Cardi B performs at RodeoHouston on March 1, 2019 in Houston, Texas. - The rodeo said that the rapper set an all-time attendance record.
Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro (AFP/Getty Images)

“Let me tell you something,” Cardi B said during an Instagram Live post on Sunday, in which she announced plans to write a book (h/t Complex). “I am a rapper. I am a bitch that came from the streets that came to the industry. I wasn’t a Disney channel star. I wasn’t a nun. I wasn’t a saint. ... I have done fucked up shit.”

It’s not a novel background for a rapper, but in a very emotional, years-old Instagram Live that surfaced soon after, the stripper-turned-Grammy-winning megastar let us know exactly how fucked up she’d been in her pre-fame days. During a disturbing rant against those declaring her undeserving of her then-recent come-up, Cardi admitted she’d drugged and stolen money from men to make ends meet in her prior life.

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“Niggas must’ve forgot, my nigga, the shit that I did to muthafuckin’ survive,” she railed. “Like, I had to go strip. I had to go, ‘Oh yeah, you wanna fuck me? Yeah, yeah, yeah—let’s go back to this hotel.’ And I drugged niggas up and I robbed them. That’s what I used to do. Nothing was muthafuckin’ handed to me, my nigga. Nothing!”

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Yeah, that is indeed fucked up. It’s a page that could’ve easily been ripped from the script of the upcoming stripper heist film Cardi’s slated to co-star in—and admittedly, she’s never made any secret of her less-than-above-board past, including affiliation with the Bloods street gang and a still-pending court case for allegedly orchestrating an assault on a romantic rival. But as we sit smack dab at the height of the #MeToo and #TimesUp era, several folks gleefully seized upon the very dark origins of one of America’s current favorite Cinderella stories as an opportunity to conflate Cardi with ... R. Kelly?

*record scratch*

Perhaps we missed something (as can sometimes happen), because drugging and robbing someone is shitty enough—but when in that entire rant did Cardi say she raped anyone, as the now-viral tweet above claims? As we watched the #SurvivingCardiB hashtag begin trending on social media and replayed her rant repeatedly to fact check, we heard her say she sexually enticed men, then drugged and robbed them—which is absolutely criminal behavior (if a bit “Joanne the Scammer”-like). But a #MeToo moment, it is not.

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Nevertheless, the #ThemToo crowd has been out in droves, comparing Cardi not only to alleged serial pedophile Kelly but fallen icon and now convicted rapist Bill Cosby (because drugs, I guess). And in the meantime, a more subversive mission is seemingly once again in play: to delegitimize the voices of real victims because one woman has admitted to manipulative behavior.

“You’d never tolerate this behavior from a man,” they say.

No, we wouldn’t. Drugging someone is effectively endangering their life—which should be the real issue here. That said, to compare drugging someone with the intent of stealing their money to drugging someone in order to sexually assault them is intellectually dishonest. It’s also a distraction from the very real spectrum upon which sexual violence exists and ignores how gender dynamics are often and undeniably at play. No, not all sexual predators are men. Equally true is that robbery and rape aren’t the same crime.

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“Nobody wanted to help me,” Cardi says in the video, dissolving into tears. “Nobody.”

Outside of what she’s disclosed, we don’t know “everything [Cardi] had to do” to survive, pre-fame. The behavior she admitted to was nevertheless inexcusable. But if we’re going to play the #ThemToo game, it’s also fair to point out how many male rappers have boasted about criminality—including murders, assaults, drug dealing, drugging, violent misogyny and yes, rape—with only a boost to their street cred. Does that make any of it alright? No. But once again, the double-standard argument fails if you aren’t applying it unilaterally—in fact, it just makes it a false equivalency. It’s a point not lost on Cardi herself, who responded to the controversy on Tuesday afternoon.

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Not everyone is meant to be a role model, and maybe our mistake has been trying to elevate Cardi into one (one she may have never aspired to be). But if we’ve consistently rooted for her, it’s because she represents a type of woman rarely afforded a voice in the mainstream; women who are persistently pushed to the margins by both a lack of access and respectability politics. Does Cardi’s purported past desperation speak to heteropatriarchal standards that often compel women—marginalized women, in particular—to use whatever means necessary to get ahead? Absolutely. It was also a deeply disturbing revelation to hear from a so-called feminist and self-made star, because while we have sympathy for the struggle behind the hustle, really, this ain’t how any of that works.

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Nevertheless, both these things can be true—just as any person can be both victim and predator. But what we’re not going to do is use #MeToo as some sort of arbitrary, incendiary device to push an inaccurate and generalized narrative. If we’re going to be able to call a thing a thing, we have to be honest and mature enough to make those distinctions.

Another hashtag that surfaced on Twitter last night? #CardiBIsOverParty. While we doubt she is, she was, by her own admission, once a predator. There were victims. There’s nothing to celebrate here.