For almost two years, pop star Kesha has been tangled in a legal web, fighting simply to cut ties with the man who she says abused her for a decade. While there is much support for Kesha, there are the few commentators who continue to point out that her former producer Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke) is only allegedly a rapist. Alleged, because while Kesha has recalled the abuse time and again, she has no physical proof and apparently a victim’s word is still not enough.
Late last week, a court denied Kesha to ability to break her Sony contract, which rules that she has to work with Dr. Luke on all forthcoming music. After a decade of alleged abuse which ultimately lead to eating disorders and rehab, Kesha was told that she was to remain contractually obliged to work under Gottwald’s label, albeit with a different producer. Cold comfort for the woman who said she doesn’t feel safe in any way working with Dr. Luke – including being under the roof of his house. Cold comfort because the judge, Justice Shirley Kornreich of the Manhattan Supreme Court, feels Sony would suffer from irreparable damage if Kesha does not record the six remaining albums her contract stipulates. It all sounds familiar – a bit like women who are told they should know better and should consider the families and livelihoods of men who have abused them when they courageously seek justice.
In the days following the court case, fellow musicians, celebrities and fans alike have come out in droves, supporting Kesha. The hashtag #freekesha was trending over the weekend. Taylor Swift, after essentially being called a fair-weather feminist who only cares about gender issues when her music and money is involved, donated $USD250,000 to Kesha for legal assistance. Many people have pointed out the blatant injustice of Kesha’s situation, comparing it to Zayn Malik‘s recent departure from One Direction.
— eloise hosanna✨ (@eloisehosanna) February 20, 2016
Now, Lena Dunham, whose partner Jack Antonoff has recently reached out to Kesha with the offer to record with her, has written an essay in her Lenny newsletter explaining not only her reasons for supporting Kesha, but why the outcome is no where near reasonable and calling it for what it is: protecting Gottwald and Sony while all but setting Kesha up for further trauma and abuse. Below is an excerpt from the letter, which you can read in full on the Lenny website.
Although the company insists that Kesha and Gottwald never need to be in a room together and that he will allow her to record without his direct involvement, they are minimizing what Kesha says regarding how Gottwald’s continued involvement in her career would affect her physical well-being and psychological safety.
So let me spell it out for them. Imagine someone really hurt you, physically and emotionally. Scared you and abused you, threatened your family. The judge says that you don’t have to see them again, BUT they still own your house. So they can decide when to turn the heat on and off, whether they’ll pay the telephone bill or fix the roof when it leaks. After everything you’ve been through, do you feel safe living in that house? Do you trust them to protect you?
That explanation is really for the judge, Shirley Kornreich, who questioned why — if they could be physically separated as Sony has promised — Kesha could not continue to work for Gottwald. After all, she said, it’s not appropriate to “decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated.” Guess what else is heavily negotiated? The human contract that says we will not hurt one another physically and emotionally. In fact, it’s so obvious that we usually don’t add it to our corporate documents.
To be clear, Kesha’s case is about more than a pop star fighting for her freedom, or a $60 million investment in a shiny commercial career. It’s about more than whether Kesha can strap on her cool leotards and make another album, free from a man who she says terrifies her. It’s even about more than the systemic misogyny of the entertainment industry, or the way that women in music and film have long been controlled and coerced by abusive Svengalis and entities larger than themselves. (Think: the studio system of the ’40s and ’50s, when starlets were essentially chattel. Think: Ike and Tina Turner.) What’s happening to Kesha highlights the way that the American legal system continues to hurt women by failing to protect them from the men they identify as their abusers.
A huge part of Kesha’s argument rests on her lawyer’s assertion that Gottwald, potentially enraged by Kesha’s sexual-assault allegations, could make efforts to bury her subsequent albums, preventing her from publicizing and therefore profiting from her work. This kind of control is a cornerstone of domestic abuse, and it’s far too common: according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, financial abuse is an aspect of approximately 98 percent of abusive relationships. When a woman is not in control of her financial destiny, either because her partner is the primary breadwinner or because he makes financial decisions for the entire family, her world is made minuscule. Her resources evaporate. Fear dominates.
Images: Lenny, Twitter