CW: Sexual assault
Cancel culture is the phenomenon of promoting the “canceling” of individuals or companies due to their inappropriate or problematic actions, ideologies or remarks. To actively cancel someone today typically entails boycotting their professional work or taking to social media to express dissatisfaction toward the controversial incidents.
Cancel culture empowers the individual to reject structural social inequality. It is a form of boycott that enables marginalized voices to refuse to contribute their attention. In a society that highly values individual participation to elevate the social and economic statuses of influential figures, the individual has the power to ignore them.
We should embrace canceling especially as a response to actions of sexual misconduct by those with power, whether that be physical, political or social power. The #MeToo movement raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence and harassment and made it explicitly clear that inappropriate and dangerous behavior were in violation of personal rights and that consequences would follow. Actions of sexual misconduct that follow the movement indicate that such conduct will continue unless public figures are called out and effectively canceled.
Cancel culture works to change a society that currently enables these injustices in various social environments by giving marginalized voices a platform to speak upon. Those with greater social status often escape legal consequences, leaving the responsibility in the lap of those who enable their careers with their votes, purchases or attention.
By looking past the negative connotation that accompanies the phrase “cancel culture,” we can begin to hear the voices of those who were previously silenced by their marginalized and undue place in society’s hierarchy. Anne Charity Hudley, the chair of linguistics of African America at UC Santa Barbara, explained to Vox, “From my point of view, for Black culture and cultures of people who are lower income and disenfranchised, this is the first time you do have a voice in those types of conversations.”
One of the controversies surrounding cancel culture is that many of those who have trended on Twitter as being canceled have gone completely free of consequences. I argue that, particularly in the case of sexual misconduct, witnessing the backlash that accompanies being publicly canceled on social media sends public figures into a panic or teaches people what to avoid if they haven’t learned already. Whether or not they’ve done wrong, they are forced to reevaluate their actions and choices after observing how the public perceives the choices of others.
The #MeToo movement encouraged victims to share their stories so that in the year following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, over 425 prominent people across numerous industries were publicly accused of sexual misconduct. It served as a societal awakening, especially to public figures who were forced to listen to the voices of survivors and acknowledge what consequences could follow the same behavior.
For those who have not changed their behavior in the aftermath of these accusations, they do not deserve a second chance to learn from their actions.
Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected calls to resign from his role as governor amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment, saying he wouldn’t “[bow] to cancel culture.” This is the same politician who was previously in favor of canceling political figures who had been on the receiving end of abuse claims, calling for the immediate resignation of former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2018 before an official investigation of the matter could take place.
Keep in mind, Cuomo’s attempts to cancel Schneiderman were made before women who have come forward claim some of Cuomo’s harassment began. Cuomo knew his actions were inappropriate, as he had heard the stories of victims prior, yet he continued regardless.
Many opponents of cancel culture believe that it is a process by which mostly decent people are shamed into quitting their jobs because “they have failed to meet impossibly high standards of progressive sensitivity.” If Cuomo or other abusers could learn what inappropriate behavior is without being canceled, we would have seen a change. His actions suggest that he will continue with his inappropriate behavior unless he faces permanent consequences, like being removed from office.
Canceling such a major political figure would convey that past seemingly heroic and feminist actions do not excuse sexual misconduct in the present.
Cancel culture puts the power into the hands of the people with the ability to nominate individuals to political positions. Making noise on social media and calling for resignations are power moves to take their influence back.
The internet can act as an effective tool for influencing societal thought. By calling out the unacceptable and repetitive behaviors of powerful figures, oppressed groups can challenge discriminatory standards.
When Cuomo claims he will not bow to cancel culture, he is saying that he will not bow to the will of the people, the same people who had him elected in the first place. He is hiding on his political pedestal, refusing to be brought down after acting recklessly.
Whether it is refusing to buy a material object, reelect a politician, listen to an artist’s music or watch a director’s movie, people are standing in support of victims’ stories. It goes to show that people do not stand for sexual assault or sexual harrasment in any way and encourages others to reflect: to look at their past decisions, present actions and future choices.
Abby Loiselle PO ’23 is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is looking forward to Cuomo’s last day in office.