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Kehlani’s attempted suicide and the media’s portrayal of women


31 Mar 2016

A few days ago, rising star, Kehlani Parrish, attempted suicide following a barrage of online abuse after allegations that she cheated on Kyrie Irving with ex-boyfriend PARTYNEXTDOOR. PARTYNEXTDOOR posted a photo of Kehlani’s hand on Instagram with the caption “after all her shenanigans, still got the R&B singer back in my bed”. The post has since been deleted.

Kehlani spoke out after her attempted suicide and allegations of cheating in an Instagram post, which she swiftly deleted. In the caption the twenty-year-old described rumours as a “misunderstanding” and she called for people not to “believe the blogs you read”. When will media quit persecuting women for alleged instances like these?

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Even if Kehlani had cheated on her boyfriend, the level of vitriol she’s received is unwarranted. Lil’ Kim and Christina Aguilera predicted that the tables were about to turn in the early noughties, with their feminist anthem ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’, Christina was on point when she stated that, “the guy gets all the glory the more he can score. While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore”. Unfortunately, things are yet to change; there is still a massive imbalance in how male and female sexuality is perceived, which is exacerbated for women of colour.

I’m not advocating infidelity in relationships (I don’t care!), but the ease at which the public and journalists feel it is warranted to drag women like Kehlani on such little information, can have damaging effects. Even post-suicide attempt, the comments on Kehlani’s Instagram account were vile and tantamount to bullying.

Media harassment of women in the public eye isn’t uncommon; we’ve seen the coverage of Theresa May’s cleavage in the tabloids, we’ve seen the intrusive and exploitative media coverage of Amy Winehouse, and how about the abuse Rihanna suffered after speaking out about the violent abuse of ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown? Or the countless times we’ve seen Amber Rose talk about being slut-shamed in the media, and by her former boyfriend, Kanye West? Shockingly, she was even pushed recently to have to explain consent to grown men, Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson. It’s no coincidence that media coverage of successful women tends to be in relation to sexuality, men and entangled in relationship drama.

Chris Brown offered his unwanted opinion on Kehlani’s personal troubles yesterday, which exemplified the problem of victim-blaming once again. Online abuse is a problem for celebrities and non-celebrities alike and members of the public tend to forget that celebrities often get hit the hardest. Victim-blaming is still a very big problem for women and, in Kehlani’s case, women in the public eye. Women are shamed and bullied into having to “prove” they have been done wrong or haven’t committed any wrongdoing. If they don’t, people like Chris Brown pop up to play the blame game and drag the victim across social media. This worrying turn of events serves to highlight the pressing need to review our attitudes around women in crisis and how they are perceived for speaking out. Scandals, gossip and shame then become the focus of attention and the victim does not get the support they need – if anything, the opposite is true.

Successful women in the public eye remain a minority and therefore have further, intersecting hurdles to overcome. The media is a powerful, gendered tool used to perpetuate stereotypical, unrealistic and limiting perceptions of what it means to be a woman. Surely Kehlani’s talent is what we should be focusing on, not on the credibility of her moral compass based on one Instagram photo. Surely, we should be sending her love and solidarity in this difficult time, not bombarding her with sexist comments and abuse.

Kyrie Irving took to Twitter last night to offer (now deleted) words of support for Kehlani.


Kehlani is now on the road to recovery and has since deleted her Instagram posts.