By now, most of the United States has heard at least one clip from Charlie Sheen’s mediafest. He’s been on the Today Show, Good Morning America, 20/20, Gawker Online, Radar.com, and TMZ, in addition to setting up his own Twitter account (which had more than 300,000 followers on Day 1). As several experts have noted, he might be having some kind of mental health breakdown, or using one or more drugs, or just speaking his mind. In any case, what the media and most of us have been focused on is his drug use and erratic behavior. What almost no one has discussed is his tendency towards violence, specifically violence towards women.
Charlie Sheen has a long history of alleged and substantiated assaults towards women. In each case, when accusations were filed against him he blamed the victim—claiming she was lying, stupid, or running some kind of smear campaign. He has hit, choked, thrown items at and even threatened to kill past girlfriends and wives and yet was earning almost $2 million an episode for his TV show before production shut down last week. The cynic in me doesn’t blink, but the idealist wonders why he isn’t being punished for this behavior. Why is his drug use more controversial than the fact that he assaults women? Why is he still employed and living the high life when another person would surely have been arrested and sentenced by now? And, most importantly, why aren’t we as a society outraged that someone could be so misogynistic and still remain a celebrity?
What needs to happen is that we all start heeding the messages—both spoken and unspoken—that bombard us every time something like this happens. When a celebrity is “fired” from his job because he insults his boss but not because he threatens to kill his girlfriend, it’s a clear signal to the world that women don’t matter.
As a former domestic violence crisis counselor, I’ve heard about and seen the emotional and physical injuries that people sustain when their partner abuses them. I’ve visited women and men at hospitals, at friends’ homes, even in jails because they had been hit, kicked, punched and choked. I’ve talked to girls as young as 12 who have let their boyfriends pressure them into sex because they were afraid of being hurt. The common thread among all of those victims is their belief that they don’t matter. After weeks or years of hearing their abuser tell them they don’t matter, they eventually believe it. When women and men decide to leave their abusive partners, it’s because someone actually listens, tells them they aren’t stupid or crazy and that they didn’t do anything to deserve it. It’s about helping the victim believe that he or she does deserve a healthy relationship.
And what’s true for individuals is also true for our society as a whole. After decades of being told women don’t matter, women and men are complacent in the face of violent behavior towards women by individuals, businesses and whole institutions. It’s time we showed our celebrities and corporations that we don’t condone violence towards women. We need to take steps towards building a healthier society where the message is loud and clear that women matter.
For more info: Download this one-pager that teen counselors at LA’s Westside Family Health Clinic use to talk about healthy relationships: Cultivating Healthy Relationships