Don’t judge me: Chris Brown and the real task of tackling violence against women

Has Chris Brown been made a scapegoat for domestic violence? Marcel Antonisee/EPA

In case you missed it, the big news in music over the weekend was that Chris Brown, the American R'n'B singer, has been put on notice by the Australian government that his visa to tour here might be refused.

The reason? In 2009, Brown was convicted of assaulting singer Rihanna, his partner at the time. He was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of community service.

Tickets for his December tour went on sale regardless at noon today, and 3200 fans have signed a petition voicing support for the star.

The interesting question is why this decision has been made now. Brown has toured Australia twice since his conviction, receiving a generally favourable critical reception.

So what’s changed since his last tour?

Playing politics

The obvious answer is the current abundance of political will to tackle domestic violence. New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has more than doubled the women in the cabinet (up to five from only two). He’s also appointed West Australian senator Michaelia Cash to the position of Minister for Women.

Senator Cash hinted that Brown might be denied a visa last week, saying on Thursday that the Department of immigration would “very, very seriously” consider Brown’s application.

The decision regarding Brown’s visa arrives in the wake of an announcement the government will put $100 million towards addressing domestic violence.

So is this ban part of a new, tougher, approach to domestic violence, or is it just political posturing? And ultimately, will it help survivors of domestic abuse?

Intersections of Race and Gender

Media commentators argue this trend of refused visas and grass-roots campaigns disproportionately focuses on black R'n'B singers and hip-hop artists.

African-American rapper Tyler the Creator cancelled his tour earlier this year following a campaign by feminist activist group Collective Shout, while Snoop Dogg was refused entry in 2007, soon after pleading guilty to gun and drug charges in the US.

Bands with similarly misogynistic song lyrics - but white band members - such as Cannibal Corpse and The Decemberists have toured Australia with no outcry.

Ozzy Osbourne in Rod Laver Area (2008) Martin Philbey/AAP

Similarly, Ozzy Osbourne, who has been charged with attempted murder, among numerous other offences, toured Australia in 2013 and has just announced his 2016 tour dates, sparking no outrage whatsoever.

This analysis makes it particularly important to avoid the trap of the “monster myth” in the case of Brown. The prominence of this single African-American man in discussions about violence against women in Australia can lead us to overlook widespread sexism in Australian society by men of all ethnicities.

The racialised analysis of gendered violence not only contributes to racist attitudes but is also counter-productive in reducing the problem of gendered violence.

This thinking underpinned media coverage of the Cronulla Riots back in 2005. At the time, reporting on sexual assault in Sydney was predominantly race-based, attracting media attention when there was an “ethnic element”. This led to the false impression that women would be safe if they stayed clear of men from Middle Eastern backgrounds, overlooking ongoing problems with sexual assault from Anglo-Saxon men.

Brown and the Monster Myth

Tom Meagher, husband of Jill Meagher, who was murdered by Adrian Bayley, wrote during Bayley’s trial that focusing purely on individual men who commit violence against women stops us from looking into:

the more terrifying concept that violent men are socialised by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.

Jeff Sparrow argued on Friday that this decision will “only distract from the fight against domestic violence”. This is certainly something to consider, as focusing overwhelming attention on a single man from the United States allow us to distance ourselves from home grown problems.

Such a view is particularly important in light of the recently released 2014 National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey. This survey has highlighted that problematic views are widespread amongst young Australians, as Anastasia Powell and Kristin Diemer highlight:

Today’s report finds one in four young people are prepared to excuse partner violence in a range of scenarios; 26% agree partner violence can be excused if the perpetrator regrets it afterwards, for instance. And 24% agree violence can be excused if the perpetrator was so angry they “lost control”.

Changing Culture, Beyond the Monster Myth

One positive aspect of Turnbull’s recent focus on domestic violence has been his recognition of the importance of moving beyond the monster myth. He has stated:

Let me say this to you: disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women.

This argument is supported by research that shows a strong correlation between negative attitudes towards women and domestic violence. In this context, despite the problems inherent in focusing on Brown, publicly recognising his violent history may be a helpful step.

This recognition of the spectrum of sexism that is pervasive amongst men in our society is important. Widespread sexist attitudes can help contribute to, legitimise and excuse violence towards women. On the other hand, community support is vital for improving outcomes for women living with abuse.

Turnbull correctly points to the need for a “big cultural shift” in attitudes towards women. It is vitally important to address sexist culture as a whole, rather than just addressing the actions of individuals such as Brown.

Such efforts must focus on changing male attitudes towards women, rather than focusing on educating women on ways to avoid male violence within a sexist society (as is generally emphasised). As a boy, I was never taught about important issues such as consent in schools, whereas my female partner was taught about avoiding violence from men.

There are some positive signs that this is slowly beginning to change. As was shown on comedian Judith Lucy’s show “Judith Lucy is all Woman”, White Ribbon Ambassadors Adam Goodes and Clint Newton regularly speak to school-aged boys in order to encourage them to avoid inappropriate behaviours towards girls.

Changing male culture all the way along the sexist spectrum must be undertaken to reduce the current horrifically high rates of violence against women in Australia.

Disallowing Brown from entering Australia is not the most important aspect of this strategy, but it can be a welcome part of it if it, provided it is accompanied by other actions.


The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

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