On Chris Brown’s Public “Apology.”

Chris Brown is sorry. Or at least he is sorry enough to almost say what he did (without quite saying it), furrow his brows and remind you that he is still a good boy and you should definitely continue to buy his records.
I don’t buy it. I am sure on some level he is sorry, but that is not really the point. This is about what he is saying, accountability for what he did and the quickness with which the American public is willing to take an apology from someone that brutalized his girlfriend to the point of putting her in the hospital. What is most frustrating about this video is that his fans are probably swooning. And the message is clear; beat, bite, punch and strangle your girlfriend, and as long as you apologize, you are a-OK. You might think I am being too harsh, but let’s be clear, dominant narratives indicate that when women are victims of violence, the first question people ask is “what did she do wrong?” That was true when the story first broke, message boards everywhere were asking “what she did wrong?” and “it wasn’t that bad…” Or let’s not forget the headlines that were out and surveys that found young men felt it was Rihanna’s fault.
Furthermore, generally when people apologize they mention what they are sorry about. He doesn’t mention what he did, while calling it the “situation.” Ann just mentioned to me over IM, maybe if we spliced in the picture of what actually happened to Rihanna after the assault, “the situation” wouldn’t be so vague and we could remember the extent of her injuries. I am obviously not actually endorsing this and we have written and talked about how TMZ shouldn’t have published her picture. The public was fascinated by the picture, but apparently TMZ’s claim about “raising awareness” really was bullshit, since so many have quickly forgotten. Anna at Jezebel has a really good analysis of the video. She writes,

By going the vague route, Brown allows fans to forget the visceral reality of what he did — assaulting Rihanna until her face was swollen and bruised — and instead focus on all the nice things he says about his mother, his “spiritual advisors,” and his commitment to change. By saying he’s sorry he didn’t “handle the situation better,” he casts the beating as a response to a bad “situation” — and instance of poor conflict resolution, not of flying off the handle. And by implying there was something that needed to be “handled” in some way, this statement subtly implicates Rihanna too.

(Emphasis mine).
I concur. But ultimately we are not the ones that this video is for. We know this is bullshit, but the target of this video are other young men and women that might be in this very same situation. They might have to navigate a tense situation, violence might be used and if this is what our role models do, we don’t have much to look up to. And while I appreciate him actually discussing that he experienced domestic violence so as to gesture towards cycles of violence, the moral of the story is, “it wasn’t really my fault.” It was a “bad situation” that he “didn’t deal with well,” and he himself is a “victim” which is true, but shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not have to take direct accountability for his actions.
Yeah, I’m mad. What could he have said to make this an effective apology? Thoughts?
PS: If you really want to feel horrified read what people are saying on twitter about his apology.
Related:
Black women’s bodies, voyeurism and Rihanna
Beyond Chris Brown and Rihanna: An interview with Elizabeth Mendez Berry
The media reminds us, famous women have no right to privacy.
Rihanna and Chris Brown might be getting back together, allegedly.

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45 Comments

  1. alixana
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand why he needed to apologize to the public at all, except in an attempt to repair his reputation so his sales don’t suffer.
    The only person he owes an apology to is Rihanna, and even THAT is iffy, because if MY abusive ex tried to apologize to me now, I’d laugh in his face, throw him the finger, and wish him a nice time rotting in hell.
    So seriously, aside from damage control to his career, why does he need to apologize to us?
    And he says he was advised to be vague by his lawyer or whatever, but why? He’s entered his guilty plea, that part is done and over with. Are they anticipating a civil trial? Why release a stupid video at all if he’s going to try to keep his ass legally protected?

  2. dangerfield
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Excellent analysis. If he really wanted to do something about domestic violence, he wouldn’t be ambigious about it at all. It wouldn’t be a bad “situation.” I would be “I hit another person. A woman who trusted me, and I hurt her very badly. And there is no excuse for that. And I want millions of people to know that I am committed to eradicating this problem.”
    But his apology isn’t about apologizing, its about inducing forgiveness.
    However, Anna’s jezabel analysis has some holes. I don’t think implying that something needed to be “handled” implicates Rihanna–nothing she could have done would have warrented his behavior, but arguments ARE “situations” that need to be “handled” or “navigated” without violence. We need to emphasize that when tension is high domestic violence is STILL forbidden and its use is not warrented or acceptable, instead of pretending that beatings happen in a vacuum.

  3. rustyspoons
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Yeah my (emotionally) abusive ex would come up with this stuff about being sorry and working on changing and stuff too. At least Brown didn’t throw in anything about how “she has to see where she’s at fault too you know”.
    Abusers tend to have a pattern–abuse, apology, “hearts and flowers phase”, gradual shift in mood, another explosion. One apology doesn’t convince me of anything anymore with this kind of stuff.

  4. marysa.justine
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I watched Chris Brown’s lame apology on YouTube, and here was a comment left by another viewer:
    “chris, i forgive you. i understand you were only trying to teach a bitch her place.? every man should.
    ps. i like the chef’s jacket thing you got goin’ on”
    This makes me sick. His “apology” was clearly scripted and, ultimately, a selfish attempt at keeping his fans.

  5. LindseyLou
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    From what I understand, he has pled guilty, but has not yet been sentenced. (Which is probably why his lawyers didn’t want him todo this.) But this video was not for the court, clearly, because he’ll have his chance to address the court during allocution. It was to salvage his public reputation. As to that, I agree with Samhita: I don’t buy it. I genuinely hope that he is sorry and that he will move forward from this. He is still young, and there are few people who are actually as bad as the worst thing they’ve ever done. But this just feels too soon. And a video won’t cut it. Only his behavior over time (a long time) can change my opinion of him.

  6. dangerfield
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I see the need to apologize to the public as well. His use of domestic violence and subsequent public behavior encouraged millions of fans to believe that domestic violence is OK or at least understandable. He is partially to blame for all the thousands of young people in this world who believe some version of the “Rihanna deserved it” meme and this fosters a culture that will undoubtedly lead to a number of people resorting to violence in domestic disputes. He needs to accept responsibility for that as a failed role model in addition to responsibility for brutally beating another person.

  7. dangerfield
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Third sentance should read “It would be…” instead of “I…”

  8. alixana
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I thought he WAS sentenced, doesn’t he have probation, counseling, and a choice between time in jail or community service?

  9. LindseyLou
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    They said on the Today Show that he was expected to be sentenced to probation. I could be wrong, but the news this morning reported that he had not yet been sentenced.

  10. Cheena
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    The only person he should apologize to is Rhianna. The only reason why he’s playing the mister-good-guy role is so that people will buy his next albums, and watch his next films… Seriously, I was waiting for him to promote one of his shitty albums in one of those pre-rehearsed pauses.

  11. JennyRose
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    So as they say in politics and corporate America, “Mistakes were made.”

  12. common_reaction
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Are those bars on the windows and an orange prison jumpsuit? Seriously, who picked that outfit/location?
    Anyway, I agree that he has no one to apologize to but Rhianna and the fact that this was so obviously scripted only makes it worse. Nice try, Chris, but I’m not buying this, or your next album..

  13. PS
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    This makes me very sad.
    I was in a severely abusive relationship for 2 years and struggle with the damaging effects every single day of my life. A simple apology just does not suffice-does not make up for what will surely be a lifetime of healing.
    I cannot countenance that any person would take this to be genuine. I think his feigned humble attitude is so offensive. To not even mention “the situation” is even more so.
    Why is this issue not talked about more? Cannot anyone outside of the elite (snark) blogoshpere mention how fake Cbrown and his apology are? Can no one mention how Damaging his words after his actions are to victims, to abusers, to the hard and difficult work women and men do all over the world to counteract and stop violence against women?
    I am reeling.
    Sophia

  14. JoanOfArc
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    That was an insufficient apology. I work with kids and in their apology, we always make them say what they did wrong and that they are sorry. Just saying ‘sorry’ isn’t sufficient for five year olds or for a Mr. Brown. He needs to say what he did wrong.
    Joan

  15. Mrs.s
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Honestly I think his apology was sufficient. Why would he need to say what the situation was when everyone in America already knows it? I think his apology was sincere. He didn’t blame anyone else for his problems. He even touched on some of what may have contributed to him being physical. What more can we expect from him? I don’t condone violence in any way towards women, and honestly, he’s get a long way to go in his anger management counseling before he can completely break the cycle. However, he knows that something is up, and the fact he’s taking steps toward it, is a good thing.
    Also, to touch on the whole media aspect, it wasn’t Chris Brown saying that the situation was Rihanna’s fault, it was the media, and the general public making those insensitive and nasty remarks, not him. Look he’s not a saint, I’m still never going to buy another album of his again, but I don’t think the reaction of “he’s full of shit” is needed. I’ve been in an abusive relationship before. I chose to stay in said relationship while my significant other received counseling. I know that my choice is not what the majority would do. However, coming from my perspective, I understand the sentiments behind that apology and what it takes to get to that point where you can admit you have a problem and you need help.

  16. Asano
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I agree that this apology is nothing more than an attempt to repair his reputation.
    On a separate note, the description references “surveys that found young men felt it was Rihanna’s fault.” I’d missed that article and followed the link. The survey cited found that 46% of 200 surveyed young men AND women in the Boston area blamed Rihanna, and that there was no significant difference between the men and women. I think we do ourselves a disservice to ignore that youth of both genders may engage in victim blaming.

  17. Athenia
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, unless he starts speaking out about Domestic Violence–how this is just not about him, but about lots of people, I don’t think he really “gets it.”
    Ultimately, like his previous youtubec omment, I get the feeling that he still thinks his actions were “normal” and not absurd.

  18. beckeck06
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your first statement, but I think the problem is that he is apologizing, SAYING (if not also thinking) that his actions are absurd rather than normal. To speak about DV is to recognize how his actions fall way within the norm of masculinity. 1 in 4 women are battered, and 75% of boys who grow up in abusive homes will become batterers. In his case, growing up in a DV house, he is WAY within the norm. And a true apology would include not simply promising that he do better, but that he do something to forward the mov’t against DV as a whole.

  19. theelephantschild
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    word. orange jumpsuit and bars? I WISH. everyone says that boy isn’t going to jail, is just going to get community service.
    He doesnt sound sorry. too little, too late

  20. Liza
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there is an apology that would have been effective. My knowledge of abuse is second hand, but I will echo what the first person said – if an abuser actually came face to face to apologize, the victim would probably tell them to go fuck themselves and get out of their life.
    But to come close, he at least could have explicitly owned up to what he did (enough detail to acknowledge his guilt, not enough to be triggering), said it was his full mistake and responsibility, offered a genuine apology and reported that he was in anger management counseling. Then he should have said that it is unacceptable for his fans (or anyone) to place blame with Rihanna or with anyone but him.
    And then to live up to it by actually getting counseling and (as the person above says) perhaps speaking out against DV. And of course never acting this way again.

  21. webbolutionary
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  22. theelephantschild
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Sure, but when your crew is reppin things for you that you know are wrong, you should speak out. They said all those rumors and he let them, and benefited from it trying to salvage his career / reputation. ‘My lawyers told me” is not a valid excuse. apologizing months later b/c you were selfish and your lawyers told you it could effect your sentence? what a coward.
    Granted, hes still very young. But it seems clear from his behavior that the people around him who want to make money off of him just want this to go away and are not going to be the best kind of people to get him the help he needs. Likely they want it swept under the rug.

  23. Mrs.s
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with you. When you put it in that perspective, now I understand how some could feel like more should have been said on his part.
    Good point. Thank you.

  24. cpinkhouse
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I, for one, would like to see some true, introspective HONESTY. Not just simple statements of sorrow and regret.
    dangerfield said, “But his apology isn’t about apologizing, its about inducing forgiveness.”
    This is a public statement. A public relations release that aims at moving on – putting this nasty “incident” behind him and behind all of us.
    The fact that he didn’t even say (or his advisors didn’t write for him) anything that shows his understanding that an apology is essentially meaningless because the damage is done, marks his ignorance with a big red flag. Nothing about how the physical abuse was the extremity of a belief that he could control his girlfriend? Nothing about how he is currently evaluating the foundational values of his relationships with women? Nothing about how this has opened his eyes to the pervasive culture that nurtures boys and men to express themselves this way?

  25. llevinso
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    YES.
    Great post Samhita. And great comment cpinkhouse.
    I read this “apology” late last night and it pissed me off to high hell but I couldn’t articulate why. Thanks for putting into words what I myself could not accurately express.

  26. dangerfield
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    well said!

  27. Stephen A
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I’d just like to point out that domestic violence is never about anger, alcoholism, or any other factor. It is about a need to have power and control. The fact that Brown cited his anger as the source for hitting his partner shows me he has not even begun to question his role in battering Rihanna.
    In short, fuck you Chris Brown.

  28. englishteacher
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I saw a little of the Today segment about this with my sister who teaches recording arts. She pointed out that Chris Brown is signed to a label, and therefore a product before a person. This apology was entirely about sales, so he could continue to make other people money.

  29. Phenicks
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    CHris Brown is not the Alpha and OMega of Domestic Violence. He did not start or was teh reason these victim-blaming teens feel the way they do. Many of them live in a home with domestic violence and see someone being blamed or accepting blame for their own abuse and the cycle continues.
    I was in an abusive relationship. THings were GLORIOUS until the relationship got serious, then all of a sudden it was time to put me in a woman’s place. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last very long but only because I took IMMEDIATE actions to get rid of him. I broke up with him and refused his advancements and defended myself against countless harrassment at school, at work, on my way to visit family. Chris Brown didn’t make him want to choke me he made himself want to choke me, he made himself want to punch me and use his weight, height and stature to throw me around. Whether or not I ever saw another woman stand up for herself, or the media vilify an abuser I was determined tog et out and move on. I did.
    But it irks me to NO end when I hear people act as though women in my past situation are mindless dolls who can only do what the big mass leader (aka MEDIA and celebrities) tell them or show them to do. WE HAVE BRAINS! Abuse is NEVER ok even if the abuser NEVER admits what he did was wrong and it doesn’t take for some self righteous blowhard to tell any survivor of abuse that it hurt, that it wasn’t ok, that she or in some cases of male victims he deserves better treatment and respect.
    UGH!

  30. Jovan1984
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    (At the risk of sounding like a WATM remark) I do not know what which is more sickening. This fake apology by Mr. Brown or Kelly Bensimon’s unapologetic attitude even after getting away with committing an act of domestic violence against her boyfriend and then blaming Nick Stefanov for her abusive ways.
    I didn’t even click the video, because I didn’t want to waste even one attosecond trying to watch Mr. Brown explain his bullshit. It seemed like Mr. Brown was blaming Rihanna for his abusive ways in the entire video.
    If Mr. Brown really wanted to apologize to someone, he should have went to Rihanna and apologize to her with no cameras around (the reason why I mentioned that cameras should not be around is because, celebs who are in trouble will use cameras as a publicity stunt).
    What Mr. Brown did was 100% self-serving, 100% insincere and 100% fake.
    Apology not accepted, Mr. Brown.

  31. flamingofeminist
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Samhita-
    Just wanted to tell you this was an excellent post, both your writing and the writing you cited. Dead on.
    Thanks!

  32. evann
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    SO TRUE. It’s also never about stress. If it was, these men would beat EVERYONE that pissed them off. but they ONLY beat their partner.

  33. alixana
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Well, just so we’re not talking in absolutes, my abusive ex was very verbally abusive to lots of people – the video store clerk, people on the road, his siblings. He actually held his much younger brother down once and carved his name into him with a knife.
    But it’s definitely not about anger – the man could go from 0 to severely pissed off in a half a second before anyone could ever figure out what was going on, when there was absolutely no tension about anything. And it was always their fault, if only they hadn’t pushed him over, etc. etc.
    It’s true though that many abusive partners only direct their abuse at their significant other. Mine definitely exhibited the signs of being able to turn it off and on when he wanted, there were very specific people that he would be nothing but charming to.

  34. LalaReina
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    I am so over this story, get off Chris and let him live already. I didn’t see all this hue and cry when Oscar nominee Josh Brolin was arrested for wifebeating. Chris didn’t need to apologize but to one person. That done it’s no one else’s business.

  35. LalaReina
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    …and I can imagine what posts would have been generated here if say Steve McNair had murdered his girlfriend instead of the other way around.

  36. Jovan1984
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    LalaReina, Feministing don’t defend domestic abusers, no matter if that person is male or female — we made that clear in the post about Kate Gosselin in the community portion of this blog. It would be wise of you to read our comments on that post.
    http://community.feministing.com/2009/06/jon-and-kate-divorce—feminis.html#comment-272717

  37. Radically-Yours
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    His apology must be scripted or read off cue cards; it just sounds too over-the-top and came a long time after he beat Rihanna. I kept hearing “I f*cked up and I need to find a way to save my record sales”. I really hope people are smart enough to see through this crapfest video.
    My aunt was beaten by her ex-husband and I’ll never forget what she told me: “Abusers don’t change and the only regret they have is being caught. And you know what? The only regret I have is not leaving sooner.”
    I hope Rihanna feels the same way.

  38. evann
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    yikes! so true, nothing is ever absolute. but my point still stands- its not that he couldn’t control his anger, he just chose not to with some people.

  39. ladylicious
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I actually would be in favor of a public apology if it was a stronger statement. The timing is suspicious too- why not apologize right after it happened, if he’s so damned sorry? If he has a new album out and this is part of his promotion, I think I’m going to throw up in my mouth a little. I would like to hear him express care and concern for Rihanna, because she was the victim. His entire statement seems like it’s all about him and what he needs to say and not what Rihanna needs to hear. The statements he made seemed like they were more about clearing his name than anything else.
    Even though he doesn’t blatantly make excuses, I heard him excusing himself on some level. (ie: I grew up in a home where there was domestic violence). Also, he downplayed the seriousness of her injuries. We all saw the pictures when they were released, so we know it was much more than “circumstances”. It was a horrific beating.
    Then there is the classic “if I had it all to do over again” statement. Yeah, um…ok. What he needs to discuss is what he actually did. All I can think is something along the lines of…that’s right, you asshole. You can’t undo the damage you did, so maybe you shouldn’t be talking about what you should have done. “Should’ve dones” are easy to talk about. I want to hear you talk about what you actually did, not what you should have done. Because we can talk all day long about what should have happened, but that isn’t what needs to be discussed.
    Too little, too late. Whether he’s sincere or not? I have no idea. But this apology obviously benefits him a lot more than it benefits Rihanna.

  40. Tabitha
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    First of all, I’m not going to listen to his apology. I simply don’t care what he has to say. To me, a public apology is all about his public image,his career, and the money it generates. Besides, only Rihanna can forgive him (or not). Logically, it’s makes no sense to offer a public apology except to benefit himself.
    Second, I think his fans will buy his CDs without an apology. Back when this happened, I asked my students (college-aged) how they viewed this situation. The majority saw Rihanna as provoking him–they viewed it as much her fault as his.
    Something strange is going on in society. Women are viewed by many (both male and female) as having achieved equality. They are also viewed as totally responsible for their own actions AS WELL AS the actions of those close to them.
    We, as a society, are in serious need of some re-education. We cannot expect pop culture to address this. Chris and Rihanna will be long gone in five years…we need something more truth-based, more practical, and more pervasive.

  41. aletheia_shortwave
    Posted July 23, 2009 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    I have several questions about this post.
    One thing I think, and people such as bell hooks speak adamantly about, is that the feminist movement is going to have trouble being effective if we cannot include men, even sexist men, in our dialogue. This is not a moral issue but simply a strategic one. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently said in her NYTimes interview, “I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”
    Feministing has done some very good work in this vein — I think of the post about the way that pornography effects men as an outstanding example of this kind of thinking.
    I think that this situation is similar.
    It is not so black and white that we can only either demonize Chris Brown or we venerate him.
    That may be happening in popular culture, but it is not so simple. As a victim of serious physical and sexual assault which began at age 13 and continued until age 15 when I went to college, I have been on the receiving end of abuse like what Rihanna went through. However, strategically speaking there is no way that violence like this will end if we cannot establish a public discourse about what CAUSES it to happen.
    Abuse does not begin or end with any individual abuser.
    Chris mentions that he grew up with domestic violence in his home, and that he wants to change. That is probably what his fans are responding to. This indicates not that they are necessarily right, or that he is sincere, but at least that what people WANT to believe is that abusers want to and can change. The fact that his strategies are probably going to be ineffective should not be a reason to push him further out of the community.
    I also do not think that he deserves any more or less empathy than Rihanna. That may be a controversial claim, but it does not mean that I think they are equally responsible for what happened. There is no sense in which Rihanna caused her own victimization. However, as a surivor of violence myself, I have realized that sometimes you WANT to believe that domestic violence is your own fault, because you want to believe that you can do something to stop it from happening again. That doesn’t make it right — but it makes the situation more complex and it actually holds a pathway to a very important point. For, if Rihanna is truly a simple victim, how will she learn to stop the abuse from happening again? Similarly, Chris Brown is clearly abusive but he himself admits that he is also on one level a victim of domestic violence. It is a very difficult and serious task indeed to learn to undo the hateful, self-sabotaging and devastating patterns of behavior that have been inculcated in children of abusive parents at such a young age.
    I think we will only alienate people from the dialogue of the dialogue takes the form of gossiping about the neighbors. The reason we are debating this situation’s ethics and not that of the many millions of cases of domestic violence that happen in lower-income, white, black, latino, asian, muslim-american or native-american homes each year is because we believe that as popular icons, what Chris or Rihanna do influences the behavior of their fans.
    And that is most certainly true and important. In the documentary “Very Young Girls,” which was recently recommended on this blog we learn that one of the girls, prior to being forced into prostitution, actually believed that “pimp” and “ho” were just words, that no one actually forced anyone into sex work, but that it was all a game that hip-hop artists sometimes spoke about.
    Obviously the things that these people say and do matter. But no amount of judgmental moralizing about what they do will stop them from doing it. Only by thinking relatively impartially about the strategies that will best help us to stop this from happening can we hope to feel our hopes come to resonate in popular culture. And one of those strategies is figuring out how to start a sincere dialogue with the men (and women) who commit sexual and physical assault on their loved ones — something which, following Barack Obama’s lead, we know won’t happen if we shut them out of the greater, international, political dialogue.

  42. aletheia_shortwave
    Posted July 23, 2009 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    I have several questions about this post.
    One thing I think, and people such as bell hooks speak adamantly about, is that the feminist movement is going to have trouble being effective if we cannot include men, even sexist men, in our dialogue. This is not a moral issue but simply a strategic one. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently said in her NYTimes interview, “I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”
    Feministing has done some very good work in this vein — I think of the post about the way that pornography effects men as an outstanding example of this kind of thinking.
    I think that this situation is similar.
    It is not so black and white that we can only either demonize Chris Brown or we venerate him.
    That may be happening in popular culture, but it is not so simple. As a victim of serious physical and sexual assault which began at age 13 and continued until age 15 when I went to college, I have been on the receiving end of abuse like what Rihanna went through. However, strategically speaking there is no way that violence like this will end if we cannot establish a public discourse about what CAUSES it to happen. Abuse does not begin or end with any individual abuser.
    Chris mentions that he grew up with domestic violence in his home, and that he wants to change. That is probably what his fans are responding to. This indicates not that they are necessarily right, or that he is sincere, but at least that what people WANT to believe is that abusers want to and can change. The fact that his strategies are probably going to be ineffective should not be a reason to push him further out of the community.
    I also do not think that he deserves any more or less empathy than Rihanna. That may be a controversial claim, but it does not mean that I think they are equally responsible for what happened. There is no sense in which Rihanna caused her own victimization. However, as a surivor of violence myself, I have realized that sometimes you WANT to believe that domestic violence is your own fault, because you want to believe that you can do something to stop it from happening again. That doesn’t make it right — but it makes the situation more complex and it actually holds a pathway to a very important point. For, if Rihanna is truly a simple victim, how will she learn to stop the abuse from happening again? Similarly, Chris Brown is clearly abusive but he himself admits that he is also on one level a victim of domestic violence. It is a very difficult and serious task indeed to learn to undo the hateful, self-sabotaging and devastating patterns of behavior that have been inculcated in children of abusive parents at such a young age.
    I think we will only alienate people from the dialogue of the dialogue takes the form of gossiping about the neighbors. The reason we are debating this situation’s ethics and not that of the many millions of cases of domestic violence that happen in lower-income, white, black, latino, asian, muslim-american or native-american homes each year is because we believe that as popular icons, what Chris or Rihanna do influences the behavior of their fans.
    And that is most certainly true and important. In the documentary “Very Young Girls,” which was recently recommended on this blog we learn that one of the girls, prior to being forced into prostitution, actually believed that “pimp” and “ho” were just words, that no one actually forced anyone into sex work, but that it was all a game that hip-hop artists sometimes spoke about.
    Obviously the things that these people say and do matter. But no amount of judgmental moralizing about what they do will stop them from doing it. Only by thinking relatively impartially about the strategies that will best help us to stop this from happening can we hope to feel our hopes come to resonate in popular culture. And one of those strategies is figuring out how to start a sincere dialogue with the men (and women) who commit sexual and physical assault on their loved ones — something which, following Barack Obama’s lead, we know won’t happen if we shut them out of the greater, international, political dialogue.

  43. aletheia_shortwave
    Posted July 23, 2009 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    I have several questions about this post.
    One thing I think, and people such as bell hooks speak adamantly about, is that the feminist movement is going to have trouble being effective if we cannot include men, even sexist men, in our dialogue. This is not a moral issue but simply a strategic one. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently said in her NYTimes interview, “I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”
    Feministing has done some very good work in this vein — I think of the post about the way that pornography effects men as an outstanding example of this kind of thinking.
    I think that this situation is similar.
    It is not so black and white that we can only either demonize Chris Brown or we venerate him.
    That may be happening in popular culture, but it is not so simple. As a victim of serious physical and sexual assault which began at age 13 and continued until age 15 when I went to college, I have been on the receiving end of abuse like what Rihanna went through. However, strategically speaking there is no way that violence like this will end if we cannot establish a public discourse about what CAUSES it to happen.
    Abuse does not begin or end with any individual abuser.
    Chris mentions that he grew up with domestic violence in his home, and that he wants to change. That is probably what his fans are responding to. This indicates not that they are necessarily right, or that he is sincere, but at least that what people WANT to believe is that abusers want to and can change. The fact that his strategies are probably going to be ineffective should not be a reason to push him further out of the community.
    I also do not think that he deserves any more or less empathy than Rihanna. That may be a controversial claim, but it does not mean that I think they are equally responsible for what happened. There is no sense in which Rihanna caused her own victimization. However, as a surivor of violence myself, I have realized that sometimes you WANT to believe that domestic violence is your own fault, because you want to believe that you can do something to stop it from happening again. That doesn’t make it right — but it makes the situation more complex and it actually holds a pathway to a very important point. For, if Rihanna is truly a simple victim, how will she learn to stop the abuse from happening again? Similarly, Chris Brown is clearly abusive but he himself admits that he is also on one level a victim of domestic violence. It is a very difficult and serious task indeed to learn to undo the hateful, self-sabotaging and devastating patterns of behavior that have been inculcated in children of abusive parents at such a young age.
    I think we will only alienate people from the dialogue of the dialogue takes the form of gossiping about the neighbors. The reason we are debating this situation’s ethics and not that of the many millions of cases of domestic violence that happen in lower-income, white, black, latino, asian, muslim-american or native-american homes each year is because we believe that as popular icons, what Chris or Rihanna do influences the behavior of their fans.
    And that is most certainly true and important. In the documentary “Very Young Girls,” which was recently recommended on this blog we learn that one of the girls, prior to being forced into prostitution, actually believed that “pimp” and “ho” were just words, that no one actually forced anyone into sex work, but that it was all a game that hip-hop artists sometimes spoke about.
    Obviously the things that these people say and do matter. But no amount of judgmental moralizing about what they do will stop them from doing it. Only by thinking relatively impartially about the strategies that will best help us to stop this from happening can we hope to feel our hopes come to resonate in popular culture. And one of those strategies is figuring out how to start a sincere dialogue with the men (and women) who commit sexual and physical assault on their loved ones — something which, following Barack Obama’s lead, we know won’t happen if we shut them out of the greater, international, political dialogue.

  44. aletheia_shortwave
    Posted July 23, 2009 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Oh God, sorry, I have never posted here before, I didn’t mean to post three times…

  45. Caroline
    Posted July 23, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I would like to thank you for the point that perpatrators should not be alienated. I think its important here to bring up the work of critical resistance, and other prison abolitionist work, such as Angela Davis’ book “Are Prisons Obsolete?” A lot of this work is on the idea of the inherent sexism and racism in the prison, and that in cases of DV, just alienating the perpetrator and sending them off to prison makes things worse.
    I would like to point out the groups Philly’s Spissed and Philly Stands Up (the later of which works with perpratrators), two related groups that work with abuse in their community, treating everyone involved in the situation with compassion, but still making sure abusers are held accountable by their community.
    I think the point here is that complete shaming of the abusers is not helpful, and that this can be done while still holding them accountable.

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