Writer Elizabeth Méndez Berry On Protecting the 'Inconvenient Women' in Hip-Hop

In Depth
Writer Elizabeth Méndez Berry On Protecting the 'Inconvenient Women' in Hip-Hop

Fifteen years ago, Vibe magazine published a disturbing exposé in its March 2005 issue. For a piece titled “Love Hurts,” writer Elizabeth Méndez Berry reported on cases of intimate partner violence among young Black and Latinx people. Méndez Berry cited a number of prominent hip-hop figures who were accused of domestic violence, among them Dr. Dre, the Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, Damon Dash, and rap star Big Pun. The article opens with a snapshot of Pun’s daughter Vanessa Rios praying, at seven years old, that “Papi would stop hitting Mami.” Pun’s widow, Liza Rios, then recounts meeting Pun at age 16 and the abuse she experienced over the course of their 10-year relationship before Pun died of a heart attack in 2000. Liza had first publicly discussed the abuse in a documentary she made titled Big Pun: Still Not a Player.

“Love Hurts” spoke volumes about the decades of hidden abuse in a culture that routinely devalues women. Among the men interviewed for the piece, Méndez Berry noted that many “used euphemistic language like ‘the situation’ to describe assaults,” and that “many blamed a woman for what she said or did,” she wrote. Although she and Vibe were applauded for their courage in reporting—the story featured commentary from artists, experts, and nonprofit representatives—upon its publication, Méndez Berry faced accusations of “airing dirty laundry.”

Fifteen years later, these sorts of conversations are different but in many ways the same. Intimate partner violence was and is a leading cause of death among Black women ages 15 to 24. Today, Black women are still murdered at higher rates than any other group of women. Since Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican women on the island have been murdered at rates twice those of women on the mainland. Me Too has, in recent years, given language to the overall violence against women that’s existed largely in secret. Documentaries like Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly, by journalist and filmmaker dream hampton (a former Vibe contributor), and HBO Max’s On the Record—in which multiple women discuss sexual assault allegations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons—further reveal long-buried histories of alleged abuse.

In short, people are talking. Still, there’s a cycle of protection around men in hip-hop. The Breakfast Club conducted a lightweight interview with Simmons in June, and when Fabolous competed in a Verzuz battle with Jadakiss on Instagram, women were quick to bring up the assault charges he faced for allegedly abusing Emily Bustamante, his girlfriend and the mother of his children. (He accepted a plea deal in 2019.) Younger fans have meanwhile struggled to wrestle with what it means to support alleged abusers like XXXTentacion, who was murdered in 2018, and 6ix9ine, who continues to collaborate with the likes of Nicki Minaj. Last week, I spoke to Méndez Berry about the impact of “Love Hurts” and what’s changed and hasn’t in the 15 years since. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“Love Hurts,” Vibe, March 2005 Screenshot:

JEZEBEL: When this article came out, I happened to be interning at Vibe. I remember it being huge in terms of articulating the cone of silence around violence against women in hip-hop. Looking back, I know that you pitched it as a story about domestic violence among teenagers and that you had to kind of make it more salacious by adding the celebrity element. Liza had talked about the abuse in the Big Pun documentary she made.

ELIZABETH MÉNDEZ BERRY: Yeah, a couple of things informed the decision to write the story. One was just being in New York on the train and seeing the dynamics between young people. Like, a 15- or 16-year-old boy physically intimidating his 15- or 16-year-old girlfriend. The stuff that you see, and it wears on you. And then I saw some statistics that were really troubling about the levels of gender-based violence, and I had friends who were doing work with Sista II Sista, which is an organization that I mentioned in the piece. They were talking about how, on the one hand, they’re confronting police brutality in their communities, and then they go home and confront intimate partner brutality. I was looking for a way to talk about that. And I think I was also looking for a way to talk about what it means, as a music fan who loves hip-hop, to have lyrics lodged in my mind that are hazardous to my health.


It was a challenge, the question of how you deal with wanting to talk about structural issues in a way that people will respond to. I was initially a little hesitant about going the celebrity, salacious route. But I came to the conclusion that it would serve the piece and help us propel the conversation forward, and ultimately I kind of made peace with that. Tarana Burke talks a lot about, in the context of Me Too, if we tell all of these individual stories of abuse of power, physical abuse, without revealing the structural scaffolding behind them, are we actually transforming culture, or are we just feeding into a particular appetite for salacious stories? That’s something that I’ve always kind of sat with, and I’m curious what you thought about the piece. I really tried to strike a balance between providing that structural analysis alongside the individual stories.

I do think you achieved that balance, and it didn’t come across to me, while reading it initially or rereading it, as trying to be a tell-all. But I know that was maybe [the perspective] back then. People accused Liza of exposing Pun, and protecting his status in hip-hop became more important. Did you get a sense that the public didn’t have the language around domestic violence and sexual assault like we do now?

I felt like, at the time, it would be women’s magazines where people would talk about violence against women, specifically. And I felt like you had to talk about gender-based violence with men. You needed to talk about it in a space that men would read, and I aspired to talk about it in a way that men would respond to—or at least be made curious about. I had a relationship with Vibe, but also I felt, politically, that it was significant to talk about it [in Vibe], too. It took me a really long time to write the story, and one of the things that I came to the conclusion on very early on was that… a lot of people don’t really care about women. I mean, I don’t think they would ever say that. They would always say, “I love my mom.”

The excuses for male violence and abuse of women are so deeply reflexive for so many people that it doesn’t really matter who you’re talking about. Like, if you’re talking about Liza Rios or Rihanna or Emily Bustamante, the argument will be the same. It will be, “She cheated.” A lot of people will say, “I don’t believe in hitting women, but in this situation, if she cheated… if she gave him this disease or she disrespected him…” It’s kind of like central casting—it’s always the same language. And so as a writer, I was trying to circumvent a lot of that stuff to the extent that I could, and that’s why I started the piece with the children. Because I knew what they were going to say about Liza, but I thought that some people might care about the kids.

I personally am an abolitionist, but I could not have written this story without relying on the criminal justice system. Because people who are skeptical of the criminal justice system in any other setting, when it comes to gender-based violence, they require police records, police reports, charges filed, felonies—all of that. That was something that I really wrestled with. I had to file Freedom of Information requests, and I had to get hospital records. A story like this one rests on a system that I fundamentally do not believe in because people do not believe women.


Sil Lai Abrams brought that up in a panel for our sister site, The Root. She mentioned how Black men expect Black women to kind of rely on the system that inherently doesn’t support them.

Yeah, and one thing, looking back at the piece, that I’m really happy about was the fact that I included the stats about police officers, where domestic violence rates were, at the time, two to four times more common than the U.S. average. I thought that was so important to say. Because you could do an exposé like this one about the family, wives, partners of police officers—or you could try to—but it would be incredibly hard. Because of the stakes for everybody involved, it would be so hard for them to speak on the record. One of the really big points for me about this piece is that 15 years later, we have a president who is an admitted sexual abuser, and so many things have changed. And then also so many things have stayed the same in terms of the entrenchment of misogyny and abuse of women and gender non-conforming people. And obviously, I don’t think it’s just about hip-hop. I think an exposé like this one should be written about all of these different contexts.

I will say, it’s a piece that had a really long tail. Initially, there were people who loved it, there were people who hated it. Over time, a lot of people came to me with more stories. They sort of thought I was going to make it my mission to expose as many rappers as I could, which was not really my area of interest. I heard so many cases of people telling me, “I did not know what was happening to me.” I think publishing it in Vibe was so important because it was in a place where it was unexpected and where it was particularly needed. I got some death threats. It was pre-social media so you had to make a lot more effort. [Laughs] I’m laughing, but at the time it was… It wasn’t the [same] aggression as what a lot of women journalists of color experience now, but it was hard because a lot of people in the industry declined to talk. A lot of people were afraid of being associated with the story.

I’m curious how it was then for you to see the Me Too movement start to materialize and find its way toward hip-hop. Specifically, Surviving R. Kelly was a big turning point in terms of people within the culture speaking up and picking up the language.

With Me Too, you know, Tarana is somebody who I have a lot of respect for; and one of the things that I have been reflecting on is that Tarana [founded] the Me Too movement. There were all these small organizations and collectives that have been working with survivors in communities around the country. Sista II Sista is one of those. A Long Walk Home, which is an organization I’ve been involved in for a long time in Chicago, is another one of those. A Long Walk Home has been doing a lot of work around consent. These young women, these young gender non-conforming people are teaching classes about consent to their high school classmates, and the classes are popular—people want to understand consent. So that’s the less visible scaffolding of these moments.

And when Me Too happened, and when the Weinsteins of the world got taken down, I mean, of course, it was exciting to see accountability. One of the things that I was really interested in was how all of a sudden, people started reporting on gender-based violence. What would it have been like, Clover, if after this piece [“Love Hurts”] came out, another piece had come out and then another piece had come out? What if there had been resources for investigative journalism about gender-based violence against Black and Latino women? Their stories were never told—not because there weren’t journalists who could have told them. You couldn’t afford to do it, and you didn’t have institutional support to do it as well. Because this is emotionally difficult, financially expensive, challenging work that requires a lot of support.

And so you see what it took to bring down Weinstein. That was journalism, right? There were a set of people who were, of course, ready to tell their stories, but it took journalists at the New York Times to make that happen. And of course, most of them were white women. And so on one level, I was really excited about it; and on another level, I was kind of heartbroken about whose stories got centered and who did the centering.


After the story came out, I had people coming to me with names of the most famous people in the industry and telling me that they had done this, that, and the third and that they wanted me to investigate it. And again, I didn’t have the kind of emotional wherewithal to do that, and it wasn’t my goal. But it just speaks to the fact that those stories were out there, and that if they could have been told, and if they could have been supported by organizing and different forms of accountability, I think we would live in a different world.

You said people were coming to you with stories, which makes me think of the way Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and R. Kelly’s cases got magnified because of the volume of stories.

I’ll never forget being at Vibe when the R. Kelly rape tape came out, and people were watching it at Vibe and one of my colleagues was talking about how this girl was not 14. Or even if she was 14, she wasn’t “in a meaningful way 14″ because of the way that she had sex, allegedly like a grown woman, which meant she couldn’t have been raped. There was no sympathy; it was like her body was guilty. In the context of “Love Hurts,” I think about the people who are not perfect victims. I talked to a lot more people than I wound up being able to include in the piece. This [one] guy, he was never a huge celebrity. He had one big hit. He was an abuser. And [his girlfriend] was a casualty and she wasn’t “important” enough for us to include in the story. It’s those moments where you’re thinking about all of these bodies, all of these women, whether they survive or they don’t survive.


Surviving R. Kelly, as dream was working on that project, she and I were in conversation, and it took me back to the pain of reporting this story. One big difference in what she was working on versus my piece is that most of the people that I talked to were no longer in those situations and no longer in danger. She was dealing with an active abuse situation. I’m so grateful to her for having done it. It was a devastating process, because the notion that somebody as egregiously problematic as R. Kelly could still have the level of power and popularity that he had after everything really speaks to how disposable Black women and girls are in this society, and that’s not specific to the music industry.

Where are they? And what’s it like for them? I talked to Karrine Steffans [author of Confessions of a Video Vixen] when I was working on the piece. She is one of the beautiful people associated with hip-hop, in the [music] videos, [showing] the glamorous life, and she was brutally abused multiple times. And in talking to her, it became clear to me that it was deeply traumatic. She understood that her story would sell, and so she sold her story. And she became a well-known so-called “groupie,” but none of that protected her from violence. And over the years, she’s been public about being in multiple domestic abuse situations, and it just broke my heart to think about the fact that this woman who in some ways is kind of the pinnacle of that video vixen story is still in danger. We know her name, and that doesn’t protect her.

In your piece, you mentioned that in the Big Pun documentary that Liza made, Fat Joe, who was his friend—and I’m going to quote this—“argued that if there was abuse Pun must have been justified.” He was in the business of protecting his friend’s legacy. Why are people more concerned with protecting a man’s legacy in hip-hop?

There are obviously a lot of different answers for that, so I’ll take a stab at it. A number of people came at me and said, “How could you? As a Latina, how could you air our dirty laundry?” So it wasn’t like, “He didn’t do it.” It was, “Why would you let the world see?” One of the things, in the years since writing this piece, that I’ve really thought a lot about is how invisible Latinos are in this country despite the fact that we are such a huge community; in New York, Puerto Ricans are such a massive, massive community and yet very, very much underrepresented politically, economically, culturally, despite really big contributors. So in that context, Pun is king. Pun is so important because obviously, he was a talented rapper, but he meant a lot in terms of being the first platinum Latino rapper. And then I think also, there is just fundamentally, misogyny.

I hope that we can hold multiple feelings at the same time—contradictory emotions. After this piece came out and Fat Joe went after Liza, Liza struggled. Liza could have been the First Lady of Latino hip-hop, and she was for a period. And she made the deliberate decision to bite the hand that feeds her and tell the truth. The level of courage of that woman… As I’m talking about it again, I’m getting emotional.

That was the vengeance of—I’m sure not just Fat Joe but of an industry that was making an example of her.

I was very young when I wrote this. I was very careful in the sense that I really talked through the implications of going public in the piece. Clover, imagine if we had a world where Liza had been greeted as a hero. And Liza had gotten the support that she needed for herself or her family financially, emotionally in all of these ways? She got none of that. And, in fact, a few years later, she was homeless. That was the vengeance of—I’m sure not just Fat Joe but of an industry that was making an example of her. I think about all of the moments where whistleblowers have changed the world and made us aware of a dynamic or an issue that we didn’t either have the conscience or the courage or the awareness to see. And this person comes forward and tells the truth—at what cost?

The cost, for Liza, was just enormous. I haven’t talked to her in years. I am curious where she’s at—we were in touch for some time after the article came out—but how does she reflect on all of that? A [few years] ago, she finally at least got a judgment in her favor. But she was an inconvenient woman, you know. And the hip-hop industry at that time, which let’s be clear is white-owned, made a decision about the version of Black masculinity and Latino masculinity that they were willing to endorse and amplify. They were always interested in saying, “Oh, it’s just a song. It’s not how I actually behave,” and Liza was proving otherwise. And so that was inconvenient, and there was a very, very, very strong desire to silence her.

Years later, after the story came out, for years I couldn’t listen to Pun. When I heard him, I thought about her. And then one day, I was someplace and I heard him and I rapped along with it in my head, and I was like, okay, his story is also an incredibly tragic story, and in her film, she really exposed that. The devastating thing about all of this is that it’s not villains and victims. Certainly, some people are straight-up villains, but I think the majority of people who behave badly in ways that they’ve been taught they can get away with, they’re doing it because of the set of experiences that they’ve had themselves. That doesn’t absolve them, but I think it complicates the picture in a way that it needs to in order for us to heal.

Besides the trauma, On the Record addressed the careers that get lost and how much of a sacrifice that is for women. And then that contributes to the silence in an industry where then you are kind of taking away the careers of Black women and Latina women, in a business that’s already hard for them. I think that’s some of what you were talking about.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I’ll just say quickly… When I was at Vibe, my job was to be the reviews editor, which means that I saw a lot of people’s demos. I saw a lot of independent music. And it’s important to acknowledge that at the time, Vibe really did not make a whole lot of space for independent artists. So we covered mostly major labels [like] Def Jam. At the time, Def Jam was furnishing the editors at Vibe with Motorola 2-Way Pagers, so it was a close relationship or partnership. So would Vibe have investigated Russell Simmons? Was that even possible for us? To be clear, nobody on the Vibe team pressured me to avoid artists on a particular label in “Love Hurts,” and there were Def Jam artists in that story. But I also don’t think our team scrutinized them or Russell Simmons. And I think the point about everything that’s lost—the song that Drew [Dixon] worked on is one of my top 10 songs of all time, and I think that’s true for a lot of people. I can’t imagine all the phenomenal music that has been lost because women have opted out—from rappers to executives.


Method Man and Mary J. Blige.

“You’re All I Need.” They’re talent scouts. These are roles where you have the opportunity to identify artists and develop projects and songs like that one. And so not having her vision there is such an enormous loss… There were a number of women in the music industry who supported the piece. These are women who were participating in all of the scaffolding that enabled this, and there were also a lot of women who decided not to help me. I would always ask [publicists] how it felt to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, and most of them would say to me, “Well, I know he’s not talking about me.”

That’s such a common response.

If there’s anything that I communicate to you today, it’s this idea of, who are these women that we have been taught are disposable? And what would it take to care for them and to protect them and to listen to them? For me, Karrine was the epitome of that. We want to hear her story because it’s salacious and she’s sexy and there’s a scandalous element, but we aren’t interested in taking care of her. I know our society is built on having it both ways, but I morally refuse. If anything, the process of doing this story and being a hip-hop feminist, having all of those lyrics lodged in my brain and loving them and also feeling their impact on my self-esteem—all the complexity there made me so much better as a feminist because I could never… I couldn’t dispose of anybody.

“Inconvenient woman” is such great phrasing. These imperfect women are kind of embedded in people’s minds in a way that makes it hard for people to even get past… tradition.

And what it means to be an inconvenient woman shifts. It could be, she wore a dress and her ankles were exposed, and now it’s that she’s twerking on tour. It was about the men, but what we did was we blamed the so-called “groupies” for a dynamic that they did not define.

Do you think the music industry is beginning to take accountability? Obviously, it’s delayed in comparison to other industries.

I was excited that this group of women were able to come forward in [On the Record]. I was excited that they were getting their moment and that they were being presented in a way that was respectful and thoughtful. I don’t know that it said to me that the industry was changing—because the people who made the film, they’re not of the world that they documented in the film. [The film came about because of] women who had this experience in the music industry coming forward, making the decision, feeling ready. But the context in which they did it was not like the music industry said, “Hey, tell your story, we’re ready to truth and reconcile.”

And similarly, I think Surviving R. Kelly is different because dream made it, and because it was attuned to a lot of the subtleties of what enabled R. Kelly to operate in the way that he did for so long. The journalist in me is always interested in that more than in the culprit. What’s the scaffolding that he is standing on? How is he able to do this? Why is he able to do this? Who allows him to do it? I’ve talked to women who worked in the industry who left and never want to think about it again. I sort of felt like Me Too didn’t take hold in the music industry because so many people were implicated. I don’t know if that’s true, but the R. Kelly story suggests that the abusers were far outnumbered by the enablers.

I think it is, partly. One of the ways I guess that these systems begin to change is looking not at the individual but at the scaffolding you mentioned, because once you tear away at that then you can begin to build some kind of road towards justice. Russell Simmons being on The Breakfast Club and them not pressing him about the allegations or even giving him that platform—those are the things that uphold the system of complicity.

Yeah, I think that’s a hundred percent right. There’s a couple of things that make me optimistic. At the end of the day, this industry makes money for white corporations and is very invested in a very specific version of Black masculinity and to a lesser extent Black femininity. The investment of Black femininity is like an accessory—it’s not at the center. My friend, the music industry vet Sophia Chang, told me: “Listen, if I’m a white corporate baron making billions on a version of Blackness that sustains white supremacy I’m not going to give Malcolm X the mic. But I am hopeful that in this movement moment, that is changing.”

I sometimes wonder if people even bother to ask women in the hip-hop orbit to sign NDAs because they’re not even necessary: whether she talks or she stays silent, nobody cares much about her well-being.

But I think what’s really exciting about the potential of this moment is that there are so many people making music and creating culture outside of the confines of this industry, or coming into it from a place of power versus from a place of needing the industry to make them. They have already made themselves. I think about all of these incredibly talented and weird female rappers who are out now, and they wouldn’t have come through a conventional industry pathway because it’s not open to them.

In some ways, I’m angry at The Breakfast Club because they’re important, and they have a big audience, and I want them to behave better. And in another way, I don’t expect anything from them. I’m not looking for them to resolve our issues. Part of what I’ve been reflecting on is who is going to provide us with templates for freedom. Who’s going to provide us with templates for abolition? Who is going to show us what accountability without vengeance looks like? I don’t think that the corporate hip-hop industry is going to do any of that.

There’s a moment that struck me rereading the piece, where Juelz Santana talks about hitting his girlfriend. They were still together and he’s talking about it for the article, and I think he was the only rapper who commented on the record. It just struck me because that just doesn’t happen. Maybe like, Dr. Dre, he apologized to Dee Barnes. But even that… How does having that conversation with men help?

I’m saying this with a degree of… I am not an expert. I’m a person who’s done some writing on it. So I don’t know the answer. I do think that when society says, “You have to respond to this,” that’s an important step. I think that’s part of accountability. I don’t think it’s everything, but I think it’s part of it. Juelz Santana, he was on Def Jam. It’s so interesting, the confession. Somehow, I engineered a conversation with him for another story, of course. And then I asked him the question and he was straight-up, and I was so grateful to him for his candor. I believe people can change, and the way he talked about shifting the dynamic in his relationship was so important—the goal of that piece wasn’t to say, “These abusers are villains and will always be.” It was to point out the possibility of change, the need for change. And the story he told represented that. But imagine a world where you have feminist reporters of various gender identities who always ask those questions? That’s, in my opinion, part of a culture of accountability and transformation.

The thing about gender-based violence is that the people you need to change aren’t necessarily the abusers, though of course, you want them to change too. It’s the enablers and the spectators. In the context of hip-hop, that’s the people who work in the industry and turn a blind eye, or who actively make the case that some women don’t deserve respect, either on record or in the flesh. The journalists who don’t ask questions. And it’s all the audiences who listen to the music without thinking and normalize the casual misogyny and dehumanization of women. You need regular people to care because they make the careers of these abusers possible.

You can have as many videos of rappers beating women as you want; if people fundamentally believe that women deserve to be beaten or just don’t care about them, those videos will do nothing. And let me be clear: This isn’t just any women. This is Black and Latina women that people are deciding do not deserve to be physically and emotionally safe in their romantic entanglements. It’s Black and Latina women who are the casualties of hip-hop’s misogyny. I sometimes wonder if people even bother to ask women in the hip-hop orbit to sign NDAs because they’re not even necessary: whether she talks or she stays silent, nobody cares much about her well-being.

Do you think young fans have some sort of responsibility to have these same conversations about the allegations around artists like XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine?

For fans of XXXTentacion and Tekashi 6ix9ine, I would encourage thinking about who and what benefits from this young person’s career and their behavior. To me, it’s clear that people saw an opportunity in both of them and weren’t worried about the collateral damage along the way: damage to the women involved and to the rappers themselves, one of whom is dead, the other under house arrest. I think in Surviving R. Kelly, dream hampton did a great job of unmasking the enablers who made Kelly’s long term abuse possible. If they’re not challenged, those enablers will likely do it again and again with different artists. That’s what they do. If I were still a journalist, I’d be investigating them. X and Tekashi are symptoms but not the cause. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t critique them and hold them accountable for their nonsense, but we should also work to understand the system that elevated them.

A few years ago when Kelis said that Nas was abusive, that was a hard one for me. I loved Illmatic, I had written about him, I was rooting for him. So when she broke her silence, I was disappointed in him and devastated for her. And then I found out that Carmen Bryan had said the same thing. He denied the allegations, but I believe the women. As an abolitionist, my goal is not to send abusers to jail. It’s to work towards meaningful accountability and healing. I know that many beloved artists, from Picasso to Pun, have been abusive with the women in their lives. Not everyone is willing to step away from their art, and I wouldn’t ask them to. But if you are going to listen, listen critically, and consider what you’re consuming, what it means, and the impact it has on you and your community. In whose interest is it that this particular version of masculinity sells?


What do you think documentaries like Surviving R. Kelly and On the Record do for women? There is a risk of them becoming content or like true crime specials. There’s clearly value in them now.

I think they do a few things. They elevate the experiences of women whose names we didn’t know before. That’s really important because I think about the fact that the battle around mainstream hip-hop misogyny is over and misogyny won. And I think about these dudes being on tour. Are they asking for consent? How do they negotiate their relationships with women? And how do women negotiate their relationships with them? All of that is is fraught and complicated for anybody, but it’s particularly fraught and complicated when money and power and celebrity are involved, and because in general, the majority of people who have accumulated that kind of power and in this industry are men.

And then you have these films, which are saying: These are women who you may never have heard of otherwise but whose stories matter and whose bodily autonomy matters and who deserve to be treated with respect. I think that’s really important because like I said, when Liza spoke up, she was not met with applause or support or an award, even though I think she deserves one. And there was no Lifetime documentary about her experience. She made her own documentary, and it was important, but it didn’t get that level of visibility or elegance, let’s say. And so I think that movement of these women out of the shadows of the industry and into the center stage to be able to tell their stories is really, really significant.

One of the biggest political life lessons that I’ve learned, that I believe everybody should learn, is that those inconvenient women, the people who you have been taught not to believe or who you’ve been taught not to value, those are absolutely the people you most have to listen to because they are the people who experience the worst. While I mourn all the hip-hop publications of that era, I also think that the space that has opened up on social media is so important and necessary. Now, in the context of the defund police conversation, I hear people saying, “But what about sexual assault or domestic violence?” And I see people responding with clarity about the ways that the police are not equipped to deal with gender-based violence. Those conversations give me hope.

Your article has stuck in my head throughout the years as one of those seminal Vibe pieces and seminal pieces of journalism. Is there anything you want to add?

I probably made this point, but just to hammer it home, I think it’s really important to be clear that what happens in these industries is a microcosm of what happens in other spaces. And so the pathologizing of hip-hop, I try to be careful not to participate in because I think of, again, the president, who he is, and all of these different places where these dynamics exist. Something that always comes back to me is I would like to live in a world where “groupies” are safe, where strippers who people have never heard of are safe, where the women who other women feel separate from our safe, where LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people are safe. Because I feel like that was a big part of the thinking for “Love Hurts.” If you hadn’t heard from her and if you don’t know her name, could you still care for her?

Elizabeth Méndez Berry is Vice President and executive editor of One World books, co-founder of Critical Minded, and an advisory board member of A Long Walk Home.

This post has been updated with a stat about murder rates for women in Puerto Rico.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin