Rachel Roy is having a bad week. Rumors are circulating that she's "Becky with the good hair," the woman with whom Jay Z, husband to Beyoncé, allegedly had an affair, and who Beyoncé singled out on her new visual album Lemonade.
When Roy made a cryptic Instagram post referencing the rumors, the BeyHive pounced, flooding her mentions (less astute bees turned their stingers on 30 Minute Meals-maker Rachael Ray, apparently imagining that a peppy cooking show host known for coining a cutesy term for olive oil might in fact be a famous rapper's side chick; these outraged Beyoncé fans threatened to never make her fajitas again). Fashion designer Rachel Roy now says the rumors are false, but that she and her daughter have been inundated by online abuse. Pop star Rita Ora, another suspected Becky, also denied that she ever had an affair with Jay and has also been hit with a wave of social media hate.
No one likes a home-wrecker, and there's nothing admirable or even morally neutral about sleeping with someone you know is in a monogamous relationship.
But it wasn't Becky, whoever she is, who broke her vow to Beyoncé; if the rumors and insinuations on Lemonade are true, it was Jay Z.
Marriages are difficult and messy things, and none of us know what went on between Jay and Bey. Maybe none of the rumors are true and Lemonade was simply a way of cashing in on gossip. Maybe Jay cheated and this is Beyoncé's revenge, or one of her conditions for continuing the relationship. Whatever the case, the album itself is brilliant, painful, and beautiful, and in the million-thinkpiece-aftermath of its drop, you should at least read this one illustrating its importance and Beyoncé's genius.
Loving Beyoncé, though, doesn't have to mean turning yourself into an internet vigilante to destroy anyone who may have wronged her. There are a lot of ways in which it is obviously entirely crazy to mob the social media feeds of women simply rumored to be Jay Z's Other Woman, but it's also pretty sexist. If the cheating even happened, then two people had an affair, but only one of them was Beyoncé's husband—and it's not him, largely, who's getting attacked online, perhaps because we assume that men are sexually uncontrollable and it's the collective duty of womankind to keep them in line.
Men are, in fact, just as capable as women of making decisions about sex. And when they make bad decisions—decisions that hurt people or that violate the boundaries of their relationship—they are just as responsible.
For the past two centuries in the United States, women have been imagined as the sexual gatekeepers: We are the ones who are supposed to put the brakes on a sexual interaction, to say "no," to be good girls, to control uncontrollable male sexual desire. We hear this explicitly sometimes, in abstinence-based sex ed programs ("Because they generally become physically aroused less easily, girls are still in a good position to slow down the young man and help him learn balance in a relationship," says one), and implicitly, in the way it's routine for women to be insulted with sexualized slurs that imply the worst thing one can be is a sexually active woman (even female writers, pundits, and politicians are routinely called "whores" by people who disagree with them). It's also implicit in the gleeful humiliation of "The Other Woman," and in the baseline assumption that a "home-wrecker" is a female outsider and not one of the people who lives in the home and decided to compromise it. Married women have affairs too, and men sleep with married women, but you don't hear the term "The Other Man" in the popular lexicon.
All of that feeds into the idea that women don't have sexual desires of their own, instead shouldering the responsibility of policing men's sexual choices.
This is bigger than who's responsible for an affair. It's the same mentality that blames women for their own sexual assaults—What was she wearing that tempted a man to rape her? Why was she drinking? Why did she go home with him if she wasn't consenting to sex?—instead of assuming men can in fact decide whether or not to have sex with someone.
People who knowingly have sex with a monogamously married man or woman are doing a dishonorable thing, and the argument that it's inherently "slut-shaming" to say it's wrong to sleep with married men is a dumb one. But the shamefulness in being partner to an affair with a married person is only a fraction of the disgrace done by the married person, who bears the overwhelming weight of the responsibility, being the person who is both breaking their commitment to their partner and also potentially putting them at a physical health risk. Affairs are also incredibly common, because humans are fallible creatures who also like to have sex. Being party to one doesn't make you an inherently unredeemable bad person; it makes you a person who did a bad thing. The circumstances of the affair and the beliefs, values, experiences, and feelings of the couple whose promise of monogamy was violated dictate whether the relationship survives. Outsiders—and unless you are Beyoncé or Jay Z reading this, you are an outsider, probably a very distant one, to their relationship—should have the humility to realize we just don't know what goes on in any marriage, no matter how thoroughly dissected in the tabloids. We certainly don't know enough to begin casting blame on other famous women.
Beyoncé, like many women before her, has decided to keep her marriage together through allegations of infidelity.
She did so while also pointing to the fundamental unfairness of male sexual entitlement, of the expectation that she stay strong and silent beside her man. She spelled out the complications of relationships, of the demands put on her by her race and her gender, of love and violation and forgiveness. It was an astounding feat to watch.
She is also understandably pissed about Becky with the good hair, and there's nothing unfeminist about that; Beyoncé may be Beyoncé, but she's still human, and it's normal and understandable for anyone to dislike the woman with whom your husband allegedly cheated, even if you forgive your husband. Women shouldn't have to be magnanimous to their husband's mistresses, and expectations of female niceness—that you should remain benevolent even to women who were frankly pretty crappy to you—are sexist and silly.
But giving Beyoncé the space to make her own choices about her marriage and allowing her to be personally angry at another woman shouldn't translate into a broad social shaming of whomever we're guessing that woman to be. Online mobbing is ugly, especially when it's based on rumor and conjecture. It's all the worse when very old, very sexist ideas about women, men, fidelity, and sexual responsibility motivate it. If Jay Z cheated, then Jay Z cheated. Blame him, shake your head to your friends because really, who in their right mind would cheat on Beyoncé, and then restrain yourself from leaving nasty comments on anyone's Instagram. Find a new hobby if you need a distraction—cooking perhaps. I've heard good things about Rachael Ray's fajitas.