Abusive men get off scot-free

Chris Brown, Sean Penn make gender double-standard obvious

Ayame Ulrich

This article may be triggering for those who have experienced domestic violence.

Lately a disturbing trend in the popular media has come to my attention. 

I don’t often place much importance on pop culture, but occasionally a celebrity gossip story will make me stop and take notice, and it’s usually because of the way in which it reflects a broader social trend as a macrocosm of society.

This trend that I see becoming all too prevalent is our society’s uncanny ability to forgive and forget when male celebrities horrifically abuse their partners, while female celebrities are shamed and vilified for much less.

By now it’s pretty common knowledge that Rihanna has reunited with her former boyfriend, Chris Brown, who is currently on probation for assaulting her in 2009.

Describing the gruesome details of this assault is absolutely necessary in order to grasp its severity.

As described in the court documents from the incident, on the eve of the 2009 Grammy Awards, Rihanna and Brown were driving, with Rihanna in the passenger seat. A verbal argument ensued. Brown then slammed Rihanna’s head against the car window, punched her repeatedly in the face causing her to choke on her own blood, bit her ear and fingers, placed her in a chokehold until she began to lose consciousnesses, and verbally threatened to kill her.

When she managed to scream for help, he got out of the car, walked away, and left her for dead.

Brown was charged with felony assault, but did no jail time.

In February 2012, he won the Grammy award for Best R&B Album.

His performance at the award show on the third anniversary of the assault was heralded as his comeback.

I view it more as a perverse and demented glorification of domestic abuse and brutality.

Given Brown’s total lack of believable remorse or evidence of maturation since the assault, how anyone is still buying his albums and nominating him for awards is beyond my comprehension.

There has also been a lot of speculation in the gossip rags lately about a potential reunion between Madonna and her ex-husband, Sean Penn.

What bothers me is that the columnists who so gleefully speculate on this rumour and lament the initial demise of their relationship completely fail to mention the fact that Penn was a violently abusive partner during their relationship.

In one incident, Madonna ended up in the hospital after Penn hit her in the head with a baseball bat.

Another incident saw Penn chase Madonna as she was trying to leave their home during an argument, tie her to a chair with heavy twine, threaten to cut off her hair, beat her for several hours, and leave her bound and gagged while he went out to buy more liquor.

When he untied her, he forced her to perform a degrading sex act on him.

A week later Madonna filed for divorce, but she also dropped all assault charges against him.

Nowadays, Penn is a celebrated actor and “humanitarian,” and these vicious assaults aren’t even common knowledge.

I’m not trying to send the message that abusers can’t change and never deserve a second chance.

But unless these men have sufficiently showed their remorse by actively volunteering their time and using their celebrity status to campaign against domestic violence, and spread the message that their actions were not acceptable (which they have not), they do not belong in the position of celebrity where they have the power to serve as role models for so many people.

What I want to know is how men like Brown and Penn - and Sean Connery, who has been quoted as saying that there’s nothing wrong with hitting a woman if she’s “a bitch, or hysterical,” and Tommy Lee, who spent four months in jail in 1998 for beating Pamela Anderson while she was holding their infant son - still have successful careers and have experienced little or no public fallout from these incidents while female celebrities are made social pariahs for doing a whole lot less.

Take, for example, Kristen Stewart, who was photographed several months ago kissing a man who wasn’t her boyfriend.

The media and social networking sites went crazy, calling her a tramp - coining the term “trampire” in reference to her role in Twilight - and aggressively shaming her.

She immediately dropped out of media appearances and upcoming film roles, and disappeared from the public eye for months.

Now that there is speculation that she has reunited with her boyfriend, many pop culture enthusiasts are positively aghast that he would take her back.

The message is that if you are a man, you are allowed to violently abuse your partner and the world will forget all about it, but if you’re a woman and you cheat on your boyfriend, your life is over and no one will ever want anything to do with you again.

We need to seriously examine this culture of misogyny and start actively working toward changing it.

Katerina Tefft is a fourth-year honours politics student at the University of Winnipeg and The Uniter’s comments editor.

Published in Volume 67, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 14, 2012)

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