Five insidious victim-blaming tactics being used against Halle Berry

Halle Berry smirks in the face of your victim-blaming

On Thanksgiving Halle Berry’s current boyfriend apparently fought with and badly bruised the face of Halle Berry’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her child. If you’d like more information about the situation, here is a summary of everything that happened.

As dramatic and concerning as these developments are (I feel bad for pretty much everyone involved and am generally bummed to see violence take place), perhaps most disturbing of all is the insidious if not predictable victim-blaming that has taken hold in the days since the violent incident. Because Berry has been a victim of domestic violence in the past, you see, it is OBVS all her fault when anyone around her engages in violence.

For those of you who don’t have the interest or patience to read through the summary of what went down, the relevant piece of information is this: according to news reports, Halle Berry did not beat anyone up, nor was she involved in the violence besides being a possible bystander. I repeat, she was not the perpetrator of violence in this situation and does not have any known history of perpetrating violence.

This fact, however, has not stopped the victim-blaming pundits and trolls alike from coming out of the woodwork to perpetuate myths about women, violence, and victimhood. In the name of pushing back against these harmful narratives, here are five of the most egregious instances.

1.      Portraying Berry as “tumultuous” and “dramatic” by association

Berry is “a woman with one of the most consistently tumultuous personal lives of any public figure in recent memory” Salon staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams writes. To which I ask incredulously, Really?! Really! Maybe her having been abused in the past feels scandalous or renders her tumultuous to you, but surely you can find one person in the entirety of Hollywood who may have just a bit more “tumult” going on in their lives. Tumult that is, you know, actually their fault and linked to stuff they themselves are doing.

2.      Conflating “being the victim of domestic violence” and “fighting”

Williams also notes in her piece (which, by the way Salon eds, should absolutely never have been published) “That two of the men Berry’s been romantically involved with should wind up in fisticuffs seems at this point another sad punctuation mark in a life [Berry’s] marked by fighting.”

Uhm, what? It’s not called “fighting” when you get beat up by an intimate partner. As far as I know, there is no known instance of Berry “fighting” anyone, although there is a record of her being physically assaulted in the past. Plus I’m pretty sure, moreso than her “fighting,” Halle Berry is known for being an Oscar-winning, gorgeous, amazing actress. But ya know, semantics.

3.      Holding Berry responsible for other people’s (in this case, men’s) actions

Victim-blaming in the most literal sense, numerous outlets have derided Berry for “failing to keep her men in check” or more indirectly letting the animosity escalate to a point of violence. Last time I checked, both her ex and her current boyfriend were adults who are responsible for their own actions. It’s not her responsibility to stop two other grown ups from fighting. Where is the criticism of the guy that did the actual punching? It’s funny how both men lose their agency in the media narrative as soon as there is a woman to blame.

4.      Blaming Berry’s attractiveness for inciting men to violence (or what we like to refer to as the “Helen of Troy” argument)

While bravely battling the haters on Twitter yesterday, our own Zerlina encountered this gem of an argument:

Ugh, invoking the Iliad to make this case reminds me how ancient and antiquated the idea that men just can’t control themselves when driven to the brink of passion by a beautiful woman really is. Gross!

 5.      Berry is a bad mother for “letting this happen” around her child.

An argument we hear too frequently (including in court custody cases), this is one of the most insidious of all. By blaming the victim for the abuse she has experienced at the hands of someone else, one can go on to make the fallacious claim that she is also to blame for “exposing” her child to violence. Again, there is no room for holding the actual perpetrator of violence to account in this narrative.

In short, domestic violence: STILL not Halle Berry’s (or any victim’s) fault.

In conclusion to this now-longer-than-expected rant, I will say this. Williams does wisely note one thing in her otherwise flawed Salon piece that domestic violence can be a cycle, when she cites Berry’s own words about the issue:

In a 2005 interview, she admitted, “Domestic violence is something I’ve known about since I was a child. My mother was a victim of it.” And she added, “Early on in my life I made choices, and I chose men that were abusive because that was what I knew growing up.”

These quotes are insightful, but not necessarily for the reason that Williams included them. Rather than point the finger at Berry for “choosing” a violent partner, this quote helps clarify and distinguish between victim and perpetrator. While there are many things that factor into who we choose as our romantic partners in life, and some of those reasons can may be flawed or informed by difficult life circumstances, abuse is still not the victim’s fault. Hopefully that is a lesson that will come out of this most recent violent incident, rather than the victim-blaming narrative that has emerged thus far.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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