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Ariana Grande, Mac Miller and the Gendered Culture of Blame and Responsibility

October 3, 2018

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Ariana Grande, Mac Miller and the Gendered Culture of Blame and Responsibility

Nearly three weeks ago, rapper Mac Miller was found dead in his Studio City, CA home of an apparent overdose. Miller had been very vocal about his struggle with drug addiction since he first started rapping in the early 2000s. Yet, when news broke of his death, fans flooded to the social media sites of his ex-girlfriend, pop-singer Ariana Grande’s, shaming her in the comments. They cited his overdose as a response to her recent engagement to SNL star, Pete Davidson, leaving messages like “You lowkey evil” and “THIS IS YOUR FAULT !!” Comments like these received hundreds of likes in support from other social media users. The immediate response to a struggling drug addict’s overdose was to blame his ex-girlfriend, and to claim she was responsible for pushing him over the edge. Grande herself even went on to post a tribute to Miller, writing “i’m so sorry i couldn’t fix or take your pain away.”

Throughout their two year relationship, Grande encouraged Miller to stop using and even took partial responsibility for his death for not being able to fix his addiction. Earlier this year, Miller released a public statement wishing her nothing but happiness in the future, but fans ignored him and continued to barrade her in the months leading up to his death. Grande had to disable comments on her 3,600 Instagram photos to escape the blame of the Internet.

This incident has shown once again what so many women know all too well: we are held responsible for the men in our lives, no matter how self-destructive they may be. Miller’s death is an all too public example of the everyday phenomenon of women feeling responsible and being held responsible for the well-being of men, even if that means sacrificing their own health. Grande was hospitalized as a result of an anxious breakdown, just one day after news broke of Miller’s death.

This event is just the most recent in a long line of female celebrities receiving backlash for the death of a spouse or ex-spouse. In June, TV show host Anthony Bourdain was found dead of an apparent suicide, and the Internet was quick to point a finger at his partner, Asia Argento. Both had been explicitly clear that their relationship was one that did not hew to traditional barriers, yet many argued Bourdain’s suicide was prompted by Argento holding another man’s hand in Italy. People seem to search out reasons for a man’s actions that have nothing to do with him.

Yet, when pop-singer Demi Lovato overdosed this summer no one claimed it was her partner’s fault nor asked where he was during the incident. Everyone sent their thoughts and prayers to her in the hospital and then moved on. And where were the onslaught of concerned Internet-users when Amy Winehouse died in her sleep after drinking too much alcohol? Why was she blamed for not going to rehab sooner and not her partner for failing to fix her?

Since the days of Adam and Eve, females have been made out to be the more responsible sex but without the benefits of being the more systematically powerful sex. From parents asking us to remind our brothers to grab their lunchboxes to promising our teachers we’ll clean up the trash from lunch, even if it wasn’t ours — women are told to watch out for our male friends from the moment we are taught how to tie our shoes.

This culture is not just one we observe within our favorite celebrity relationships. Author Arlie Hochschild calls this care-taking and blame-taking a “second shift,” a job which women have come to accept. Countless times a day in our Head-Royce community, I see my girlfriends remind their guy friends that the All School Fair is this Friday not next, despite the many announcements over the past few weeks. I’ve watched freshmen girls grab their male friends’ calculators as they rush into Harper physics to grab their favorite seat. Our community is another microcosm of the greater societal issue of placing blame where it does not belong.

So where do we go from here? Ariana Grande still receives thousands of tweets every day from angry fans citing her responsible. All over the world, women are the thankless blame-takers while also the assumed caretakers. We subconsciously watch out for male peers, unaware of the mental space that much constant vigilance requires. As a society, we must first become conscious of the roles we play before we can work towards shifting away from this gendered culture.

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