Thursday, 20 September 2012

Rich and famous men who beat women - Madonna song included!

I've written about this issue before, here, mainly. But I wanted to write about it again, mainly because yesterday one of my favourite eighties Madonna songs came on to my iPod.

It's called 'Til Death do us Part' and it's an album track on that wonderful record 'Like A Prayer'.

The lyrics are a thinly veiled reference to her marriage with Sean Penn, and contain the lyrics:

'The bruises they will fade away
You hit so hard with the things you say
I will not stay to watch your hate
As it grows
He takes a drink
She goes outside
He starts to scream
The vases fly
He wishes that she wouldn't cry'

It's a song about a relationship breakdown, but it's also a song about a violent relationship - Madonna tells us that she's being hit, even though the words hurt more than the physical bruises. It's well documented that Sean Penn beat up Madonna, he was charged with domestic assault and pleaded guilty to misdemeanour. And he isn't the only one. What makes this song so powerful is it's honesty. OK, the beat is hopelessly cheesy and it's very eighties, but it's a really strong speak out about her experiences of violence. And perhaps I find it all the more powerful because now so much talk about male violence, particularly of celebrity men, is silenced. We're not supposed to remember that Oscar-winner and human rights campaigner Sean Penn beat up his former wife. We're supposed to forget the crimes of men, particularly famous ones.

Last week, stickers started to appear all over Chris Brown albums, warning people not to buy his album as he beats women. We all cheered. He did beat up Rihanna, horribly, and he is still lauded as a popstar, his fans defend him ferociously and he's well-protected by an industry that sees themselves as the victims of his crime as it meant he couldn't perform sometimes. Some people say we need to stop 'picking on him' but, quite frankly, we shouldn't. We should keep talking about what he did, a horrible horrible crime that he doesn't seem that sorry for (tattoo anyone?). Anyway, as I say, he's pretty protected by the industry, normal people like you and me condemning his actions aren't exactly halting the juggernaut of publicity and radio play that man gets.

However, we need to stop *just* picking on Chris Brown. We need to talk about the others too.

When the 'Warning don't buy this album: this man beats women' stickers started appearing on John Lennon albums, a man who very openly spoke about how he hit his wife, the reaction was a lot more muted, a lot less 'yes, tell it like it is!'. Most right thinking people don't like Chris Brown. He behaves badly and his music is pretty crap. But everyone likes John Lennon and he's responsible for some of the best music of the last 50 years. It isn't comfortable to think that he hit his wife. It doesn't fit with our image of him.  Having named him their Biggest Icon Evah or whatever, NME merely called the story about the stickers 'interesting'.

But should we forget that John Lennon was abusive towards women? Should we forget Norman Mailer? Roman Polanski? Shouldn't we talk about the allegations against Fassbender? What about David Soul, Ike Turner, James Brown? We do talk about OJ I guess, but like there's some debate to be had. After all, whether or not he killed Nicole, he beat her up when they were married. Mel Gibson - who as well as anti semitism beat his wife - Nicholas Cage, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee, Axl Rose, Bobby Brown? There's a long list here. Shouldn't we at least mention it? Or should it just be forgotten, or excused as rock n roll behaviour, or that's just what happens.

And that's before we even get on to Charlie Sheen, whose drug antics may have ended Two and a Half Men, but whose abuse of women is apparently funny enough for him now to be starring in a 'comedy' called Anger Management.

People can change. John Lennon acknowledged what he did, as far as I know Sean Penn hasn't hurt any other women. Lennon made great records and Penn was good in his films. I'm not saying that men who beat women can't change, can't go on to do other things, to be defined by other things.

But I do passionately believe that there is something wrong when we don't acknowledge what happened, when it's just forgotten and treated as something that doesn't matter. We brush the crimes under the carpet and pretend they didn't happen. Meanwhile, crappy sentences are handed out that don't reflect the gravity of the abuse - Gibson only got a probation for punching his wife so hard he broke her tooth. Did you know that?

The crimes of men against women rarely get mentioned, and nine times out of ten, when a famous man commits a crime against women, public and publicity will jump to the man's defence. Even when, as in the case of Tyson, Polanski and Ched Evans, the man has been proven guilty.

That's what I find troubling. It's the silence. Because when we stay silent about men who are violent towards women, then we make that crime ok. And when that perpetrator is in the public eye, we say to society that we think that crime is ok. When we defend and excuse men in the public eye, then we declare as a society that we think domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is ok, isn't that bad.

I don't want Penn or Lennon or Gibson or Oldman or Brown or whoever to be branded, to wear a scarlet letter. I just want to know that we don't think it's ok for men to beat women, no matter how famous or talented they are. I don't want the voices of women to be silenced. I want an acknowledgement.

And that's why, although musically Madonna has produced better tunes, that song is so powerful. It's an acknowledgement that this thing happened to her, at a time when her voice as a survivor was drowned out by those defending the man who beat her.


  1. Really well said Sian. The other one I'd like added to the list is Sean Connery. You know - the "best" James Bond, every guys favourite actor, the face of Scottish pride, etc, etc. Not only did it but openly justified it. And when called out, didn't apologise or retract, just said he'd been quoted "out of context", cos there's a context in which saying women are asking for domestic violence is ok, right? Bleugh.

  2. Thanks Kate!

    Yes, I'd heard rumours about Sean Connery. Horrible. I'm so sick of these men being celebrated and adored whilst their behaviour and crap justifications are excused.


  3. It's all about the money isn't it? If the guys can continue to be box office draws, or produce million-selling songs, the people in the business will continue to promote them and the PR people will brush it all under the carpet.
    Similarly for creeps like Woody Allen, who had a relationship with his teenage stepdaughter while he was still married to Mia Farrow. The way Hollywood fawns over him makes me sick.

  4. Absolutely, money money money and don't mention the abuse.

  5. Linked from Kate's Twitter.

    Brilliant article - I wasn't aware of the Lennon but had always wondered about that line in 'Getter Better' (sounds really werid listening to Gomez cover it now!)

    Articles like this are as important as the stickers and other public discussions.

    It's really not a big ask.

    I fear that there's something that goes hand in hand with the celebrity male characters the public craves (obviously not all of them) - an arrogance perhaps that means only a change in our role models will shift these disgusting stories from the media.

  6. thank you - yes i think we need a change of role models. actors like ryan gosling and jon hamm have been very outspoken about women's rights, and in gosling's case the acceptability of filmed violence against women. more of it please!

  7. Excellent blog Sian - I didn't know about all the men on the list.

  8. Thanks Ray, check out the link to the feministe post 'the shit list' - 100s.

  9. Connery was very open about "having" to hit women on occasion. Something about letting them have the last word and if that didn't quiet them down they needed to be smacked. I'm pretty sure it was a televised interview with Barbra Walters in the 80's.

  10. Pity the Shitlist is closed for comments.
    Jack Nicholson who as refered to as a hell raiser for beating a woman so badly her implants burst in 1996. Sued in 2000 for the long term affects of another assault (blindness, brain stem injuries)
    Have an article from 1991 in which Hunter S Thompson mentions seeing Nabakov at Sun Country Ranch (nudist ranch) with an 11 yr old girl.
    Iggy Pop was very fond of the underagers...
    Australians might be more familiar with these two creeps - Tim Freedman of The Whitlams is a rapist, I know one of his victims from Newcastle and she was not the only one.
    Darryl Braithwaite - Hired an under age sex worker and forced very disgusting acts that 30yrs later she was still very distressed about.


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