In 2009, we woke up the day after the Grammys to shocking images of Rihanna’s bruised face on the internet and on magazine covers. Her then partner, Chris Brown, was swiftly arrested and eventually found guilty of assaulting her. His sentence involved a few weeks community service and a probation period of five years.
In the three years since that night, Brown has had multi-million selling albums, garnered the love of millions of teenage girls and performed onstage to screaming fans. Exactly three years after the assault, he was invited to perform at the Grammys, where he then scooped a gong. The Grammy organisers enthused about the invite, even going so far as to say that they, not Rihanna, had been the victims of the situation, as it had prevented them from having the honour of inviting him before.
At the time of the assault, few celebrities or people in the public eye spoke out against Brown. Those who did, like Usher, were swiftly made to apologise to the abusive singer. Instead, Hollywood, as it so often does, closed ranks in protection of an abusive man. Responses, such as the ones below, came in:
Carrie Underwood: “I don’t think anybody actually knows what happened. I have no advice.”
Lindsay Lohan: “I have no comment on that. That’s not my relationship. I think they’re both great people.”
Nia Long: “I know both of them well. They’re young, and all we can do is pray for them at this point.”
Mary J. Blige: “They’re both young and beautiful people, and that’s it.”
This is, of course, not the first time this has happened. The celebrity world has form in protecting and supporting abusers of women. Polanski , a man who went on the run from accusations of anally raping a child, not only has almost unanimous support from his Hollywood peers, but he is a regular recipient of awards – including a Best Director Oscar (http://jezebel.com/5370356/letters-from-hollywood-roman-polanskis-rape-of-child-no-big-thing). The Academy has only ever managed to give one woman a Best Director Oscar, but seems to find no problem in rewarding an accused rapist-on-the-run. Mike Tyson, a man who served time for rape, is now a cult hero, called a ‘legend’ in magazine headlines (http://bidisha-online.blogspot.com/2011/03/sky-sports-magazine-hails-rapist-mike.html). Norman Mailer, the so-called last great American novelist, was renowned for beating and stabbing his wives (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2007/nov/13/farewelltonormanmailerase). Then who can forget Charlie Sheen, who last year was interviewed with concern about his drug use, whilst his repeated abuse of women was fairly glossed over. This in spite the fact that he has shot, stabbed and beaten, as well as threatened to kill, numerous women (http://perezhilton.com/2011-03-03-a-look-back-at-charlie-sheens-history-of-violence-towards-women). Then there’s David Soul. Sean Penn. Mel Gibson. Ike Turner, Phil Spector, OJ. Bobby Brown.
And that’s the tip of this particularly ugly iceberg. Other celebs who have allegedly abused women include Michael Fassbender, whose former girlfriend filed a petition for a restraining order after he allegedly broke her nose and caused her to burst an ovarian cyst (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/02/13/the-shit-list/). There are the allegations against Gary Oldman for beating his wife with a phone. Both of these men were the actors-du-jour last year, feted and loved.
I could go on. There are hundreds more to list. But that would defeat the word count on this post!
This acceptance and excusing of domestic abuse shouldn’t be surprising. After all, domestic abuse is pretty common outside of Hollywood, and sentencing of abusers is pretty weak whether you’re Chris Brown or the man who beat his wife to death and only received 18 months (http://www.theweek.co.uk/12725/18-months-tv-man-who-killed-wife-over-burnt-roast).
But it still is surprising. Because we like to think that in our society we don’t approve of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. We like to think that we hold abusers to account. But this celebration of famous abusers shows just how much we spectacularly fail in that.
One of the most terrifying aspects of the Chris Brown case is that by failing to hold him to account, by failing to universally condemn his violence, he now has legions of girl fans who will happily tweet ‘I’d let Chris Brown beat me’ (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/horrible-reactions-to-chris-brown-at-the-grammys). By excusing his actions, by sweeping his violence under the carpet, we have succeeded in normalising and even glamourising domestic abuse. Rather than challenging it, and showing young women that his behaviour is not acceptable, we have allowed an abusive man to become a heart-throb. Worse, his fans tend to blame Rihanna for the violence. And where does this lead? To young girls who think being beaten is a sign of love or passion; and who think that women are to blame for the violence committed against them. The cultural lauding of Chris Brown sends a far more damaging and powerful message to young girls than we may realise. After all, girls are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than any other group. Meanwhile, Rihanna has been mainly silenced. She has to praise him in interviews and they’ve recorded a song together. And, in a horrific piece of hypocrisy, she’s been accused of being a ‘bad survivor’ for these actions. As if there is such a thing. As if record labels and management and bad headline writers don’t have a pretty big role to play in colluding to diminish his violence. She isn’t the baddy here. He is.
This is rape culture. Right here. Our culture is teaching young women that the victims and survivors are to blame for the violence committed against them; and that the men who commit the violence are cultural heroes.
Chris Brown is just one in a long line of celebrity men who have abused women and got away with it. He isn’t the first and it’s likely he won’t be the last. But he needs to be. We need to stop this now. We need to stop letting men get away with violence against women and girls, and we need to stop this collusion that protects and celebrates the Browns, the Polanskis, the Tysons and the Sheens, so that these men who abuse women are never held to account. Instead, they get to reap the rewards their male privilege brings, whilst the women they abuse, all too often, are silenced.
If you have any more examples of famous men abusing women, please list them in the comments below:
PS – but at least we have Ryan Gosling : www.feministryangosling.tumblr.com