Society forgives men who abuse.
When Chris Brown released the trailer for his upcoming autobiographical documentary this week, the reaction pieces came in thick and fast — some condemning him, others seeming to praise him.
Is he “a fucking monster,” as he admits he felt like after beating Rihanna, in the documentary trailer, or is he a hero, bravely coming forward to own his actions?
Let’s rewind. In 2009, Brown was sentenced to five years of probation, mandatory domestic violence counseling, and six months of community labor after pleading guilty to felony assault for brutally beating his then-girlfriend, Rihanna. A restraining order required him to stay away from her until 2014.
But in 2012, Rihanna told Oprah that Brown was the love of her life, and the two rekindled their romance. It didn’t last.
In a November 2015 interview with Vanity Fair, Rihanna said she and Brown “don’t have much of a relationship now.” Rihanna said she asked the court to lift the restraining order and got back together with Brown because she was “that girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is…maybe I’m the person who’s almost the guardian angel to this person…when they just need someone to encourage them in a positive way and say the right thing.”
But at a certain point, she said, she realized she needed to walk away. “You realize in that situation you’re the enemy. If you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you [deserve] this.”
And now Brown is telling his side, in a tell-all documentary, Welcome To My Life, set to hit cinemas later this year. In the trailer, which dropped this week, Brown says he felt suicidal after the assault.
“I went from being on top of the world, being kind of like America’s sweetheart, to being public enemy number one,” the star says pointedly to the camera.
Rihanna reportedly gave the doc her blessing; an “insider” told Hollywood Life the singer fully supports Brown, has forgiven him, and is “proud of how far he’s come.”
Whether or not that’s true, I have no doubt the public is ready to forgive Brown and move on. After all, everyone loves a good redemption narrative, especially when the underdog is a man.
Here’s the thing about domestic violence: it’s easy to agree that it’s horrifying, it must be stopped, offenders must face consequences, and victims need to be protected.
But how do we really treat men who hurt women?
In 1989, O.J. Simpson beat Nicole Brown so badly she was hospitalized. His career didn’t skip a beat; he went on making Naked Gun sequels and doing celebrity endorsements.
In 2014, we all watched footballer Ray Rice knock his fiancée out with a punch to the head and drag her out of an elevator. Rice was suspended from the NFL, but later reinstated after an appeal — and awarded over $1.5 million in a wrongful termination suit. His fiancée married him six weeks after the assault.
And as most recently as this month, singer Kesha lost yet another legal battle against Sony to be freed from a recording contract tying her to producer Dr Luke, who, according to reports, had “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused” her since the age of 18.
Sure, those are just a handful of glaring examples that jump to mind. But I’ve seen it firsthand in my own life. How reluctant people are to believe that a man is abusive. How eager they are to overlook bad behavior, or explain it away.
“He didn’t mean anything by it”, “He was drinking, he didn’t know what he was doing”, “He’s had a hard life”, “Everyone deserves a second chance” are just a few catchphrases that spring to mind. If you’re a woman who’s ever spoken up about abuse, I bet you’ve heard at least one of these. I know I certainly have.
Abusive men are some of the most fun guys you’ll ever meet.
They’re charming, handsome, funny. They’ll help carry your groceries up the subway steps, or fix your boiler when it’s on the blink. Everyone loves them. If something is going on behind closed doors — well, that’s no one else’s business. We’d rather not know about it. We’d rather laugh at their jokes, watch them play ball, dance to their music.
Chris Brown is ready for you to love him again. In the trailer for his documentary, he says, “If there was ever a doubt in your mind that Chris Brown is done, finished, I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Don’t worry, Chris. I won’t.
Comment: Do you agree that society is quick to forgive, and even celebrate, abusive men?