently nothing.”