Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chris Brown and Bad Boys - How our media is failing women.

This Buzzfeed link has been circulating the web pretty constantly for the past 24 hours in the wake of musician and convicted felon Chris Brown performing at the Grammy Awards and going on to win the award for Best R&B Album. I can only hope that these women are joking, although that does nothing to dispel my ever growing belief that we’re screwing over women time and time again. I’m not okay with Chris Brown still having a career. I’m not okay with him being so quickly forgiven by the media industry for beating his girlfriend so badly that she was hospitalised (you can read the police report here, although I must warm you that it’s stomach churning). I’m not okay with the Grammys acting like victims here or the media treating Brown like some sort of redeemed hero in this entire mess, and neither should you be. I firmly believe that humans are inherently good and can move on from stuff like this to show how they’ve changed, although from what I’ve seen of Brown, he’s not exactly succeeding in that department.

It’s tough for me to nail down one thing about this entire mess that sickened me most. Where do you start on a case like this? However, the part I keep coming to time and time again, and the part that ties into the stuff I’ve written in regards to young adult fiction, is the complete lack of accountability coupled with the way our society has fetishized the bad boy to the point where we can overlook abhorrent misogyny and domestic violence. Let’s be very clear here: Chris Brown beat up a woman who was supposed to be able to trust him. There is nothing sexy or romantic about that photograph of Rihanna that was nigh on impossible to avoid for a long time after the event. I can’t believe I even have to say this but when girls and young women are proudly proclaiming that they’d let Chris Brown beat them, that they didn’t know what Rihanna was complaining about and that she was partially responsible for being beaten so badly that she was hospitalised, then I seriously fear what we’ve allowed to happen to women in this world.

The reason I’m bringing this up on The Book Lantern is because the justifications I have seen for Brown’s actions as well as the way we’ve allowed him to become a sex symbol hero are extremely similar to reactions I’ve seen in regard to YA bad boy love interests. I’m reminded of the frequent declarations I saw from Twilight fangirls who said they’d let Edward Cullen bruise them any day, something that takes on a much less sexy meaning given how often Bella is grabbed, pushed around and seriously injured throughout the series (and even if they're joking, which I hope they were, are they seriously thinking of the ramifications of what they've just said?) Even more problematic than this are the frequent justifications for Edward’s often troublesome behaviour, both from fans and characters within the novel. This is something taken to a book-thrown-against-a-wall extreme in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush, where Patch’s harassment, stalking and threats of murder are downplayed to the extreme as the actions of a mere ‘bad boy’, the ‘anti-hero’ who is supposedly redeemed by his love of the heroine (don’t even get me started on that trope or we’ll be here forever), which never happens in that book anyway. Another male character’s disgusting attitudes towards a female character are justified because “he has a lot going on”. It’s far too common to pick up a young adult paranormal romance novel and find a designated love interest whose bad attitude and behaviour is passed off as charming or that of a bad boy, with his only truly appealing characteristic being that he’s attractive. Patch is a well-loved hero amongst a huge group of both young and older women readers, with fansites, book clubs, t-shirts and posters galore celebrating him. Why? At what point in our cultural evolution did it become okay to not just overlook the abhorrent and abusive behaviour of characters like this, but to fetishize it and place it as the romantic ideal?

Of course this is a question I can’t answer because it’s about more than young adult novels and Chris Brown. It’s about generations of treating women like 2nd class citizens, rape culture, misogyny, money, profit margins, sex, love, Planned Parenthood, skimpy dresses and pink versus blue. It took generations to make our culture the way it is and it’ll take a whole lot more to change things, yet changes are happening, slowly but surely. I’m sure we’ll get there eventually, even if it isn’t in my lifetime, because I have hope. But there are things we can do to change things now for the better, and one of those things would be to think about the consequences of what we do when we give a woman beater a pass because he’s famous or considered sexy. This isn’t something we can just ‘get over’, even if both Rihanna and Chris Brown have moved on, because this issue still matters. Our culture gave Roman Polanski Oscars and standing ovations despite him having drugged and raped a 13 year old girl and never being prosecuted for it. The same industry continually rewarded Charlie Sheen with money and employment despite his messy past which involved frequent threats towards women. From Heathcliff to Edward Cullen and Patch Cipriani, we’ve turned bad behaviour into something alluring, mysterious and sexy. Think about what this does to women and what it says to them. To worship and reward these male figures is essentially saying to women that they’re worth less than these men.

This world, this media and culture that won’t hold domestic abuse accountable and will put a guy who can sing and dance on a pedestal doesn’t give a flying monkey’s about those who were victimised. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that my analysis of YA’s attitude towards relationships and bad boys has been unfair, reading into things too much and nit-picking. I’ve been told that it’s just a fictional book for teenagers, nothing more, and the messages contained within shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’ve been told to get over it because they’re just books. I don’t accept that. Never have, never will. The more we ignore this trend and the more we try to justify it, the bigger the problem will get. It’ll grow so big that we don’t even notice it any more. How many women have to be hurt before a change happens? I’m not drawing some direct link between YA and domestic violence, that’s ridiculous and over-simplifies the real issue here, which is that our culture favours the big strong man throwing his weight around more than the woman he throws it onto. The handsome bad boy is not only untouchable, he’s the ideal. Authors have the right to write whatever they want to and they’re under absolutely no obligation to write anything other than what they want to. But I implore them to take a good long think about what it is they’re putting out there, especially when it’s marketed towards a young age group. Do you want to make these men your heroes? Do you want to perpetuate the idea that love hurts, that its foundations are formed on mistrust, attitude and submissiveness?

I hope those girls on twitter proudly declaring their love for Chris Brown and their desires to be beaten by him never ever have to go through what Rihanna went through. We don’t need to stand for this in any shape, way or form. The entertainment industry may not think so but women are worth something.

I leave you with this Women’s Aid advert featuring Keira Knightley on the topic of domestic abuse. This is a very distressing advert so please watch with caution. To those Chris Brown fangirls – do you think Knightley deserved that? Was she responsible for it? Do you think beatings are sexy now? Please think about this very seriously.

Donate to Women's Aid in England or for Scotland or donate to Womankind Worldwide. Further links to women's charities around the world and how to donate to them would be greatly appreciated in the comments section below.

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