Monday, 27 February 2012

What do Chris Brown, Normal Mailer and Roman Polanski have in common?

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

6 comments:

The Bristol Blogger said...

People's hero John Lennon was less than charming towards ex-wife Cyn by many accounts.

Mailer, BTW, is not a great American novelist. His 'great American novels' are all complete cack.

sian and crooked rib said...

Yep. Marlon King. Sean Connery.

Eddie Bitches said...

When you look at the demography of the Oscars selection committee (almost entirely made up of white men with a median age of 62) it is hardly surprising that men in Hollywood have a far greater privilege than women. Same thing goes for the music business; the Grammy organisers don't care that Chris Brown is an abuser, he moves a lot of units!

In fact, as I'm sure you already know, this happens in any industry owned an operated by men. Which is all of them.

BTW After Norman Mailer thumped Gore Vidal in a club, Vidal wrote about it in a newspaper column saying "As usual, Mailer was lost for words".

Rebecca said...

Celebrity culture is a bit of a strange thing for me. Mundane details suddenly matter so much, down to whether someone ate at a certain restaurant, wore *that* item of clothing, and holidayed in whatever location. As someone who hasn't followed these things since early teen years, yet see these interests persisting on a widespread level in adults, I sometimes want to shake people and shout "who cares!"

I don't think it's always necessarily a harmful or bad thing, but when you have a culture where normal people (good people, bad people) are elevated into a status of demigod, well I think it creates a climate of worship which persists even when someone has beaten their partner bloody. Celebrities seem to exist outside the standards by which we should evaluate each other, and I am really not okay with it.

Obviously there are many more factors involved in actions of violence and the determinants of social attitudes, but this is just one particular thing that I have taken issue with; the entertainment industry reach millions of people, all ages, on a widespread level, and it's important to wonder and care about what messages they send.

Tavi said...

I know it's wrong to imply or even state that there are ways that a victim should and should not behave. I know this. :(

But recording a single with your abuser?! This just goes beyond anything. The sheer extremity of this, and her huge influence on girls, both mean I can't help but feel angry at Rihanna...is she doing this for publicity?! Why why why?!

sian and crooked rib said...

I just think there are lots of complex issues about how women often stay, as well as pressures on rihanna to 'big up' Chris brown, brush the abuse under the carpet, pressure from her management, studio, the media...basically if the industry is conspiring to protect him then they aren't going to give her space to speak out.