Feminism / TV

A History of Violence: Why We Don’t Care About Charlie Sheen’s Violent Treatment of Women

TigerBlood. Winning. Warlock edict.  These words, derived from Charlie Sheen’s frenetic rants have seeped into our lexicon.  He even has a new tour (WTF?!) entitled (wait for it) “Violent Torpedo of Truth,” which set a new record selling out in 18 minutes.  He also set a record on Twitter for getting 1 million followers in the fastest time.  While many people find him and his shenanigans hilarious, Sheen’s rants mask the truth of misogyny and domestic violence.

Sheen was certainly on a downward spiral before Chuck Lorre, creator, writer and executive producer of Two and a Half Men, ever fired him.  Some have claimed that Sheen must have bi-polar disorder due to his manic tangents.  While those with bi-polar disorder certainly deserve compassion, I just can’t muster much for Sheen due to his history of domestic violence.  He (accidentally) shot his ex-fiancé Kelly Preston in the arm.  With his first wife Denise Richards, he pushed her, threw chairs at her and threatened her with murder.  With his second wife Brooke Mueller, he put a knife to her throat and told her that he would chop off her head and send it in a box to her mother.  He’s also assaulted and threatened other women too, including chasing a female escort around a room, frightening her so she locks herself in a closet.  Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel chronicles his violent past. If he happens to be bi-polar, he’s certainly more susceptible to substance abuse which can increase the potential for violence. But looking at the situation from the perspective of domestic violence survivors, once you put your hands on your significant other or threaten them, my sympathy goes out the window.

As Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, writes in her eloquent New York Times article “The Disposable Woman” that the women Sheen has abused are not taken seriously because they work in the sex film industry or as sex workers or do not possess clout as A-list celebs.  She astutely writes,

“It’s these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman’s active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it’s part of the deal. The promise of a modern Cinderella ending — attention, fame, the love and savings account of a rich man — is always the assumed goal.  Objectification and abuse, it follows, is not only an accepted occupational hazard for certain women, but something that men like Mr. Sheen have earned the right to indulge in.”

This attitude eerily echoes the statements made during the Assange rape charges.  Some in the media dismissed the rape survivors’ accusations. One woman was brushed aside because she was a feminist (oh you know how those angry feminists make shit up!).  The women in Sheen’s life, because of their lack of clout or their profession in the sex industry, face repudiation as well.  Therefore, it’s as if society tells them, well that’s what you get in that line of work…you asked for it.  Newsflash, sex workers can be raped and assaulted.  It’s never okay for someone to violate another human, regardless of the conditions that brought them together in the first place.  The minute someone says “no” or “stop,” even if they’re already in the middle of sex, sex needs to stop.  If it doesn’t, that’s rape.  If someone puts their hands on another, that’s assault; if they threaten or intimidate their partner, that’s domestic violence.  While we rightly criticize Brittany Spears and Lindsay Lohan for their transgressions, we shrug off Sheen’s rage and disgusting behavior as bad-boy “antics.”  People seem to have gotten more pissed off over Winona Ryder co-starring in Black Swan because she’s a “klepto” more than Sheen who’s beaten and abused women.

So why are so many people laughing this off and ignoring his violent past??  As North again points out, Chris Brown became a “pariah” after beating up ex-girlfriend Rihanna.  But a white male like Sheen gets off scott free.  Race definitely plays a role in people’s perceptions.  But I also think that Rihanna’s status as a celebrity also upset people.  If she had been a regular young woman or an escort or sex worker, would people’s outcries about Brown have been so vitriolic?  It’s also interesting to note that Mel Gibson, another white male, also verbally abused and intimidated his wife.  Yet as I wrote last year, people accused his wife of being a gold digger, making claims of domestic violence to get her hands on his money. Jill Filipovic at Feministe asserts that Sheen’s anti-Semitic slurs towards his boss are what finally got him fired. Of course it wasn’t his years of abuse towards women or even himself for that matter.  While people shouldn’t accept intolerance, it would appear anti-Semitism infuriates people far more than misogynistic and violent behavior towards women.

As David Carr astutely writes in The New York Times, Hollywood relishes bad boys; an attitude detrimental when it comes to treatment of women.  He poses,

“For years on the show, Mr. Sheen has been playing to type as a naughty boy in a man’s body: the result was often scabrous and funny and a hit in the ratings. It also fits another depressing pattern. From “Animal House” to Howard Stern, from “Pretty Woman” to “The Hangover,” Hollywood has long had a soft spot for male misbehavior and, in claiming to parody childish misogyny, it seems to provide an excuse to indulge in it further. Hollywood likes to pretend it has grown up and taken its seat in corporate America. But it hasn’t when it comes to violence toward women.”

Holmes echoes Carr’s sentiments regarding Hollywood’s acceptance and exploitation of misogyny. Referencing the fabulous Jenn Pozner, media critic and author of Reality Bites Back, she points out the dangers of reality TV.  Holmes argues,

“On reality television, gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality are not only entertainment but a means to an end. These enthusiastically documented humiliations are positioned as necessities in the service of some final prize or larger benefit — a marriage proposal, a modeling contract, $1 million. But they also make assault and abasement seem commonplace, acceptable behavior, tolerated by women and encouraged in men.”

Facing domestic violence is a horrific experience.  You often blame yourself, thinking you could have done something different or that somehow you provoked it.  And for those who still brush off Sheen’s actions since none of the women (aside from Kelly Preston of course) suffered physical signs of harm such as bruises and cuts, violent threats and intimidation constitute abuse too.  The women in Sheen’s life need our compassion, not our derision.  We must take domestic violence claims seriously; women do not bring violence on themselves.  The message our collective reaction to Sheen’s behavior is that if you’re a rich white male, particularly a charismatic celebrity, you can get away with anything…even abusing women.  No repercussions exist.  Hollywood needs to be held accountable for its embrace of misogynistic and sexist attitudes.  How long can our laughs drown out the pleas of women in need?

2 thoughts on “A History of Violence: Why We Don’t Care About Charlie Sheen’s Violent Treatment of Women

  1. I certainly agree with you about society viewing Charlie Sheen in a “boys will be boys kind of way,” forgiving his outrageous behavior. I know plenty of guys who find, in him, something to envy. I can understand why some people think that way. But what interests me is what is going on with the women he becomes involved with. What, psychologically, “are they thinking?” Is it that they don’t believe the other victims (although a gunshot wound ought to be pretty believable evidence) or do they think they can change him? Do they have substance abuse problems of their own or are they just primed by their past encounters with men to accept his shameful history? I can’t believe it is just the money and fame.

    • To answer Deb, i believe a lot of these women are drawn to his celebrity, fame & money.
      Charlie Sheen has been out of his tree for a long time now, to willingly become involved with the guy, knowing his history, is a gamble these women take.
      While i obviously don’t condone whatever abuse they endured, i also believe common sense should come into the equation.
      Lots of women claim they want a “good guy,” but in reality, they are drawn to the stereotypical “bad boy”.
      If said “bad boy” is also a known celebrity with a loaded bank account, then he’s even more irrsesistable!
      Add rampant drug abuse to the equation, and logic says, “stay away.”
      But common sense is traded for the lure of celebrity.

      So you get these narcissistic, rich playboys that want a “Maxim” model to be seen with (and have sex with), combined with these women that seek out fame & money.
      It’s all about appearances, not about true love or common sense.

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