It's only rock'n'roll but I don't like it

Is it 'only rock'n'roll' when a well known male music star beats his wife or girlfriend? And why do men and women alike afford these stars second, third and fourth chances? Amanda McIndoe investigates

Amanda McIndoe, 1 June 2012

I was a young teenager, watching TV in my grandparents' living room and something happened that made it crystal clear that sexism was still very much alive. We were watching a programme about various blues and jazz musicians, including Ike Turner. I didn't know much about Turner but what I did know, I didn't like. I was still naïve enough to think everyone else felt the same way I did, so imagine my indignation at hearing so many commentators, many of them women, waxing lyrical about Ike Turner.

Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll.gif"He was such a talent!" "He was just so misunderstood!" Then one man finally called attention to the elephant in the room; "He was a woman-beating pig!" he spat. Harsh: pigs are very intelligent, sensitive and gentle animals. Joking aside, this man raised a very important point, one that deserves closer scrutiny. No doubt Ike Turner had talent and was good at what he did, but neither is there any doubt he was violent towards his wife Tina. That people seem so willing to overlook this has always made me seethe. I couldn't understand it then and I still can't get it now: why are we so willing to forgive famous artists anything? Even when that anything means violence towards the women in their lives?

Tommy Lee is most famous for marrying Pamela Anderson. He is also famous for assaulting her while she was holding their baby

Should it be surprising that artists are forgiven so readily, given the prevailing attitudes towards domestic violence in society as a whole? Unfortunately many long standing myths about domestic violence are still in circulation, in particular victim-blaming. It only makes sense that such attitudes will leak into popular culture. Worryingly many teenagers, the main consumers of popular music, seem to be absorbing many of the existing attitudes regarding domestic abuse, as a study by Bristol University and NSPCC has found.

During my late teens and early 20s I listened to a lot of heavy metal and hung out in the local rock bars with my then boyfriend and his circle of friends. Some regarded themselves as the ultimate heavy metal fans. I was soon to discover that being the ultimate heavy metal fan often meant defending the actions of certain artists. The most high profile of these artists was Tommy Lee, drummer of the glam-rock band Motley Crüe.

Tommy Lee is most famous for marrying Baywatch actor Pamela Anderson. He is also famous for assaulting her while she was holding their baby. This would be shocking enough in itself but it was the attitudes of Lee's fans that was the most disturbing.

The usual response was always that Lee had been drunk and high, and therefore not responsible for his actions. Lee's assault of Pamela Anderson was seen as just another facet of his rock and roll persona.

Ike and Tina Turner.jpgPamela Anderson's feelings on the matter were rarely, if ever, considered. It seemed to me that so long as a male artist released good songs, in the eyes of his fans he could do pretty much whatever he liked and never be questioned for it.

Lee is not the only high-profile heavy metal artist who has assaulted his wife or partner. I used to love Black Sabbath, I used to think Ozzy Osborne was awesome,. Then I saw a photograph in a documentary God Bless Ozzy Osborne showing the state of Sharon Osborne's neck after Ozzy's drug-fuelled attempt on her life. Now Ozzy is not welcome in my album collection; Motley Crüe never have been.

Chris Brown is making a comeback because people are still buying his music

Maybe times have changed, this was a few years ago after all. Recently R&B artist Chris Brown was charged with assaulting his pop artist girlfriend Rihanna. The photos of Rihanna's bruised and bloodied face and swollen lips were on the front page of every celebrity magazine and newspaper. Condemnation of Chris Brown was widespread, it really seemed as though his career was over. While Rihanna went from strength to strength Chris Brown seemed to disappear without a trace. No such luck. Only last year did I see a video for a song of his on a music channel. My response was hardly articulate, "What the fuck? He's still got a career, really? What the fuck!?"

Chris Brown has indeed made a comeback. It's the same old cycle over and over again. No matter how awfully these famous men have behaved towards their wives and girlfriends they get forgiven. In the case of Chris Brown I got an answer of sorts from a work colleague. I made a remark about how it was bizarre he was still in the charts.

My colleague simply said, yeah she thought he was a dick, but his music was good, so she would continue to download his songs. Chris Brown is making a comeback because people are still buying his music.

Wow! It's Rock 'n' Roll!.jpgChris Brown would be nothing without his fans. If people didn't part with their cash to buy his albums or download his tracks, he would simply sink like a brick. If you don't like it that a famous singer is violent towards his girlfriend, no matter how good you think his songs may be, no matter how talented or how handsome you think he is, do not give him any of your time or your cash.

We have to try and figure out why so many young female fans especially seem so willing to forgive men who have shown blatant contempt for women

There is of course another problem and that is not so simplistic. These things never are. In the metal scene I found most of Tommy Lee's most vocal and ardent supporters were young women. Chris Brown's fan base (I would be willing to bet) is mostly female. One step forward, about four steps back.

It's hard enough condemning Lee's violence towards Pamela Anderson in front of one of his male fans, even harder in front of his female fans who refuse to understand why assaulting your wife is wrong. Sisterhood my arse, you may be thinking.

The truth is, popular music only reflects attitudes that are already present in society. It is our job as feminists to constantly challenge these attitudes when we encounter them, no matter how difficult it may seem. I promise you, for all those young female metal fans that love Tommy Lee there will be a least one that will see him for exactly what he is. For every teenager who downloads a Chris Brown song onto her iPod or has his poster on her wall, there will be another who refuses to have anything to do with him. All hope is never lost it's just frustratingly difficult sometimes to make your voice heard.

We have to try and figure out why so many young female fans especially seem so willing to forgive men who have shown blatant contempt for women. It's not just rock and pop stars, footballers, despite their legendary abysmal treatmentof women always have plenty of them clamouring to be seen with them. I certainly don't think it's as simplistic as the ridiculous notion that all straight women just have a severe bastard addiction, that we are all biologically programmed to fancy the bad boys. I don't; I find a man who thinks hitting his partner is acceptable a real turn off.

Ewok Rock 'n' Roll.jpgThere are many, many complex reasons why so many women are fans of these men, despite the proof of their violence. I don't have the time or space to go into it here, I would need to write a whole separate article.

Yet pointing out the problem, bringing it into the light and making it visible, is a good start. If we know it's there, we can start to tackle it. In the meantime, I'll make it clear, as controversial as it may seem to some, you may make great music, you may sell millions of records, you may be hotter than Satan's jockstrap, but assaulting your wife or partner, as far as I'm concerned cancels everything else out. Violence is never trivial, fame will never, ever make it ok.

It's one thing to refuse to buy music from such artists, in order to have real clout you have to vocalise exactly why you're not buying their music. Hence this article. Make it clear, no matter how much you're potentially setting yourself up for ridicule or worse, total indifference to your cause, you have to make it clear. You will not support these artists in any way whatsoever. You will spend your money elsewhere.

First image of a poster on a red background, reading "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N Roll" obtained from Wikimedia Commons. Second image of Ike and Tina Turner on stage uploaded by Flickr user Heinrich Klaffs. Third picture is a pop-art image of a boy listening to music, with speech bubble reading "WOW!! IT'S ROCK 'N' ROLL!!!" uploaded by Flickr user Fellaby. Fourth image of Ewok figurines in a rock band standing over a stormtrooper figurine uploaded by Flickr user Stéfan.

Comments From You

Sarah // Posted 02 June 2012 at 16:26

I have been both baffled and sickened by the rise of Chris Brown back into the limelight. And the blame doesn't lie only with the music buying public - they wouldn't be able to buy the music if he wasn't being supported by big organisations such as MTV (thought what can we expect from a company who exploits teenagers' unhappiness with their bodies and exploits young mothers for "entertainment?") and ITunes.

Cycleboy // Posted 02 June 2012 at 17:56

Many years ago my brother was sitting in on a conversation with 4 women. They were discussing the assault Mike Tyson made on a woman who went to his room. Without exception, the women condemned HER for going to his room. 'What did she expect?' was the common belief.

It was my brother - the only male - who pointed out that Tyson had been convicted of rape and that rape was never acceptable, however naive or foolhardy the woman might have been.

Kirsten Hey // Posted 03 June 2012 at 16:08

First, let me say that I do not condone violence against women at all. I'm just not sure why that means I'm not allowed to buy music that I like, or to appreciate somebody's talent. I have no interest in Ozzy, Motley Crue or Chris Brown, but I do like Ike Turner's music and I can see that he was an immensely talented musician. He had a very damaged childhood and grew up a very damaged man, and he was a drug-addled, violent arsehole who treated Tina appallingly, and probably his other wives too. But his personality/behaviour and his talent are separate things and I don't see why I can't deplore one and admire the other.

I don't have a need to believe that individuals who are talented in one area are perfect in all areas of their lives, or even just not cockwombles. I can understand that a person can have incredible talent in one area and be a criminally violent dickhead elsewhere. And if I choose to purchase that person's art, I'm purchasing their art because I like their art, not because I like their other behaviour.

Of course, I'm not criticising the people who choose not to purchase someone's work because of their bad behaviour in another part of their life; people should make their own decisions. And I don't like the way so many people try to excuse violence because the artist is talented. Violence is violence; it should be punished through the legal system, and it's not ok or less serious just because the perpetrator has a talent. But enjoying somebody's art is not the same as condoning their violent behaviour.

Marianna Karakoulaki // Posted 04 June 2012 at 11:46

This is an excellent article and I generally agree with the author! On the Chris Brown case his female audience is what confuses me the most and especially when his fans started tweeting that they wouldn't mind being abused if it was him that abused them and that Rihanna deserved being beaten up....

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 04 June 2012 at 22:59

Well this is my first article for the f word and I'm pleased people took the time to comment. Maybe it's just me, but if an artist is violent towards his partner I can't look past that. I can't help thinking how horrible it must be for the wife or girlfriend being at the recieving end of the violence. That is why I can't enjoy their music, I can't get those images out of my head. Maybe other people can look past it, I can't.
As for big companies such as Itunes backing artist like Chris Brown, well if his songs didn't sell, I don't think Itunes and the like would be so willing to back him. He's definatly going for a female fan base Chris Brown is, last I saw him he was dancing around in his music video in a tuxedo with the shirt open, which really made me cringe. I changed channels really quick.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 05 June 2012 at 00:10

@ Cycleboy, the mind absolutly boggles sometimes.

sian norris // Posted 07 June 2012 at 17:36

i completely agree.

the list of famous men who have got away with being violent towards women is DEPRESSINGLY long. A thread on this subject on the feministe website showed quite how long...

one thing i do disagree with in your piece is that Chris Brown didn't have widespread condemnation. In fact the music industry closed ranks around him. Usher was one of the few artists who criticised him and he was made to apologise to CHRIS BROWN by his record company.

I write about it here http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/what-do-chris-brown-normal-mailer-and.html

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 08 June 2012 at 02:48

It's possible to listen to Wagner without sharing his virulently anti jewish views, it's possible to be a fan of Ozzy Osbourne without being an apologist for spousal abuse & an appreciation of Gary Glitter's music does not mean you condone child abuse.

In life, we are required to accept both the positive and the negative aspects of a person's character...violence is just one of the ways in which one person can abuse another. Concentrating on specific individuals does not help us to come to terms with abusive behaviour...concentrating on the root causes of violent abuse & possible remedies does.

Lipstick Terrorist // Posted 12 June 2012 at 13:54

And don't let's forget the apparently sane, intelligent journalists who wanted to exonerate Roman Polanski for being a serial paedophile just because he makes good films! Argh!

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 13 June 2012 at 21:30

That's so weird! My mate and i were discussing Roman Polanski the other day! We came to the same conclusion, I found it sickening there were so many people supporting him.

Louise McCudden // Posted 18 July 2012 at 15:40

Another horrible aspect to this is the woman's behaviour and attitude gets shoved under the spotlight as much, or even more, than the bloody woman-basher.

You know the reaction to the Tulisa tape? "She doesn't respect herself because she was sexual" blah blah blah? You notice how being sexual means you don't get respect, you're a joke, you're not a real human anymore? Is it just me or is there a disturbing amount of talk about what sluts Rihanna, and Pamela too, at the time of that story? They deserve it, what do they expect, they're hardly respectable women, they're not feminist icons they get their tits out, blah blah blah. This isn't just an othering of women but an othering of certain types of women - you have to be the "right kind of victim" to deserve sympathy.

If in doubt look at the disgusting Carol Sarler piece in the Mail "Dennis Waterman is a stupid thug but..." NO NO NO THERE IS NO BUT. EVER!

But, according to Sarler, smart women tempt men to hit them. Professional trolling? Perhaps. But people read and consume and internalise this stuff.

Louise McCudden // Posted 18 July 2012 at 15:45

@Kirsten Hey

That's totally valid (not that you need my validation haha, I'm just saying), but I think, for me personally, there's a difference between still buying a record by, say, Chris Brown, cos the song rocks, and actually worshipping and idolising them as a celebrity, a star, etc etc etc. It doesn't sound like you do the latter but I do think if young girls put posters up on their walls, or people make Usher apologise for criticising him, or if he's celebrated by fans as a legend, that goes beyond people liking his music, that suggests to me they think he's a cool person to be admired. And I can't help but think that really really sucks and sends a sad message to people.

Louise McCudden // Posted 18 July 2012 at 15:46

@Lipstick Terrorist

Nor the strange fan boy worship of Julian Assange where all sense of actually putting an accused rapist on trial to find out if they're guilty or not before slandering the woman goes WHOOSH out the window...

kelly.edlyn // Posted 21 July 2012 at 23:40

My favorite band since middle school has been Queens of the Stoneage and one reason I've continued to listen to them for so long is my respect for Josh Homme. When it was discovered that Nick Oliveri (the original bassist and creative partner of Homme) was abusing his girlfriend, Homme fired him right then and there. Now I may be alone in saying this but, I think that Homme is a perfect example of the hyper masculine, bad boy, rock and roll front man archetype that is so revered within that genre; but showed that the abuse and victimization of women in rock and roll culture, which was accepted and glamorized as just "part of the lifestyle", is disgusting and unacceptable. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to present Homme as some champion of Women's rights but I think his actions made a strong statement from inside an industry which so readily exploits the abuse and objectification of women.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 22 July 2012 at 21:18

Yeah I totally remember the way people talked about Rihanna and Pamela at the time of the assaults, Rihanna still gets called a slut in certain quarters. It's a shameful double standard thats very much alive and well. Just because Rihanna and Pamela have a "sexy" image it does not mean that it's not as bad to abuse them, that they are not victims as much as say a more "reserved" family friendly star. Thats absolute bullshit, nobody deserves to be treated like that.

But so many people think that way, that sexual women are underserving of respect, I'm sick of that sort of thinking, but it's shockingly common.

kelly.edlyn // Posted 22 July 2012 at 21:46

I absolutely agree. Women in the public eye are encouraged to flaunt their sexuality (and "rewarded" for it, i.e. magazine covers "sexiest women of *insert whatever group here*) by a patriarchal society who, in turn loves to make a rousing game of slut shaming of it. In my opinion, the saddest part is how many of my female friends who take part in this abusive ritual as well. It just seems to me that by consuming a products of a misogynistic system you are in turn embracing the tenants of that system.

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About the author

Amanda McIndoe

Amanda McIndoe is an aspiring writer and artist. She is an ardent feminist who lives with her three pet rats named after horror movie actresses and pet python Frankie. She's also a self confessed geek who reads far more Tolkien than she'll ever publicly admit to

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