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Why Women Love Chris Brown: One Theory

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This week, many smart, empowered writers have questioned the sanity and brain function of the women who have flocked to Chris Brown’s defense or turned the issue into a disturbing trending topic on Twitter. They have justly and eloquently expressed outrage. That’s good. We need outrage.
They have also repeated what we all should know in our bones, in our core, in our heart of hearts: It is not okay for a man to beat you. It definitely warrants repeating for as long as it takes to sink in. But I’d also argue that we need to take a closer look at what’s really motivating the women who defend an unremorseful woman-beater. To affect change, we have to understand all aspects of the problem. And women’s reactions to domestic violence are part of the problem.
And then we can continue repeating: It is not okay for a man to beat you.
Here’s one theory for why women love Chris Brown: fear. Sometimes it’s harder and more uncomfortable to align yourself with a victim than it is the persecutor. Sure we might have sympathy for the person who was wronged, but that’s not the same as empathy. To truly empathize with the victim is to put yourself in her shoes. It’s to consciously or subconsciously allow yourself to acknowledge that it could have been you. No one likes to be a victim—we don’t even want to imagine ourselves as such—because it implies we are weak. For our own peace of mind, we want to put as much distance between the victim and ourselves as possible.
One way to do this is to turn the blame on the victim, while privately promising ourselves that we won’t make the same mistakes. What did she do to make him so mad? What was her part in this? Why did she become this victim? It’s a common instinct in our culture to go through this exercise, but ultimately it’s wrong and unhealthy. Ultimately it turns women against each other at the very moment we should be most united. Ultimately, it’s motivated by fear.
Another way to superficially protect ourselves from becoming a victim is to trivialize the issue. Many women went this route by tweeting something along the lines of “Chris Brown can beat me any day,” and starting the worst trend to ever occur in the history of the Internet. I’d posit that there’s a layer of fear motivating those tweets. It recalls a bit of the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” In a misguided, ultimately counterproductive way, those tweets make the women less vulnerable. Instead of creating room for lasting change by denouncing the man who tried to kill his girlfriend, they’re protecting themselves. Is it short-sighted and possibly subconscious? Totally. But it’s also an instinct I can empathize with. I’d say that on some level, it feels more comfortable to identify with Chris Brown in tacit acceptance of his heinous actions than it does to stick our necks out for every woman who’s been a victim of violence. But to do so is to act out of fear.
At first I was outraged at these women. I couldn’t understand where they were coming from and a big part of me wanted to dismiss them all as insane. But instead, I’d like to call on the women who are aligning themselves with him to consider if they are at least partly acting out of fear. It’s an instinct I can understand. It’s not an instinct we should act on, though.
Maybe a little self-awareness will actually create the sea change we so clearly need. Also, please, everyone continue repeating: It is not okay for a man to beat you.


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