he hit me (and, frankly, it felt like getting punched in the face);

So when all the feminist furore kicked off over the weekend about Chris Brown being invited to perform at the Grammy Awards, I admit to being a little surprised. Not because there was a furore, because obviously, but because as far as I was concerned the only reason anybody knows who Chris Brown is is that in 2009 – in fact, the night before that year’s Grammys – he kicked the shit out of then-girlfriend Rihanna for having the cheek to be pissed about spotting a three-page text from some other girl in Brown’s phone. Now admittedly as somebody who occasionally writes about what is deemed ‘worthy’ music I am contractually obligated only to listen to mass-produced pop if it is performed by magnificent divas for example the likes of Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson or the forementioned Rihanna but dudes, Chris Brown had a number one album! Like, mere months ago! And it won best R&B album at the very same Grammys. So, in another universe it would be easy to see why he might be invited to perform.

That would be another universe where men don’t kick the shit out of their girlfriends, obviously.

Now there has been plenty written about this already – in fact, pretty much all you need to know was laid out eloquently and passionately by Sasha Pasulka at Hello Giggles over the weekend – and as a journalist by day the last thing I want to do is provide my own tiresome spin on something that is already old news. However, even as I type I can see Brown’s Twitter feed offering up new nuggets in another tab, so evidently some of us think it’s a conversation that’s still worth having.

In fact the whole situation sparked an interesting email discussion between some friends of mine over the weekend as begun by one, who is currently qualifying as a social worker, and who very clearly recognises that there are some academics you cannot properly examine in a forum as emotive and public as your favourite social network. “At what point,” my friend posited, “can you say that somebody has ‘done their time’, been judged by their peers and allowed to move on and be part of society again? Or are there some crimes that can’t be forgiven?”

Although I’d read the Hello Giggles piece earlier, the reason I found this discussion particularly interesting was than on Sunday morning I started following footballer-turned-pundit Stan Collymore on Twitter. Now there were a couple of reasons for this: firstly, Collymore is pretty outspoken about his struggle with depression. It’s one of those topics that discussion on the modern game has traditionally shied away from but one which was brought to media attention recently with the suicide of Gary Speed, manager of the Welsh national team (and there’s a whole other post in that, maybe one day, but for now read Stevie’s review of the biography of German goalkeeper Robert Enke at Through On Goal). Recently, he has also spoken a lot of sense about the recent scandals involving racial abuse that have threatened to engulf the game and, as is unfortunately the way of it, been the target of some himself.

This is, however, the same Stan Collymore who in 1998 dragged Ulrika Johnsson to the floor during a fight in a bar in Paris.

So I ask you, does this make me a hypocrite? Am I allowing Collymore’s awareness-raising and one-man poster child for mental illness campaign to cancel out the fact that he once did something so abhorrent the thought of it makes me sick, while at the same time condemning Chris Brown to my inner Z-list because he makes shitty music I have no interest in and has pretty terrible teeth (much in the same way as Cheryl Cole could devote the rest of her life to bottle-feeding orphaned kittens but my husband will still hate her for being a racist)? I’d argue that’s not the case. But then, I would.

As a Catholic, and a Bruce Springsteen fan, there is no denying I love a good redemption story. While I am not so much of a naïf as to think a criminal justice system worth its salt does not need massive chunks of penal and deterrent elements in order to fulfil its purpose, I am just enough of an optimist to believe that its its main purpose is to rehabilitate the offender. Now obviously there are certain crimes which, once on your record, can and should never be fully expunged because of duties of care owed to vulnerable persons. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about what happens once you get to the end of whatever consequences society deems appropriate for you.

In August 2009, Brown was sentenced to five years probation and 180 hours of community service after pleading guilty to felony assault.

You can draw your own conclusions as to the “appropriateness” or otherwise of that sentence (I know what mine are) but by my calculations the question of whether Brown has been rehabilitated or not isn’t one he gets to be involved in until at least 2014.

That’s when we can consider the relevance of Brown allegedly smashing a dressing room window on the set of Good Morning America a few months ago when asked about the assault, or about the obvious remorse he has shown on Twitter in response to the other side of the media attention these past few days (I saw the tweet referenced in that Huffington Post article last night – it’s gone now, but at the time of writing Brown’s 15 remaining posts on the site include how long is this gonna take and DEAR MEDIA… ur plan is not working…).

As Pasulka wrote in her Hello Giggles post, it was nice of the Grammys to let [Brown] off a couple years early for high record sales good behaviour

I believe Brown was 19 or 20 when he assaulted Rihanna. I hope that once his state-sentenced period of rehabilitation is over he will have spent some time growing up, thanking whatever he believes in that he didn’t go to jail and reflecting on the fact that you do not go and punch your girlfriend in the face so badly she needs to be hospitalised. I may have my own opinions on whether or not that is likely to happen, and I never have to like the guy.

Ten years ago Stan Collymore was a tawdry tabloid laughing stock: shamed, sacked and admitting to sordid sex with strangers he met on the internet in the tabloid press. The BBC sacked him from his ‘pundit’ work. He has never, at least as far as I can see, shied away from questions about what he did to Ulrika Johnsson in interviews and he has certainly never, at least as far as I can see, smashed a window about those questions. It doesn’t make what he did any more palatable but it means that I can consider it as a part, rather than the whole, of the man.

In the meantime, along with the writers at Hello Giggles I too question what message the organisers of the Grammy Awards sent to young girls, and to past and potential victims of domestic violence at the weekend.
Oh wait, it was this one.

If you need me, I’ll be in the bathroom swilling the taste of vomit from my mouth.

NOTE: The reason I chose to top this post with an image of Courtney Love is that her cover of Carole King’s “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” from MTV Unplugged (and my well-worn copy of My Body, The Hand Grenade) was pretty important to me as a teenager. Whatever the real motivations behind that song what struck me as its pro-domestic violence agenda sickened me to the point that I have never listened to the original: instead, I smiled at Love’s guttural “he hit me… and it didn’t HURT ME.”

Because, at 16 years old, I told myself that right after she felt the caress of her lover’s fist she spun around and fucking decked him.



    • February 16, 2012 / 9:59 am

      Thanks for the link, have added it to my ever-growing to-read list for the fuelling of future rants 🙂 x

  1. February 16, 2012 / 10:05 am

    Wothout disagreeing with you core points, I’m interested that: a) you call Rihanna a ‘magnificent diva’ when her material (including prior to Brown’s assault) has always been deeply sexualised, pre-feminist and in many ways demeaning (prioritising titillation rather than celebrating sexuality) soft pornography. b) you specify that it is your husband who hates Cole for her history of violent racism (the implication being you yourself do not), when her behaviour seems exactly to fall into the category you’re making points about (ie. the extent to which the icon is ‘redeemed’) and c) you write very specifically about male-on-female assault as if it has a different resonance to other kinds of assault.

    So, is Cole ‘less’ at fault for her assault on another woman? And is female on male domestic abuse of a less or different order of seriousness? Key question: could angrily focusing on solely male-on-female violence to drive your argument fall into a trap of tending towards treating adult women as physically precious objects to be protected – beyond simply being human victims of violence – that actually harms a broader feminist cause?

    Brown’s story clearly isn’t whitewashed – his Grammy appearance and faux ‘redemption’ is controversial even in the most mainstream US media – it was a key Grammy discussion point – and his ugly twitter comments afterwards sparked more huge debate. He is still largely (rightly) defined by what he did. Cole (for example) much less so.

    • February 16, 2012 / 11:04 am

      I suppose that’s the problem with trying to generate a coherent argument from private discussion – perhaps I haven’t plugged all the holes, as it were, as thoroughly as I’ve tried to do with similar posts. Or maybe I just assumed that my discomfort with all forms of violence, with a particular focus on violence between parties where there is a relationship based on trust and an obvious physical or emotional strength disparity between the two, would be obvious.

      So, disclaimer: female-on-male domestic abuse can be, and is, just as serious bearing in mind (and allowing me the liberty of one gross generalisation) the biological differences between the genders. As is domestic abuse involving partners of the same gender or who do not identify as being gendered at all. A racial element to an assault is quite rightly an aggravating element. I should not have thrown Cheryl Cole in there as an afterthought nod to a husband-wife in-joke because, you are right, she does fall into the same category but honestly, that never occurred to me when writing about What I Dun At The Weekend. Another hole I would normally have plugged, and one which I’ll grant you without argument. 1.5-0.

      The ‘magnificent divas’ line was facetious and intended as a reference to the fact that I have been known to purchase mainstream pop singles by female artists from time to time yet could not name the aughts equivalent of, for example, George Michael or Michael Jackson. I believe my sister likes somebody called Bruno Mars? I discovered this when she got really offended at me doing my ‘making fun of mainstream pop by singing through my nose’ voice when two kids performed something by him on karaoke at somebody’s birthday party. The only Rihanna song I have ever purchased is “Take A Bow”, probably because I heard it in a shop and liked it; I honestly have no idea what ‘soft pornography’ you are referring to nor do I care because it does not sound like the sort of music I’d be interested in. I will replace her name above with “Miley Cyrus” if you like, although once again my interest/expertise is limited to “7 Things” and the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack (pop-it-lock-it-pol-ka-dot-it). I’m sure I had masses of examples but I hadn’t scribbled them down in my notes and my mind went blank when I was writing this on my lunchbreak. Knowing you as I do I know this is not the case, but frankly the fact that you describe her music in such terms reminds me of the backlash Rihanna experienced from Chris Brown fans after the assault (as laid out here and not recited from memory because the whole thing happened round about the period when I lost my job and had more pressing things on my mind than what other people were talking about on the internet; hole plugged, lesson learned.

      Brown’s story isn’t whitewashed? Certainly not by all of the media, no; but the Twitter search I carried out a mere five seconds ago would indicate otherwise.

  2. February 16, 2012 / 11:28 am

    Relieved to read that.

    Twitter is a unique example in Brown’s case because his fans specifically use it as *the* place to defend him. I’m acutely aware of this, since Brown’s fans call their co-ordinated efforts to defend him (by trending his name) ‘Chris TTs’ – you can imagine how annoying this is for me. But many USA cultural reports – from tabloid to cerebral – discussed Brown’s inclusion in the Grammys and centred the conversation around his brutal assault.

    I hope nobody will be daft enough to connect my description of performance style (solely referred to in the context of you calling her a ‘magnificent diva’, when you’re a feminist blogger) to any, remote kind of mollification or justification of Brown’s assault. fwiw I love Rihanna, including the music and videos she makes that I described above, designed just to titillate people who fancy women. They work. They don’t, in a million years, justify any kind of personal opprobrium, let alone violence. I was just pure surprised you called her that – but your lack of familiarity explains that (that’s not a dig). 🙂

    The link Richy posted is brilliant btw.

  3. Stringer
    February 16, 2012 / 3:23 pm

    The Collymore angle could open up the whole can of worms of footballers who do bad things but still get idolised. And the many musicians and film stars (to say nothing of certain directors) who get a free pass on things they’ve done because they’ve produced entertaining works of art. But debating the rights and wrongs of that is for another time.

    On Collymore himself, you’re right in that he doesn’t shy away from it. It can never excuse what he did, but it can show that one act doesn’t always define someone so much as the way they deal with the aftermath of that act. And whilst the great work he does in other areas doesn’t wipe clean the bad things he’s done, I think it means we can applaud and pay attention to that great work. He didn’t get ostracised in football because of his attitude to a woman (not to dismiss that issue, again) but because he was so open about his mental health in a culture that’s scared of such issues. He doesn’t get abused on twitter because of Ulrika (he probably does, saying that) but rather because of the colour of his skin. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to listen to him when he talks on these issues without feeling like your justifying the other other issue.

  4. Julia duMais
    February 16, 2012 / 3:25 pm

    Well said, and I’ll try to refrain the paragraphs of thoughts I have stewing inside of me in favor of the most coherent: what I find interesting — well, for certain values of interesting — is how Kanye West was treated for being rude to Taylor Swift at the same awards show a few years back. A man who was rude to a white woman received near-universal censure, while a man who brutally beat, threatened, and terrorized a non-white woman…really, really didn’t.

      • lis is on a train
        February 17, 2012 / 8:44 pm

        Ah, yes. Nothing like a bit of perspective…