Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Chris Brown Continues to Teach

On the SAFER blog (which, by the way, is a fantastic organization working to make college campuses safer for women), blogger Sarah reflects on Chris Brown's recent appearance on Larry King:

So, Chris Brown took to Larry King Live to talk about his March 2009 assault of Rhianna, and his recent conviction (full video at the link). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the presence of his lawyer, the clear understanding of the appearance as a PR event, and the overall [crappiness] of his last apology, Brown’s performance on King’s show was not impressive. To put it bluntly, as Tracy Clark-Flory does at Broadsheet:

Half a year after brutalizing his then-girlfriend — by hitting, choking, biting and threatening to kill her — Chris Brown is still following the script of domestic abusers everywhere. He loves her, he really does, it was totally unlike him and he promises to never ever do it again.

Despite his lawyer’s claims that Brown has done “a lot of introspection,” the guy really just doesn’t know what to say. There’s a lot of “I’m shocked and disappointed in myself,” (and frankly it’s not all that passionate) and not much else. In fact, when King asks Brown the question, “Why do you think you were violent?” Brown bungles the answer entirely, starting off by rambling about how “relationships in general” are complicated and “being young” before backsliding and saying that of course there’s no excuse for domestic violence. But one thing he said—something that of course is being used as an excuse here—struck me as being somewhat important.

In the mess that follows King’s questioning Brown’s violence, Brown says, “nobody taught us how to love each other.” In this context, that statement comes off as a cheap way out. But taken on its own…I dunno. I can’t help but feel that there’s something almost profound about it. Because really, it’s true.

Let’s make something clear—I’m not trying to turn the guy into a philosopher or validate his words as an excuse for beating [up] his girlfriend. But if you separate the words from the situation, there is a truth there for me: domestic violence, the sexual assault of a partner; these are crimes that occur for a lot of reasons and to boil them down to an easy explanation would be inappropriate and probably do a lot of harm. But isn’t there at least one component that speaks to “not having been taught to love one another”? Plain and simple, we don’t teach respect. We don’t teach consent. We don’t teach boys that despite what they may spend their lives seeing on television, they are not entitled to use a woman’s body however they see fit. For a large majority of young folks, we don’t teach them to value themselves, and we don’t teach them to value the next person as much as themselves. We don’t necessarily grow up thinking much about the humanity of the person at the desk next to us, or the girl in the back of the car who just said she didn’t want to make out anymore. I’m really not the type to wax philosophical about what “love is,” (I’m actually a little embarrassed by and uninterested in that project) but if I was going to make grand claims about what it means to have real empathy for someone, I would say that part of it is knowing deep down that to harm them or to ignore their desires would be to actively deny that the person is worthy of being treated right, or to deny their very humanity. And that’s not something we really practice or preach as a community.

When we talk so much about "objectifying" women, that's exactly what we mean. When we talking about men feeling like they own women, this is what we mean. We mean that some men, because of what they've been taught, will continue to deny women their equality and their autonomy and, by doing so, ultimately, their humanity. I don't think you can spell it out much better.

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