Megan Thee Stallion, Me Too, and hip-hop’s cycle of misogynoir

Megan Thee Stallion onstage.
Megan Thee Stallion performs during the Amazon Music Live Concert Series on November 3 in Los Angeles, California. | Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Amazon Music

The outcome of the Tory Lanez shooting trial won’t erase Megan Thee Stallion’s pain.

From the moment Megan Thee Stallion came forward with the news that she was shot in 2020 — and that fellow MC Tory Lanez had fired the gun — critics have doubted her story, joked about the violence she faced, shared false information about it, and displayed outright disdain for the now 28-year-old Grammy-winning hip-hop star. Drake even released a song featuring the lyrics “This bitch lie about getting shot but she still a stallion.” Listeners suggested this was the Canadian rapper’s not-so-subtle way of expressing skepticism about Megan’s claims, adding to the discord already surrounding the case.

In the end, the only audience that mattered — a Los Angeles jury — believed Megan, whose given name is Megan Pete. Lanez was found guilty in December 2022 of three felonies: assault with a semiautomatic firearm, discharging a firearm with gross negligence, and carrying a loaded unregistered firearm in a vehicle. While Lanez’s sentencing was scheduled for June 13, after several delays, the judge has once again pushed scheduling. Lanez will now be sentenced on August 7.

Prosecutors have sought 13 years for Lanez, alleging that, following the shooting, he led a campaign to terrorize the rapper behind “Savage,” “Hot Girl Summer,” and other hits. A filing this June accused Lanez and rapper DaBaby of allegedly planning to “ambush” Megan onstage at a music festival, which left her “fearful” for her safety. Lanez had also hired a new legal team and sought a new trial after his conviction, creating months of delays in the sentencing.

On July 12, 2020, after a night of partying in the Hollywood Hills, Megan was in an SUV with Lanez, his bodyguard, and her former friend Kelsey Nicole, when, as she told Gayle King on CBS Mornings, an argument ensued. According to a police report from that night, LAPD responded to a call regarding a “shots fired investigation,” and during the resultant traffic stop, Lanez was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm. Megan, who was there during the arrest, was taken to the hospital since she was bleeding from her feet.

At that point, Megan didn’t tell officers that she had been shot, and the story circulating in the media was that her injury was due to stepping on shards of broken glass. It wasn’t until three days later that Megan publicly announced she had been shot and it wasn’t until August 20 that she publicly identified Lanez as the perpetrator. “You shot me, and you got your publicist and your people going to these blogs, lying and s***,” she said on Instagram Live. “Stop lying. Why lie? I don’t understand. I tried to keep the situation off the internet, but you’re dragging it.”

Since then, Megan has continually defended herself against online harassment — and against a rap industry complex that has long perpetuated violence against women, particularly Black women, trans women, and gender-nonconforming people. “I could have let the adversity break me, but I persevered, even as people treated my trauma like a running joke,” Megan wrote for Elle months after the verdict was delivered. “It never crossed my mind that people wouldn’t believe me. Still, I knew the truth and the indisputable facts would prevail. […] When the guilty verdict came on Dec. 23, 2022, it was more than just vindication for me, it was a victory for every woman who has ever been shamed, dismissed, and blamed for a violent crime committed against them.”

News outlets obtained the medical report that documents the presence of bullet fragments in her feet, and screenshots of text messages in which Kelsey Nicole told the bodyguard “Tory shot Meg.” Megan has shared graphic photos of her injuries and screenshots of text messages in which Lanez apologizes to her for an unspecified incident. Lanez, whom the LA district attorney has charged with felony assault with a semiautomatic firearm, among other felony charges, has denied any wrongdoing and released an album with lyrics claiming his innocence in September 2020. In October 2022, he was placed under house arrest for allegedly assaulting singer August Alsina. Lanez faces up to 22 years and eight months in prison if a jury finds him guilty of assaulting Megan Thee Stallion with a firearm.

Megan’s supporters say the case highlights the routine violence that Black women face, in addition to being ridiculed and not believed if they come forward. (According to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 in 10 Black women have been stalked, beaten, or raped by an intimate partner. Among female homicides not linked to intimate partners, Black women are significantly more likely than white women to be killed by an acquaintance.) Lanez’s protectors suggest that he is the victim of a purported scheme to “bring down” Black men, a freighted charge that can become pernicious when used to silence Black women. As the trial against Lanez gets underway, I reached out to Treva Lindsey, a professor in the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies department at Ohio State University and author of the recent book America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice.

Lindsey and I discussed how misogynoir — the unique hatred that Black women face — has combined with the culture of violence in the rap music industry to create a “both sides” narrative around the harm Megan has had to navigate, how stereotypes about Black women are being used, and how Megan’s trauma has been policed. We also talked about how a rumor of an intimate relationship with Lanez has been used to undermine Megan’s story (she has denied ever being sexually involved with Lanez), what the role is for the criminal legal system in doling out “justice” between former friends, and what the outcome of this case and the public reaction to it will say about where America stands when it comes to ending violence against women in the post-Me Too era.

The jokes and memes about what happened that night seem unending, and they all seem to be directed at Megan in an effort to mock or discredit her. On a podcast, former reality TV star Draya Michele said, “I want you to like me so much you shoot me in the foot too […] This shit is fun.” A few days after the incident, Chrissy Teigen tweeted, “I have a megan thee stallion joke but it needs to be twerked on.” Rapper 50 Cent shared multiple memes that made light of the alleged assault. Rapper Cam’ron shared a transphobic “joke” on Instagram. Random Twitter users began seizing on a narrative that Lanez “set the tone for the summer.” What has your reaction been to all of this since news about the shooting began to circulate in July 2020?

My first reaction was shock and sadness. Megan had already been through so much publicly, from the ongoing issues with her label to the loss of her mother and grandmother. It made me very sad because not only was she harmed, based on the photos of her feet, but I also recognized that this was happening at a very important moment in her career. She had a loyal fan base and was gaining mainstream popularity, but then all of a sudden, this violent interaction happened.

When these moments happen, whether it’s Drake or DJ Akademiks, I always think about how there’s the option to say nothing. In this race to be in proximity to someone who’s been accused of harm, it seems like there’s an intensification of protection around them and less and less around her.

close up of Megan Thee Stallion on an interview set
CBS via Getty Images
Megan Thee Stallion talking to Gayle King on CBS Mornings.

Since Megan came forward, she has faced constant skepticism and criticism. People online doubted her story and criticized her for the choices she made that night, most notably her decision to not initially tell the police that Tory Lanez shot her. Critics have used this detail to try to discredit her. Megan has explained repeatedly that she did not initially tell the police about the shooting because she feared for the lives of everyone in the car. Why would Megan, who had just been shot, not choose to tell the police that Tory Lanez assaulted her? And how is this connected to the pressure Black women feel to protect Black men, even the ones who harm them?

In instances of intimate violence, most survivors don’t come forward. And given what was happening in 2020 [with police violence against Black Americans], it wasn’t shocking that Megan didn’t tell police officers in the moment that a crime was committed against her. She ultimately wanted to protect everyone at the scene. And even without that 2020 backdrop, that’s often the choice that Black women make when it comes to intimate encounters with violence.

When the incident occurred, it was only a couple of months after the murder of George Floyd, which set off mass uprisings around the world. There was also nonstop talk about what the police did to Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade and other people harmed by the police since May 2020. This is all important context that helps us understand what Megan meant when she said she felt that she was protecting everybody at the scene by not saying exactly what happened and, more importantly, who enacted violence on her.

In my book America Goddam, I talk about this notion of “silently endure, unequivocally protect” that Black women face. So many of us imbibe that mantra very early — that it is our duty to protect those who harm us, especially if it’s someone we care about that we don’t want another form of harm to happen to them. Megan embodied this idea when she didn’t say anything that night; she didn’t want the police to harm them. I am familiar with Megan’s rationale, but for some others, it became fodder to call her a liar, denigrate her, or tap into this deep mistrust and hatred that so many people have for Black women.

It appears that the only reason Megan came forward in August 2020 to name Tory Lanez was because he and his team kept allegedly publicly lying about the situation, she said in tweets. But as you stated, most survivors don’t come forward to talk about the violence they experience, and when they do, they often face additional harm.

Can you comment on what it has meant for Megan, a young Black woman, to actually come forward and speak her truth, to unequivocally say that she was shot by a contemporary and former friend, by a Black man in the music industry?

Thank you for saying “young Black woman” because Megan is, in fact, a young Black woman.

There’s a way that we often talk about Megan and other young Black women — we talk about their bodies and stature in a way that blinds us to the fact that this is a 27-year-old Black woman who was 25 at the time that this happened. Some of this has to do with sizeism, and she is viewed as an impossible victim. She has a persona as “Thee Stallion,” is assertive, dynamic, a “take control” person, and she’s the “hot girl coach,” so she’s not allowed any vulnerability. There’s no sense of needing to protect Megan.

I can’t imagine the fortitude that it took for Megan to go on Instagram Live that day, of all places — not traditional media where the narrative could’ve been controlled — to say out of her mouth, “This man shot me,” and, “I was trying to spare him and y’all are not sparing me.” As much as I was angry, it was heartbreaking that she felt the need to protect him but also had to defend herself after saying she was the one who was harmed. For all the folks who are saying it was a clout-chasing move, it’s interesting to look at that timeline and see that she was countering a narrative that began to form in the aftermath.

Can you talk about what it means for women, particularly Black women, to not be believed despite all the evidence that supports their stories of abuse?

This case is a mind trip in many ways because, no matter what happens within the criminal legal system, Megan will be blamed. If Tory is found guilty, she’ll be blamed for going through with the claim, and if he is found not guilty, then she will be called a liar. There’s no ground in which she wins. And at the end of the day, she has already been shot, so she has already lost irrespective of the outcome. There’s no real justice for that having happened to her. Justice is when that doesn’t happen to her, when we create the circumstances in which that interaction doesn’t happen in the first place.

It took 30 years of serious allegations against Robert Kelly to even have the criminal legal system respond. And after all the time it took, there were people who said, “I’m still not sure. This seems like a setup.” I’m thinking of that case alongside what happens when someone accuses any famous person.

This is also happening at what seems to be a turning point in Tory’s career as well, so some are suggesting that he’s being brought down and being targeted — that Black men are being targeted by the criminal legal system and that Black women are henchwomen for white supremacy and how it operates within this. Megan is contending with a very fraught history that is undeniably complicated because there absolutely are Black men who’ve been falsely accused. Black women have been alongside Black men protesting and rallying against that. Megan is contending with that history and the pain of what it means to be this public about what happened, to be believed by some and not believed by others, and having to rely on the criminal legal system that very rarely provides justice for any Black person, and certainly not for Black women.

Can you talk about how sex is being used in online discourse about this case? At one point, Lanez tweeted that he was sleeping with both Megan and her former friend Kelsey Nicole, who was present that night. Megan has denied ever being intimately involved with Tory Lanez and explained that they became close friends who bonded over the deaths of their mothers.

Some hip-hop fans have used the idea that Megan was sexually intimate with Lanez to play into stereotypes and narratives about female jealousy and Black women’s sexuality. In a song, Rapper DaBaby, who joked about Megan being shot and has supported Lanez, claimed that he slept with Megan the night before Lanez allegedly shot her. Why do commentators constantly bring up Megan’s sex life, and apparently spread misinformation about it, in the context of this case?

There are two things happening here, and they go back to who people believe Megan to be based on her persona. She is openly excited and explicit about her sexuality. Her persona is sexualized, and it is more extreme when combined with the ways that Black women are already hypersexualized. Black women are often seen as sex objects and are thought to be pervasively sexually violated. A lot gets projected onto Black women — our sexuality is villainized, it is seen as too lascivious, and in some ways it is criminalized. Because critics see [Megan] as hypersexual, it’s easy for them to believe that Tory slept with both of those women and that this is a lover’s spat.

The hard part in responding to that is, let’s say that that’s true, which brings me to my second point. Let’s actually say that that’s what happened, that Tory was sexually involved with both women. In what world is it then okay for Tory to allegedly shoot [Megan]? This is the way that misogynoir operates. It’s a vicious kind of mistrust and hatred. It makes people believe that [Tory] is credible because we’ve already read [Megan] as hypersexualized and someone undeserving of care and unworthy of being protected in those moments. There’s a very real combination of slut-shaming and victim-blaming that is happening in this case, as well.

Megan is also being scrutinized. Whether it’s the pause she took before she answered Gayle King’s question about whether she was intimate with Tory Lanez or people questioning why she was on the cover of Forbes or why she wrote an op-ed in the New York Times or why she went out partying “too soon” after she was shot, her every move in the past two years seems to be watched and policed. Can you talk about the level of scrutiny she’s been receiving since she made the allegations?

The criticism she received for pausing after Gayle asked her that question is an extended metaphor. Why can’t she have a pause? Can she have a moment? Everything she’s doing at this moment is being examined. She’s not the one on trial. She’s not the one that’s being brought before the criminal legal system. He is. And yet, every single movement, blink, gesture, or decision that she is making is under this very powerful microscope has the ability to reshape the narrative.

The pause in that moment, I think she might have just been caught off guard by the question. And having to disclose your sexual life — it really is no one’s business. Because even if she were intimately involved with Tory, even if she had said yes, there’s nothing that changes about what that violation is. And had she said yes, that would have been a confirmation for folks of all of these other narratives that she’s jealous and lying. The conundrum that a lot of Black women victims and survivors of intimate violence face is that, no matter the outcome, they will forever be under this microscope. And not only that, folks will make jokes, and malign and vilify these women to make these women the ones who are accountable for harm, and not the person who harmed them.

I’d like to talk a little more about the stereotypes about Black women that we’ve seen emerge in this case that are being put onto Megan. We’ve already talked about some of them, like Black women as hypersexual jezebels. And then there’s also the idea that she is aggressive and angry, aided by her “Black” facial features and skin complexion. I’ve seen people argue that Megan had to have done something to provoke Tory, whether that was to hit him or berate him. Megan has even had to come out and say she didn’t first assault Tory that night. How has this stereotype factored into how this case is being treated?

The stereotypes abound in this case. It’s a terrible storm of these racialized gender stereotypes of Black women. It’s about her size, Blackness, and womanhood that are being put on display here and being used to say that she is the aggressor. We heard that with Chris Brown and Rihanna — that because she’s a West Indian woman, she had to have been beating on him first. With Megan, we’ve heard the “she’s so big and he’s so small” narrative that plays into this physicality argument that’s being made about her. Even with her saying this is what happened that evening, people latch onto these problematic narratives that are rooted in stereotypes that Black women are loud, angry, and they put their hands on you. People have claimed that Tory was just defending himself. These stereotypes about Black women endure, and there’s no grace or compassion.

And there’s no sense that Tory could be lying. We don’t even have a framing or a term for how we think about distrust of men in the way that we do for women. There is this framing of women as irrational and emotional, which is viewed as a negative. At the same time, it’s impossible for the general public to imagine Tory having an emotional response that night and acting out of that emotional response. His emotionality isn’t put on trial. No one is really asking, why do you think the gun even came out? Or what does it mean for him to be in that space? What is the emotional geography of what happened in that car?

And in thinking about Tory’s emotional response in that way, it seems like the public also doesn’t have the range to fathom that such violence could have actually happened to Megan. It seems that people can’t process or aren’t even trying to process the allegation that someone could have just pulled a gun out and shot at another person’s feet, saying “Dance, bitch!” according to an LAPD detective. This, despite the many examples of this kind of violence taking place against Black women and despite Megan showing photos of her foot with bullet fragments, among other evidence that’s so far available to the public. What do you make of that?

When I talk to people about the data around the prevalence and pervasiveness of violence against Black women, their jaws drop because they don’t really conceive of it as an everyday occurrence. But it’s something that’s a part of so many Black women’s experiences that it becomes very easy to dismiss this case as spectacular. And so they treat it as something to choose a side on. That’s a misguided approach because the side that we all need to be on is ending interpersonal and intimate violence. We don’t want anyone harmed. And there are more layers to this; not only are some people saying Tory wasn’t the one to harm Megan, but they are also saying she just wasn’t harmed at all.

A man with a microphone center stage wearing all black with a DJ behind him.
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Tory Lanez performing in 2019.

The broad consideration here is that 40 percent of Black women at some point in their lifetime will experience some form of physical violence, quite often in an intimate or interpersonal context. That is a significant number. Megan has now become part of a club no one wants to belong to — the club of millions of Black women historically and contemporarily who have faced non-fatal assaults, and in some cases fatal assaults. I think getting people to understand the gravity of this problem, the reality of interpersonal violence, and its frequency is an important part of this work.

This case comes at an interesting time in our country, in which Me Too backlash is real. What final thoughts can you share with us about where we are as a culture when it comes to violence against women and violence against Black women? And what might this case’s outcome mean for discourse going forward?

It’s important to note that these are artists of a particular generation, so everything is online. Megan came forward with what happened to her on Instagram Live. That is a marker of the times. This is also happening post-Me Too, so of course there is backlash and the idea that we have gone too far. We are seeing that retrenchment in real time, and it’s occurring alongside the growth of incel movements. We tend to think of that movement as white, but we are seeing Black men in these spaces who are committed to this hatred of Black women and women more broadly. This case sits at a nexus of these various movements, both progressive and regressive colliding. The outcome of this case and the responses to it will tell us a lot more about where we are and what it means to go forward.

Watching this case unfold, I’m sure it’s only made Black women and girls less assured of coming forward given what’s at stake. But this might also move some women to come forward, since Megan came forward despite the onslaught she has faced. Those are both possible. The outcome of this case will also further reveal our very ambivalent and complicated relationship with the criminal legal system, guilty or not guilty. The way we respond in this moment is very telling. There is a selective way that we deal with the criminal legal system when we want it to dole out what we believe is justice. Because there is a Black person on both sides of this, the faith we have and the lack of faith we have in the criminal legal system will be put on display in a very robust way.

Update, June 13, 5 pm ET: This story was originally published on December 22, 2022, and has been updated to reflect Tory Lanez’s conviction on three felony counts in connection with the case, as well as Megan Thee Stallion’s statements following the conviction.

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