Sunday, March 13, 2011

Victim Blaming?

There was an op-ed in the NY Times last week about the way the media is portraying the women that were living with Charlie Sheen since his melt down, or whatever you want to call it. I find this op-ed interesting because based on the argument laid out I agree with the author entirely. However, where she stops, I realize that more conclusions can be made.

Her main complaint is that Charlie Sheen, a known woman beater with a serious history of domestic abuse, is getting a free ride for his terrible behavior while the women, aka goddesses, are receiving a significantly more negative portrayal. The author makes the argument that the media assumes the negative treatment these women receive at the hands of Charlie Sheen is deserved b/c of their chosen professions.

It’s these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman’s active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it’s part of the deal. The promise of a modern Cinderella ending — attention, fame, the love and savings account of a rich man — is always the assumed goal.

I don't disagree that this may be the reason the media is portraying the women in this manner. However, there is another explanation of why the media is portraying the women as bimbos. It might be that despite the clear history and overwhelming evidence that Charlie Sheen is prone to violence and not particularly stable right now, they still choose to associate with him.

This might be an instance of victim blaming, but they are playing with fire and it is probably going to be sooner than later that something bad comes of this. I'm not saying they deserve to be assaulted or that Charlie Sheen should not be held accountable for his actions. I'm saying associating with him is clearly a bad idea and when you make a terrible decision you shouldn't be free from the blame of making that bad decision. If you walk through a bad neighborhood alone, flashing money and you get mugged, I can only be so sympathetic.

Clearly these women should not be beaten, but it's not a question of what should happen. It's that there is an obvious and high probability of what's likely to happen. Just like announcing your flush with cash in a crime ridden neighborhood is likely to lead to a mugging.

There are probably arguments to be made that because of these women's prior abuse or mental health issues they're not capable of making good decisions about these things, but this argument would work just as well for Charlie Sheen.

So, I think the author of the op-ed has valid points all around, but I think there is an argument to make about the failures of these women as well and that is going to deprive them of sympathy but not of culpability.

This is a problem for a lot of issues in feminism, racial equality, or social equity. The factors in all these problems are complex, but just like you don't want to blame the victims of bad schools, date rate, or prejudice, there is a factor of culpability that has to be faced. If advocates against sexism don't honestly address the dangers that women should be aware of when they get wasted at frat parties, parents of failing children don't address regarding the educational climate in their home, or advocates of diversity address about societal norms for employment, then it allows their opponents to dismiss their arguments for failing to take personal responsibility for their own role in these problems.


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