E.D., I have a great amount of respect for your frequent calls for us to rise above passing judgment over other people, and to keep in mind the inner turmoil that Mel Gibson is clearly living with. I sympathize with your sense that we’re griping about the splinter in his eye, casting the first stone, and that we don’t have all the facts. Finally, I’d agree that people should be free to enjoy the art they wish to. If we only enjoyed art made by sane, well-adjusted people, we’d run out of choices pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, I think passing judgment is a good thing for society to do in this case, fair or not.
Certainly, me and my wife have had what she calls “kitchen sink fights” before. And couples must fight, as the man said. And, absolutely, the pain of a collapsing romantic relationship can lead people to say terrible things. I’d never want my private life in the depths of its worst moments to be made public that way, and especially not recordings of those kitchen sink fights.
But, here’s the thing: I don’t fight that way. And I’d imagine you don’t either. What disturbs me about those tapes isn’t the language; it’s the level of misogyny. Me and my wife fight about all sorts of things, most of which are fairly stupid. But the way she dresses doesn’t “hurt” me. It doesn’t “humiliate me” if other men find her attractive. Because, ultimately, on some level, I realize that it’s none of my damn business. Whether or not other people find her attractive isn’t something I expect her to control for my sake or me to control for her sake. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, and her autonomy isn’t something she’s done to me. It’s a fact- and a good one.
I think I hear something different than you do in those Gibson tapes. I hear men from my family who try to control the women in their lives. I hear the possessive, always wounded, always manipulative and controlling, insecure creeps whose wives come to my wife for therapy. I hear someone who’s entitled to sex, entitled to tell his partner how to dress and behave, and who ultimately relates all of the choices she makes in her own life to his personal happiness. I hear the man I might have been, if I hadn’t had the extreme good fortune to be sexually attracted, from a young age, to the sort of smart, independent women who wouldn’t take my crap. Acting like that was simply not an option. And it’s totally freeing to accept that your loved ones will think, act, dress, and be whatever way they want to in their own lives without it hurting you or feeling you need to control them.*
Nevertheless, celebrities are not known for surrounding themselves with people who won’t take their crap. And men, or women, who behave this way are often excused because “everyone gets jealous” or “it’s none of our business”. And, of course, none of us can do anything to change how someone else acts in their own personal relationship. But for society to say in a forthright way that men, or women, who treat their loved ones this way need to stop doing so- that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. Since this is a site that’s leaning libertarian as of late, I think it’s also very healthy to reflect on the ways that bullying individuals can limit the autonomy of others in their private lives, and how often this impacts women. In terms of casting stones, it’s worth remembering that the specific context of Christ’s comment was a city stoning a woman to death out of rage at her sexual choices.
* Please note: This post is intended to detail the factors driving my own opinion in this particular case. In no way do I mean to suggest that Kain disagrees with my feelings about these particular gender issues. We’re just emphasizing different things in this case.