(This piece was also reprinted over at Independent Voices)
Anyone who has a passing association with social media will probably be aware that singer Chris Brown has suspended his Twitter account after hurling misogynistic and sexualised insults at comedian Jenny Johnson. To see the full transcript of Brown's NSFW tweets, you can go here, and it's likely you will be pretty disgusted. A few brave commentators have pointed out that Johnson has been aiming derogatory comments at Brown ever since his 2009 conviction for his vicious assault against then-partner Rihanna, and that she started this particular exchange by calling him a 'worthless piece of shit'. Others have added that this is mere publicity-seeking on the part of Johnson. But even if it is, Brown's reponse - where he threatens to defecate in Johnson's eye/mouth, calls her a 'worthless bitch' 'a bushpig' and tells her to 'suck my dick YOU HOE' (sic) - has proven exactly what Johnson and countless other appalled women and men have been saying for years. Namely that, far from being a 'reformed character' just because he 'served his sentence' (and more on why that's SUCH an inadequate defence, later), Brown remains a total misogynist, and one with a frightening lack of self-awareness to boot.
Twitter trolls are at best annoying, and at worst severely disruptive to one's life and sanity. However, the solution to them remains in our hands - ignore and block. Brown could have blocked Johnson long ago, but egotist that he is, he chose to engage and show his true colours instead. He could have responded with some dignity or at least attempted to defend himself in a reasoned way. But I guess a man who bites, punches and throttles a woman while screaming "I'm going to kill you!" perhaps isn't particularly schooled in the nuances of having a mature debate with another person, and not using any excuse to rise to the bait. While I don't believe in 'trial by social media', I do believe in winding your bloody neck in when the thing you're most renowned for is a vile, violent, inexcusable assault on the person you're supposed to love, rather than repeatedly behaving like an obnoxious twat and then making out you're just soooo bafflingly oppressed by 'haterz'. And don't even get me started on Brown's use of social media to label his legion of followers 'Team Breezy', as if to somehow imply that his crimes are something that we should all be 'super casual' and 'mellow' about.
To those then, who will inevitably come back with the 'He served his sentence and said he was sorry' defence, sorry but no dice. That defence will only stand when we live in a world where violence against women is adequately punished, and all the evidence at hand shows that this is far from the case. I remember over a decade ago, how Mike Tyson's supporters clamoured to defend him when he was barred from entering Britain on grounds of his rape conviction. Women and men were vox-popped on the evening news bleating 'But he's done his time, forget it, move on'. Oh sure, Tyson did his time for raping Desiree Washington. He was sentenced to 6 years, but served 3. If you were an average sized woman forced into sex by someone with the physical strength, power and capacity for violence of Mike Tyson, would you think that an adequate sentence? Not to mention if you had to go through the media circus and complete annihilation of your character that would follow the (extremely brave) action of accusing one of the world's most famous and admired men, as Tyson was at the time? It's pitiful, that out of the very few rape cases that actually reach court, sentences remain so light, and it defies logic to think that a man who thinks he can use force to dominate a woman is going to be magically reformed by undergoing such a sentence.
This is illustrated perfectly by Chris Brown's behaviour. His sentence was a joke, and whatever public 'apology' he was forced to issue for PR reasons, his behaviour since 2009 implies he is utterly unremorseful. He served no jail time, and got a mere 5 year's probation with 6 months community labour. Reading the description of the frenzied, possibly murderous assault Brown unleashed on Rihanna, I think most of us would agree that this is in no way proportionate to the terror and pain his victim underwent and will probably continue to undergo in the aftermath. When someone punches you repeatedly in the head and then squeezes on your carotid artery while you scream for help, you don't just get over that overnight, or in a year, or even five years. I'd wager it stays with you for life.
And whether Rihanna herself appears forgiving of Brown is irrelevant. We've all heard the term Stockholm Syndrome, and anyone who has done the slightest bit of research on domestic violence, or worse, experienced it themselves, will tell you that victims regularly defend and make excuses for their attacker. Even if Rihanna and Brown actually do start up a relationship again, this is in no way evidence that Brown is magically 'reformed', and could end up being quite the opposite - the average domestic abuse victim will leave their abuser only to return to them 7 times before managing to leave for good. It's also worth bearing in mind that domestic abuse victims will usually endure repeated beatings before even calling the police. Had Brown's attack on Rihanna not occurred in public, whereby worried bystanders overheard Rihanna's screams and called the police, the story could have played out very differently. Brown's victim deciding she wants to forgive him or still wants to be in a relationship with him does not negate what he did, or improve his character, or erase the surrounding culture of victim-blaming and apologism for violence against women.
Ah yes, that culture. That culture whereby a rich, powerful man who is looked up to by millions describes another man's violence against a woman as a 'mistake' and demands that we give that man 'a break'. That culture whereby Rihanna being punched, choked and bitten is merely a punchline in a primetime panel quiz show (which was also tastefully broadcast on International Stop Violence Against Women Day), and where complaints against such filth are dismissed on grounds of 'varying tastes of humour'. In such a culture, there is no punishment harsh enough, no disgust deep enough, no grudge held long enough against the likes of Brown. Served his time, my backside. And if you think I'm being unfair, imagine what happened to Rihanna happening to your wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter, mother or friend, and tell me how forgiving you'd feel four years later, when the man who had beaten, strangled and bloodied the woman you care about is rich, successful and hurling vile abuse at another woman on social media. Somehow I doubt you'd be rushing to defend delusional misogynist Brown either.