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Why we must take care when welcoming ‘comeback kings’

Sunday - 04/11/2018 01:50
CHARLIE Sheen has returned to the public’s warm embrace after admitting to beating former partners. He’s not the only man profiting from a “bad boy” image.
Charlie Sheen is in Australia for a speaking tour. Picture: Noel Vasquez/Getty ImagesSource:Supplied
Charlie Sheen is in Australia for a speaking tour. Picture: Noel Vasquez/Getty ImagesSource:Supplied

FOR some, it seems the climb back up after a fall from grace is neither steep nor arduous. 

This weekend, US actor Charlie Sheen will begin a lucrative speaking tour in Australia. Sheen has, over many years, both admitted to and been accused of violence in a litany of cases brought by former partners.

It seems from the promotional material that Sheen’s record is being reframed as the behaviour of “a bad boy”.

US comedian Louis CK, who late last year admitted to multiple abuses, also seems to have made a career comeback. He was greeted with a standing ovation when he returned to the stage.

Charlie Sheen has played on his bad boy image in promotional materials for his Australian speaking tour. Picture: Supplied/Max Markson
Charlie Sheen has played on his bad boy image in promotional materials for his Australian speaking tour. Picture: Supplied/Max MarksonSource:Supplied

These high-profile men may have fallen from grace, losing work and enduring some reputational damage, but many of them have had a pretty soft landing. The women, however, will live with the effects of their actions for years, in many cases a lifetime.

Over the past year, we have seen a huge change in the public attitude towards sexual harassment and abuse, driven by countless women who have courageously shared their stories, even when their abusers have been powerful, popular men.

Louis CK performed to a standing ovation when he returned to the stage after his Me Too moment. Picture: Brad Barket/Invision/AP
Louis CK performed to a standing ovation when he returned to the stage after his Me Too moment. Picture: Brad Barket/Invision/APSource:AAP

Forms of violence against women that were once ignored or hushed up are now being reported, and brought out into the open. Men’s behaviour that was once excused or accepted is now questioned and challenged. Where once the typical response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse involved blaming the victim or dismissing women’s claims, now we are increasingly seeing a focus on holding men accountable for their behaviour.

These changes have been hugely important and they go to the heart of what kind of values we want to hold, as a community.

Overwhelmingly, research shows us that social norms, attitudes and structures that condone, excuse or trivialise violence against women are one of the key drivers of this violence. The recent public conversation on abuse and harassment has directly challenged these norms.

In these ways, the #MeToo movement is helping to drive the kind of social change we know is key to preventing violence against women.

But just a year on from the start of the movement, there are troubling signs about how long-lasting these changes may prove to be. One of these is the number of confirmed abusers who are being welcomed back onto the public stage, with few consequences, just a few months later.

As a community, we need to ask ourselves if this is the standard we want to accept, and whether these are the examples we want to give to women, especially young women about to enter the workforce.

We also need to ask what these comeback stories say to men, particularly young men forming their ideas and values around how to behave towards women, at work and at home.

I am by nature an optimist, and I genuinely believe that public attitudes on sexual harassment and abuse have shifted. But we all need to take responsibility for ensuring that this change is real and permanent. It’s vital that we do not let the momentum sparked by the #MeToo movement fade out.

Charlie Sheen arrives at Melbourne airport to the waiting media ahead of his speaking tour. Picture: Tony Gough
Charlie Sheen arrives at Melbourne airport to the waiting media ahead of his speaking tour. Picture: Tony GoughSource:News Corp Australia

Our Watch recently launched a campaign entitled Doing Nothing Does Harm, which gives practical, everyday suggestions on what to do when you see unacceptable behaviour towards women in social, professional or public situations. It shows that we can all play a role in speaking up and helping to stop disrespect and abuse.

And as consumers — of media, entertainment and all kinds of goods and services — we also have the power to vote with our wallets. We can all ask ourselves whether we want to reward businesses that use disrespect towards women in their ads and messages or lend our attention to those attempting a comeback as though their unacceptable violence and abuse never happened.

We can all play a part in this movement. Our responses to those who have hurt or shown a lack of respect for women send a powerful message to the victims, to people who may be suffering abuse currently, and to our children.

Patty Kinnersly is the chief executive officer of Our Watch, a not-for-profit organisation established to drive nationwide change in the culture, behaviours and power imbalances that lead to violence against women and their children

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 Key: CHARLIE Sheen

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