Letting Men off the Hook? Domestic Violence and Postfeminist Celebrity Culture

By Patterson, Natasha; Sears, Camilla A. | Genders, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Letting Men off the Hook? Domestic Violence and Postfeminist Celebrity Culture


Patterson, Natasha, Sears, Camilla A., Genders


Introduction

[1] Contemporary celebrity culture allows for the configuration of certain discourses about male violence against women. By paying attention to this form of culture, changes in the cultural landscape, particularly in relation to the emergence of new forms of social media (such as celebrity gossip blogs and websites), are highlighted. These changes provide a space for the discussion of important social issues such as violence against women. In this way, social media contributes to the distribution and facilitation of commentary on these topics and these media formats enable the audience to play a role in shaping public discourse.

[2] These newly created spaces help to circulate a backlash rhetoric that rebukes the gains of the women's movement to break the silence around violence against women by repositioning victims of dating or domestic violence as somehow "guilty" or "suspicious." By exploring postfeminist narratives, it is possible to see how they very much conform to and reinforce the notion of a postfeminist female subject as articulated in Anita Harris' concepts of the "can-do" and "at-risk" girl. These narratives provide a limited understanding of violence against women, gloss over the numerous ways in which women experience abuse, and serve to "let men off the hook." By exploring the construction of violence against women in celebrity culture, Karen Boyle's concern that the issue of male violence is an under-researched area, particularly within feminist television criticism, is responded to (162). The idea of "letting men off the hook" points to the fact that, although there has been a proliferation of coverage on dating or domestic violence incidents within the media, it is accompanied by a lack of social and/or legal sanctions. Male perpetrators suffer few consequences, particularly career or publicity wise, and the public seems no longer shocked by it. Postfeminist narratives have contributed to this and the reprivatization and individualization of violence against women allows for "men to slip from the picture" (Boyle 184). Consequently, this "lets them off the hook."

[3] These concepts frame an analysis of the public relationship between Rihanna and Chris Brown. Through an examination of the media coverage of it, in particular the violent nature of their relationship, Rihanna's experiences can be interpreted as a postfeminist narrative conveying the idea that she is a "can-do" girl who takes responsibility for the abuse by monitoring her actions and being careful not to be viewed or framed as a victim. In such a way, Chris Brown is "let off the hook" because he experiences few negative consequences for his actions. Consequently, celebrity culture, as part of a postfeminist media culture, helps promote ideas of choice and individual responsibility in relation to issues such as domestic violence, and assists in the surveillance and regulation of women's actions.

[4] Despite the breadth of media texts circulating discourses and providing space for a discussion of the abuse of women, such as in the case of Rihanna and Chris Brown, they somehow manage to simplify the debate about woman abuse. The discursive logic of neoliberalism and postfeminism is so powerful as to overshadow the ability to offer and/or articulate more nuanced discussions about the issue. This serves to shut down a space to consider the role that men need to play in addressing this pervasive social problem. By drawing attention to this, the aim is to "[put] men (back) in the picture" (Boyle 184) and contribute to a reframing of violence against women as a social issue and one which cannot be understood through notions of individual freedom, choice, and responsibility.

Breaking the Silence: Constructing Violence Against Women as a Social Problem

[5] Since the 1970s, much work has been done to educate various facets of the public (i.e. government, individuals, law) about violence against women in order to develop a deeper understanding of this complex and pervasive social problem. …

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