Charlie Sheen acting out, decompensating, losing it, making a fool of himself once again is hardly news IMO. But there is something newsworthy in the midst of it all, and op-ed writer Anna Holmes has put her finger on it in this piece for the New York Times. Where, she asks, are the women, wives, girlfriends, porn stars, hookers, whomever, who are the inevitable accompaniment to Sheen’s felonious antics in these stories and TV interviews? Nowhere, invisible!
After recounting a list of specific women and law-enforcement-worthy incidents in Sheen’s past, Holmes has this to say:
The privilege afforded wealthy white men like Charlie Sheen may not be a particularly new point, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are endlessly derided for their extracurricular meltdowns and lack of professionalism on set; the R&B star Chris Brown was made a veritable pariah after beating up his equally, if not more, famous girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Their careers have all suffered, and understandably so.
This hasn’t been the case with Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a “bad boy” (see: any news article in the past twenty years), a “rock star” (see: Piers Morgan, again) and a “rebel” (see: Andrea Canning’s 20/20 interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million followers, setting a Guinness World Record.
And what’s behind the gratuitous indulgence we accord Sheen? Anna Holmes has some very astute suggestions which should be of interest to those of us who are the women bystanders and observers of this madness.
“The women,” she points out, “are of a type, which is to say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers—pornographic film stars and escorts—whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)” Holmes continues:
“Gold diggers,” “prostitutes,” and “sluts” are just some of the epithets lobbed at the women Mr. Sheen has chosen to spend his time with. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo and a TV star in his own right, referred to the actor’s current companions, Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, as “whores” on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program on Tuesday. Arianna Huffington sarcastically tweeted that Mr. Sheen’s girlfriends “symbolize modesty, loyalty and good taste.” Mr. Sheen’s own nickname for Ms. Kenly and Ms. Olson—“the goddesses”—is in its own way indicative of their perceived interchangeability and disposability.
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.
Objectification and abuse, it follows, is not only an accepted occupational hazard for certain women, but something that men like Mr. Sheen have earned the right to indulge in. (Mr. Sheen reportedly once said that he didn’t pay prostitutes for the sex; he paid them “to leave.”) One can’t help but think that his handlers might have moved more quickly to rein in their prized sitcom stallion if his victims’ motivations weren’t assumed to be purely mercenary. (Or if they enjoyed parity and respect with regards to their age, influence and earning power.)
Anna has more to say—I hope you will take the time to read her entire op-ed. Her clear and analytical voice is much needed in the midst of the current media frenzy and the public ogling and apathy it evokes in us.
Sheen is an abusive, violent, dysfunctional jerk some of the time, but not all the time. He can be charming, charismatic, and generous. You can be sure that the women, of whatever “type,” who have become his girlfriends, wives, and lovers over the years fell in love with the “good guy” and were truly horrified when he morphed into an attacker. Intimate partner abuse and domestic violence is devastating and is NEVER deserved.