Women Inspired to Change Harvard write Letter to Justin Bieber


Note: an update to this article has been published on the Indy website here.

Today is a breakthrough day for Bieber fans (Beliebers) who have recently found themselves conflicted by their inability to play any other music than the new Bieber album, which is breaking records, and a general distaste for Bieber’s egregious persona.

About two weeks ago, Women Inspired to Change Harvard wrote a letter to Justin Bieber to illuminate to him that we see his video for “What Do You Mean” as not only horribly offensive to women in general, but specifically, encouraging the rape culture that allows for sexual assault to remain as such a serious problem on college campuses in America.

We have published the letter for you below:

Dear Justin Bieber,

As Women Inspired To Change Harvard, a group of students on campus dedicated to the discussion and empowerment of women through outreach initiatives, we write to you to voice our concern about your song and music video “What Do You Mean.”

This year at Harvard, our administrators published the highly disturbing results of a Sexual Conduct Survey. The frequency with which Harvard students have experienced sexual assault is an issue that has come to our attention. In an effort to create real change within our community, we want to bring it to yours: 31% of Harvard women who responded to the extensive questionnaire reported that they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact since college began. Although this particular statistic is Harvard-specific, we see the pervasiveness of sexual assault on college campuses as representative of a culture that extends beyond Harvard’s gates: sexual assault remains a national issue.

As a highly influential public figure, we think you have both the ability and the responsibility to promote social change. We are writing to you because we think that you have instead continued to endorse the embedded sexism within our culture through your music and music videos. Specifically, we believe that your song “What Do You Mean” represents rape culture: a culture where it is acceptable for a man to determine what a woman “means” and what she thinks. To clarify, rape culture describes the setting in which sexual assault becomes normalized and persistent because of societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. This culture is shaped by mass media: music, music videos, and cinema. You can try to cover sexist ideas with a catchy beat and a heavy auto-tune, but this masking of the problem is exactly what we are trying to expose.

In your song, you ask a girl countless times, “What do you mean?” and refuse to listen to her after she has told you “to go.” In the music video, even when she forcefully pushes you away, you interpret this signal as her truly meaning, “not to go.” Why do you think you think there is a consensual ambiguity here? She has both told you and shown you what she means; however, you chose to override her meaning with your own “interpretation.” Consent is never a grey area. In this music video you seem to operate under a “yes means yes” mentality that, as we have seen on college campuses, can lead to dangerous sexual situations.

We ask you to listen to what a girl says to you, to respect her voice, her true desires. Girls will tell you what they mean. You actually just have to listen. We hope that you understand why we find your video so problematic, and hope that you will use your influence to engage in a critical dialogue and to promote positive awareness for these issues.



After two weeks without a response, we considered our—we will admit it—far fetched effort of getting a super-celebrity to read and reply to our letter as a failed attempt. However, when we woke up this morning we found an email in the WITCH mailbox from Slater Browning, an associate on Justin Bieber’s management team, who said he had read our letter and passed it along to the rest of the team. Slater wrote, they are “moved beyond words, and have since launched a new media campaign Justin Bieber x Campus Awareness.” Though the campaign is still in its early stages, they have recently released public service announcement in the form of a new music video, which they want us to send around the Harvard community.

Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMb84RaEKjY

  • shocked

    I’ve been listening to Bieber for so long….initially ironically, but with this recent album (much to my own amazement) I found myself actually liking the music he was making. It took me a while to actually consider the lyrics behind the song; mostly, listened to it when running. I also had never seen the video, until this article (looked up the OFFICIAL What Do You Mean video after watching the new release) and WOW –I can’t believe I didn’t notice before how deeply offensive it is…

  • Anonymous

    The fact that so many people had no idea about the sexism of this song/video shows just how embedded sexism is in our culture!