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 Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

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

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  • http://feministing.com/members/jpeterman/ Frank Reynolds

    A person was beaten bloody, and you think the truly disturbing part is that people are making statements critical of Halle Berry? That’s reprehensible.

    • http://feministing.com/members/lori/ Lori

      I’m going to publish this comment just to show how far we still have to go. Thanks!

      • http://feministing.com/members/flavia/ Susan

        I suppose I have even farther to go, but in another direction. While I am disgusted with the idea that this could in any way be thought HER fault, I have to admit that my first thought was, “If half the things I heard about Aubry in connection w/Berry are true [he is rumored to have made foul racial remarks], then he was probably being a douchebag, & he gets what he gets.” So make of that what you will – I will take any lumps anyone thinks I have coming.

    • http://feministing.com/members/sapadu/ Jacqueline Hentzen

      You’re absolutely right — why not shift the discussion to the moron who threw the punches and give HIM some attention? Because… y’know, a woman getting blamed for intimate partner violence? News outlets inflating a serious, traumatic incident into a media circus that makes her look like the villain? Psh, well, of COURSE that’s gonna happen, so why bother TALKING about it?

      On a serious note though… dude, this is FEMINISTING dot com. When shit like this hits the fan, we take it apart and call out reporters and tabloids for printing this garbage. It’s what we do. Have you not noticed that, yet? Should we pay more attention to the moron who instigated the fight, maybe hold him responsible and make him go through a little hell, as punishment for his crime? That would be great. But calling an article reprehensible just because it fails to treat the guy who’s been beaten up like he’s the only (and worst off) victim in this ordeal is… well… reprehensible, itself.

      • http://feministing.com/members/lamech/ Lamech

        “But calling an article reprehensible just because it fails to treat the guy who’s been beaten up like he’s the only (and worst off) victim in this ordeal is… well… reprehensible, itself.”

        Dude, he sort of is the worst off in this whole ordeal. ‘Cause ya know he got beaten bloody

        • http://feministing.com/members/sapadu/ Jacqueline Hentzen

          …No. No, he didn’t — he was punched in the face and given a black eye. (follow the link and look at the picture) Does he deserve sympathy? Yes, absolutely — I know I wouldn’t want to get punched in the face.

          But, he wasn’t beaten bloody OR anywhere near as bad as other reports of other, similar cases involving domestic abusers like Berry’s asshole of an ex. But that’s not what this article was about — this was about the victim blaming that’s happening to Berry (And happened to another victim of domestic abuse — you know who I’m talking about, right?) Frank’s comment was blaming us for daring to focus on Halle Berry and the shit the media is putting us through. Her boyfriend will, likely, be fine — he’s a guy, so, he has all the privilege that comes with being a guy, including that his attacker will likely face charges and be convicted.

          What the media is doing to Halle Berry on the other hand — it is unlikely, at best, that a media source or a person in the media will call bullshit. Hence, we do our jobs here. Frank is being entitled. And THAT’S what’s reprehensible.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lamech/ Lamech

    Bloody Hell. Assuming the victims reports are accurate he suffered an attack that very easily could have left him dead. Halle Berry is not responsible for her boyfriends actions. However, that man is dangerous. Very dangerous. He should be in jail. Under no circumstances should he be allowed near the man he attacked. Or near the places that the man he attacked frequents or the kid frequents. Yes, this includes anywhere a father might take his kid, which includes all the areas the kid frequents. And his mothers house, as its the drop off and pick up point. Nor should he be allowed near the kid.

    Note this is NOT Halle Berry’s job. Its the god damn polices job. Seriously the fuck? Why the hell didn’t they arrest the absurdly violent and dangerous guy who was tossing around lethal force for no apparent reason?

    Now I would like to note five additional victim blaming tactics here (all from the Salon article):
    1) Getting the police to arrest the man you nearly killed.
    2) Filing a restraining order against the man you nearly killed.
    3) Death threats and an attempt at blackmailing the guy you nearly killed.
    4) Attempting to deceive the police about nearly killing a man.
    5) Attempting to fabricate justifications for your nearly killing a man.

    Abusers and violent would be killers DO attempt to use false accusations, the police and the legal system as a weapon. In addition to slabs of concrete of course.

  • http://feministing.com/members/larissah/ Larissa

    Definitely not her fault though up until now I hadn’t realized there were people implying it was. I was under the impression there was still lingering judgement regarding the custody issues she and her ex have had over the past couple of years. Admittedly, some remarks she’s made to the press (specifically about race) have lowered my estimation of her, but to imply she’s in any way responsible for the violent actions of the men she dates? That’s absurd.