We All Have a Domestic Violence Problem

After the Ray Rice news has blown over, we'll probably return to supporting famous men who hit women.
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I watched the video. I watched Janay Palmer swat at her soon-to-be-husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and then I watched him cold-cock her. I watched her head hit a metal railing on the way down. I watched as he tried to move her unconscious body with his feet, then picked her up and dragged her out of the elevator—the part everybody had already seen (and which I wrote about back in late July). I felt sickened. I felt furious. There’s not much else to say about it.

Other writers have made the argument that we shouldn’t watch, for two primary reasons. 1) As far as we know, Janay Palmer didn’t consent to the release of that video, so we have no right to satisfy our ghoulish curiosity by watching her abuse. 2) We damn well shouldn’t need to watch it. Since July, we’ve all known that Rice knocked Palmer unconscious and then dragged her from the elevator into the hall. As Amy Davidson wrote Monday at The New Yorker, “What did people think it looked like when a football player knocked out a much smaller woman?”

These are solid arguments. I won’t disagree with them. I watched anyway, out of some combination of ghoulish curiosity and a sincere desire to bear witness. Millions of us watched. The Ravens were forced to fire Rice, and the NFL was forced to suspend him indefinitely. 

So, now what?

Have the people who kept saying, “We weren’t in that elevator. Let’s wait until all the facts are in!” admitted that the facts are in now, and it turns out she didn’t deserve it after all? Do we think the NFL will actually do some soul-searching about how it took public outcry over a leaked video—not the mere existence of a set of damning facts—for them to oust a known violent criminal? Will football fans decide to stop supporting an institution that not only protects abusers and rapists, but pays them millions of dollars?

I’m not optimistic. It's nice that some fans have started asking if the NFL has a domestic violence problem, but that’s only a sliver of the real issue: Our whole culture has a domestic violence problem. We are tremendously skilled at explaining away credible accusations of intimate partner violence, especially when the men in question are famous and talented. We have a real knack for simply forgetting that some of our favorite actors, musicians, and sports stars like to abuse women in their spare time—if we acknowledge that the allegations are true at all.

So in case you need a reminder, I’ve prepared a little refresher course on ten celebrities who’ve admitted to partner abuse or faced serious charges of it, and gone right on working.

 

1. Mel Gibson

You might have noticed in the last few days that when a wealthy man is caught beating a woman he purportedly loves, a lot of people want to talk about her love of money. 

Not about the fact that even your average, middle- and lower-class abusers routinely control household finances, to keep their partners dependent on them. And not about the fact that wealthy, famous men can, in most cases, use money to make charges of violence against women go away. 

No, people want to talk about how women like Janay Palmer must be gold-digging ninnies to stay with men who beat them—even though there are endless reasons why victims stay, including that leaving is when they’re most likely to be killed. And even though actual gold-digging ninnies also do not deserve to be punched out, or beaten with baseball bats, or shot in their own homes.

If you’ve said or thought something along those lines recently—that she must see the money as a decent trade-off for the occasional broken bone or concussion—I want you to do me a favor. Go listen to the second audiotape Mel Gibson’s ex made of him screaming, growling, and panting at her like a rabid dog, from 6:306:50. Listen to her say, as calmly as possible, “I don’t give a damn if you don’t spend another penny on me. I’m just fearing for the life of my daughter.” And then listen to Gibson positively roar, “Cunt, bitch, golddigger, cunt, whore!” in response.

Keep hearing that voice in your head every time you’re tempted to diagnose an abuse victim with gold-lust. Every time you’re tempted to say she must love money more than she hates being beaten—or worse, that she’s lying about the abuse to extract money from her spouse. Remember Mel Gibson’s explosive rage, and know that you’re making the same argument he is. Cunt, bitch, golddigger, cunt, whore.

The Expendables 3, featuring Mel Gibson, is currently in theaters. The successful movie franchise has also starred Mickey Rourke, who was charged with spousal abuse in 1994; Wesley Snipes, who allegedly beat one of his girlfriends until she was mostly deaf in one ear; Sylvester Stallone, whose late half-sister accused him of abuse; Stone Cold Steve Austin, accused more than once of assaulting an intimate partner; Eric Roberts, ditto; Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose third wife charged him with spousal abuse; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, as governor of California, repeatedly blocked spending on domestic-violence programs and shelters. Just in case you were tempted to think of Gibson as some kind of anomaly.

 

2. Sean Penn

In 1987, the actor reportedly hit his then-wife, Madonna, with a baseball bat, sending her to the hospital. He was charged with felony domestic assault. In 2003 he won his first Academy Award for best actor. In 2008, he won another. 

In 2014, he made the news for donating 65 guns he personally owned to artist Jeff Koons, who would melt them down and make a sculpture of them, at the behest of Penn’s new girlfriend, Charlize Theron. Theron’s father was shot to death by her mother one night after the father came home firing a gun and screaming that he would kill them both. (Although there have so far been no reports of violence in this relationship, it’s worth noting that girls who grow up in violent households often choose abusive partners.) Sean Penn is widely respected as an exceptionally talented actor and activist for various humanitarian causes.

 

3. Charlie Sheen

In 1990, his fiancée, Kelly Preston, found herself shot by Sheen’s gun, supposedly by accident, although she broke up with him immediately thereafter. (One of Mickey Rourke’s exes was shot by a gun belonging to him in a very similar manner.) Five women with whom Sheen had intimate relationships subsequently made formal complaints of abuse against him. His latest television show, Anger Management, broke a ratings record when it debuted.

 

4. Chris Brown

'Member when he beat the shit out of his girlfriend, Rihanna, in 2009, and pictures of her bruised, bloody face were all over the internet? 'Member when he won a Grammy, in 2012? 'Member when the news came out this week that he’ll soon be on Dancing With the Stars and Saturday Night Live, in support of his sixth studio album? He's 25.

 

5. Josh Brolin

Arrested for spousal battery in 2004. Widely lauded a few years later for his performances in No Country for Old Men, W., and Milk. Still working plenty.

 

6. Axl Rose

Accused of domestic violence enough times that his Wikipedia page has a whole section on it. Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with two other apparent abusers from the original line-up of Guns N’ Roses, in 2012.

 

7. Michael Fassbender

Accused by an ex of breaking her nose and dragging her alongside a car, among other things. Widely perceived as the thinking woman’s sex symbol, owing to his European accent(s) and large, frequently filmed wang.

 

8. Nicolas Cage

Ruined his first chance at marrying wife number one, Patricia Arquette, by “throwing an almighty tantrum at the airport.” Eventually reconciled with her, but then divorced and moved on to an “explosive” marriage to his second wife, Lisa Marie Presley, featuring fights after which he’d call his wife and say, according to her, “he was sorry, wish he hadn't done it, things like that.“ Arrested for assaulting his third wife, Alice Kim, in 2011. Finally seems to have worn out his Hollywood welcome, but he’s still working. There’s probably a role for him in Expendables 4.

 

9. Terrence Howard

Accused of assaulting six different women between 2000 and 2013. Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005. Defended Chris Brown in 2009, then took it back when he realized people weren’t cool with that. Will soon be seen in the acclaimed St. Vincent.

 

10. John Lennon

The man composed tender love songs, opposed war, imagined peace, and wrote the lyric, "I used to be cruel to my woman/ I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved." He meant it. The late Beatle told Playboy in 1980, “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically—any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace.”

 
Kate Harding is co-author of "The Book of Jezebel" and "Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere," and author of the forthcoming "Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It." Find her on Twitter @kateharding.
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Kate Harding