Charlie Sheen’s HIV Diagnosis: When Bad Things Happen to Bad People.


Though I’m ashamed to admit it, my first thought when I heard the news that Charlie Sheen was HIV-positive was that he deserved it.

I’ve long been a Sheen hater. That his arrest for threatening to kill wife Brooke Mueller on Christmas Day in 2009 and the drunken and drug-fuelled hotel room rampage he went on in 2010 that saw porn star and escort Capri Anderson cowering in the bathroom, afraid for her life, were all swept under the carpet in favour of continuing on in his $1.7m per episode role on Two & a Half Men made my (tiger) blood boil. We’ve since found out that in 2011, around the time of his “winning!” meltdown, he was diagnosed with HIV so much of his spiralling out of control could be contributed to that. But he also shot his then-fiancee Kelly Preston in 1990, so maybe he’s just a reprehensible human being.

But just because Sheen is one person I think the world would be better off without, doesn’t actually mean that he deserves HIV.

I restrained myself from voicing my initial reaction because I knew it was wrong. I would never say or even think the same of a rape victim, so what makes HIV different?

Like I often do when I’m struggling with my feelings about something, I took to the interwebs to help work through them. At New York Magazine, HIV-positive journalist Tim Murphy equated the way the media has responded to Sheen’s news as that of the 1985 AIDS scare and that we need to do better in our stigmatised reporting.

If I hadn’t been a slave to online feminist spaces over the past six years, who’s to say I wouldn’t join in with so many others in blaming rape victims for their attacks, for example? Since feminist spaces are often progressive in other areas, such as civil rights, environmentalism and animal rights, if I hadn’t found them would I be a climate-change denying, anti-refugee, factory farm food-buying racist? Surely if I can train my brain away from these dominant ideologies, I can think objectively about Sheen.

So maybe I’m more worried that his HIV status will draw sympathy from the general public who are often so eager to forget his horrible past which, in addition to terrorising the women in his life, includes well-documented drug use, property damage and alleged child pornography consumption. When Sheen was at the height of his infamy in 2011, some of my friends would brush these allegations to the side because “he’s entertaining”. Yeah, I find gendered violence entertaining, too! Now that his erratic behaviour can be put on the backburner to dealing with a HIV diagnosis I dare say a lot of people will continue to overlook it.

But Sheen is just one person out of the 39 million living with HIV: why should he be held up (or torn down) as an example when nothing else he’s done is worthy of emulation? Just because he‘s patronised sex workers and was allegedly an intravenous drug user (which Sheen denied in his interview on the Today show) in the past doesn’t mean everyone with HIV is.

And that’s why it’s so easy to blame Sheen for his own misfortune. Engaging in these behaviours is a known risk factor in contracting the disease. But so is being an uncircumcised man or living in some parts of Africa.

Criticism, similar to the focus of the media on the Paris terrorist attacks over those in Beirut and the rest of the Middle East, can also be drawn to the concentration on Sheen’s diagnosis over the still very prevalent spread of the disease in other parts of the world.

And I guess that stems from the fact that, like the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. We can’t stop the bigoted thoughts that pop into our brains from time to time but we can try to unpack them before we air them on social media or our IRL social groups. Having studied the anthropology of HIV/AIDS briefly at uni, I realise my initial feelings were not about the disease per se, but about this one individual who has it.

Right now, my position on Sheen’s diagnosis has shifted slightly but it’s still not necessarily an admirable stance: what a waste.

Sheen had all the privilege and opportunity—being from a famous Hollywood family and given chance after chance whenever he fucked up—in the world but he chose to squander it in a spiral of drugs, violence and crime.

Sheen didn’t contract or deserve HIV because of this but I’m not sure, whether in my personal or our collective opinion, that we can separate the two.

Related: Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Charlie Sheen’s Witness.

Minus Two & a Half Men.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [NYMag] What We Can Learn From Charlie Sheen’s Admission That He’s HIV-Positive.

[Wikipedia] List of Countries By HIV/AIDS Adult Prevalence Rate.

Image via Süddeuttsche Zeitung.


Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 5th September, 2012.

Earlier in the year a rumour was circulating around the interwebs that Jay Z had shunned the age-old method of addressing women in rap and hip hop—“bitch”—after the birth of his baby with Beyonce, Blue Ivy, had made him realise the error of his ways. Alas, the poem in which Hova allegedly “curse[s] those that give it [bitch]”, turned out to be a fake, but it did raise some pertinent issues about calling women “bitches” in the rap game.

More recently, Jay Z’s bestie Kanye West revealed he wrote his song “Perfect Bitch” about Kim Kardashian, who took it as a compliment, showing how one person’s misogynistic insult is another’s compliment.

Rapper Lupe Fiasco’s latest track and accompanying video ask is “Bitch Bad”, using children to show the different ways we internalise the term. Again, one person’s put down is another’s feminist manifesto, like Bitch magazine, Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and “Queen Bitch” by Lil’ Kim.

Perhaps in response to Fiasco’s request to start a dialogue on the “destructive” and “troubling elements” of bitch, Kanye has taken to Twitter to add to the discourse. He asks, perhaps in relation to “Perfect Bitch”, “is it acceptable for a man to call a woman a bitch even if it’s endearing?” To those who tend to towards “yes”, he asks, “would we refer to our mothers as bitches?”

A similar question comes to mind as the one brought up when the Blue Ivy poem, “Glory”, was released: why did Jay Z only shun the word after the birth of his daughter, as opposed to when he wed one of the most desirable women in the world, Beyonce? Is she not good enough to warrant not being called a “bitch”? I guess in this case, baby trumps baby mama.

But supposing that because women are addressed as “bitches”, “tricks” and “hos” in rap music they must automatically be viewed as such (and, really, what is a bitch or a ho? Someone who speaks their mind? Someone who gets some action between the sheets? If so, sign me up!) IRL is to subscribe to the outdated “hypodermic needle” theory of media studies. Certainly, though, popular culture does infiltrate other aspects of daily life so it’s important that Fiasco and West are contributing to the unpacking of this word that’s so inherent in rap and hip hop.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, though. 2Pac “Wonder[ed] Why They Call[ed] U Bitch” on his 1994 album, All Eyez on Me, concluding that having unprotected sex, getting paid for it, looking and moving a certain way and abusing the welfare system are all reasons why someone might “call you bitch”.

Eighteen years on, “bitch” is still “so prevalent in our culture right now,” says Fiasco. Because, as mentioned above, “bitch” is most certainly a derogatory term for many in the hip hop industry, as evidenced in “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre and Too $hort’s pertinently titled “Call Her a Bitch”, but also in wider society to address a woman who doesn’t conform to femininity norms: mouth shut, “legs closed, eyes open,” from 2Pac’s abovementioned battle cry.

But, alternatively, as Busta Rhymes’ “I Love My Bitch”, Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” and Kim’s reaction to “Perfect Bitch” will attest, it’s also a term of endearment.

In a rare moment of clarity, Kanye Tweets, “Perhaps the word BITCH and N*GGA are now neither positive or negative. They are just potent and it depends on how they are used and by whom.”

Indeed. So while friends and lovers might use the word in passing affection, those who want to stifle independent women or ones who’ve scorned them, it’s still very much a problematic term.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Rapper Lupe Fiasco Weighs in on the B-Word: “Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better.”

[The Wire] Discussing Linguistics with Kanye West.

[The Rap Up] The Unified Bitch Theory.

Following Bill Cosby & Hugh Hefner Down the Rabbit Hole.

hugh hefner bill cosby

In July it came out that in 2005 Bill Cosby admitted in a sworn deposition to buying Quaaludes with the intent to use them to rape women, not to “have sex with them” as headlines read.

Around the same time, former Playboy Playmate and Hugh Hefner’s “No. 1 Girlfriend” Holly Madison released an incriminating memoir, entitled Down the Rabbit Hole, about her time in the Playboy Mansion and how it often involved Quaalude-addled group sex with Hefner.

You might remember that late last year when we finally started to pay attention to the long-standing assault allegations against Cosby after a deluge more came to light, Hefner wrote in a statement that “Bill Cosby has been a good friend for many years and the mere thought of these allegations is truly saddening. I would never tolerate this kind of behaviour, regardless of who was involved”.

Putting aside the fact that Cosby and Hefner are friends (14% of Cosby’s accusers were employees or guests of Playboy at the time of their assaults), both men’s predilection for drugging women to better inure them to sex is a damning testament to their power in Hollywood.

It would seem that since last year reports of sexual and physical violence against women have begun to be taken more seriously. As of this writing, 2015 alone as seen 63 women be murdered by their intimate partners or killed in gendered attacks, according to Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women project. The prevalence of these crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that women are experiencing more violence but perhaps that we’ve started to actually give a shit about it.

The striking similarities of the stories of the upwards of 40 Cosby accusers with nothing to gain should be enough to prioritise their safety and justice over the comedian’s legacy and power, but alas, it took the comedian’s own admission for reruns to be cut from networks and a statue in his likeness at Disneyland to be taken down. And even then, apologists such as The View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Raven-Symoné urge us to resist making a “snap judgement” despite the “proof”. (Goldberg has since come around, saying on The View that “all off the information that’s out there kind of points to guilt.”)  

“What did these women do to get themselves in that situation?”, we ask, particularly in the case of apparently complicit women like Madison and others who frequented the Playboy Mansion.

Madison explains in Down the Rabbit Hole that “I was about to be homeless. I had no place to go and was panicking over what to do next when this opportunity with Hef just sort of fell into my lap. If I became a girlfriend, I would have somewhere to live. If I became part of Playboy’s inner circle, perhaps that could even help my career.”

“The Playboy Mansion… had been both my safe haven—and my prison,” she continues.

What further kept Madison trapped was her decreased confidence and self-worth upon becoming a girlfriend. Hefner’s six other girlfriends at the time Madison moved in were also plagued by insecurities which Madison says led them to bully her. And, in turn, “my shrinking violet personality was a sign of submission that [Hef] used to manipulate the other women.” When Madison tried to have an intelligent conversation with the man she supposedly loved and whom expressed love for her, “he would scoff at whatever I said. It didn’t matter if my remark was educated or even correct, because if I said it, it must be wrong.” In attempting to exert her independence and autonomy by getting a makeover, Hefner belittled Madison, calling her “old, hard and cheap”. After a seemingly throwaway comment from Madison about fellow girlfriend and Girls Next Door star Kendra Baskett (nee Wilkinson), Hefner screamed at Madison to “stop being such a fucking CUNT!”

“He frightened me,” she writes.

Just because young women seek out rich men to experience the fame and fortune they otherwise wouldn’t have access to doesn’t mean they consented to inebriated sex. On the same night she refused Quaaludes from Hefner in a scenario that made headlines upon publication of the book, “I can’t even begin to tell you how much vodka and champagne I consumed… While I patted myself on the back for turning down the pills, by the time we left the club, I couldn’t have been any more incoherent” for her first group sex encounter with Hefner.

The ostensibly compromised integrity of Madison and others who’ve written similar accounts of their time with Hef, like Hefner’s former girlfriend Izabella St. James, and their previous contributions to maintaining the glass curtain Hef and the Mansion are shrouded in makes them less likely to be believed.

Also making headlines for embellished claims was Rolling Stone’s damning article entitled “A Rape on Campus” at the University of Virginia in which reporter Sabrina Erdely failed to properly corroborate the alleged victim Jackie’s story by seeking out other sources before the story went to press. While the feminist and left-leaning media have made it clear that Erdely and Rolling Stone were at fault, a report was issued further blaming the very people it was supposed to protect: sexual assault victims.

“The editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault,” the report says, feeding all-too-perfectly into blame-the-victim rhetoric.

Chloe Angyal wrote at Feministing that “‘Jackie’ will become shorthand for people seeking to discredit future allegations of rape” just as Fatal Attraction’s “Bunny Boiler” has for unhinged women who trap and frame innocent men.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence such as that surrounding the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, Elliot Rodger, society doesn’t believe women when we tell them that harassment and a general feeling of being unsafe is something that happens on a daily basis for many of us. The hashtag #yesallwomen was spawned in an effort to debunk that. Despite the fact that the killer sent an accompanying 140-page manifesto to former friends and family members outlining his murderous intentions, people were still willing to believe that Rodger and men like him (#notallmen) are “good blokes”, while “blonde sluts” are to blame for “starv[ing him] of sex” .

Going back to Hefner, in 2005’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, author Ariel Levy speaks at length with Hefner’s daughter Christie, then CEO of Playboy Enterprises. Like Cosby and his respectability politics, Levy also quotes from past interviews with Hef in which he claims to be a champion for women and, dare I say it, a feminist.

In the book, Christie is described as the founder of many women-friendly organisations, such as Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic candidates to office, and the Committee of 200, which runs a mentor program between successful business women and young women and girls. Levy writes,

“The Playboy Foundation also gave grant money to NOW’s Legal Defence and Education Fund and supported the ERA; Hefner personally hosted a fundraiser for it at the Playboy Mansion. ‘I was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism!’ Hefner has said. A mutual friend even tried to set him up on a date with Gloria Steinem before she became famous.”

(Arguably the piece that made Steinem famous was an undercover exposé on the hostile and sexist conditions at New York City’s Playboy Club, including immediate dismissal for accepting a date with a customer.)

Just because someone calls themselves a feminist, does it make it so? Sarah Palin and Tony Abbott have done so, but their public policies and conversational faux pas would indicate that they are anything but.

The same could be said of Cosby’s respectability politics. On the surface it might look like Cosby is championing his race, but really it’s about minorities policing their own behaviour in an effort to prove how “good” and worthy they are of fair treatment by the powers that be. Cosby has done such an expert job of portraying himself as black America’s father figure that defenders like Raven-Symoné (in whose case Cosby literally played her grandfather on TV) are still in his corner.

In Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy quotes from a 1967 interview with Hefner that the self-professed feminist does “not look for equality between man and woman… I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls.” Perhaps that’s why he challenged Madison’s post-Playboy life as not being “happy, healthy and productive”: because she, like the 41 women who kept Cosby’s secret for up to 49 years in the earliest reported case, didn’t play along with the socially prescribed rule to put up (or out) and shut up when it comes to powerful men.

Related: The Year of the Stalker.

Elsewhere: [Gawker] Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sexual Assault Accusations?

[Vulture] A Timeline of the Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby.

[HuffPo] Hugh Hefner Responds to Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Allegations.

[Jezebel] The Connection Between Bill Cosby’s Alleged Crimes & The Playboy Mansion.

[Facebook] Counting Dead Women.

[The Cut] “I’m No Longer Afraid”: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby & the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.

[ET] Bill Cosby’s Accusers: A Timeline of Alleged Sexual Assault Claims.

[TV Line] Bill Cosby Sitcoms Yanked from Centric, Bounce TV’s Schedules.

[WNEP] Bill Cosby Statue Removed from Walt Disney World.

[Us Weekly] Holly Madison: Hugh Hefner Offered Me Drugs, Tried to Buy Me in His Will.

[Rolling Stone] Rolling Stone & UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report.

[Feministing] Rape, Rolling Stone & the Radical Notion That Women Are Trustworthy.

[ABC The Drum] Disability & Murder: Victim Blaming at Its Very Worst.

[The Guardian] Elliot Rodger’s California Shooting Spree: Further Proof That Misogyny Kills.

[The Hairpin] Life Lessons from the 1968 Playboy Club Bunny Manual.

[WaPo] The Fake Feminism of Sarah Palin.

[The Guardian] Tony Abbott Says His Three Daughters Helped Him “Turn Into a Feminist”.

[ET] Hugh Hefner Responds to Holly Madison’s Tell-All Book: She Has “Chosen to Rewrite History”.

Image via HuffPo.

Hulk Hogan & Racism in Wrestling.

hulk hogan racist

Over the weekend an eight-year-old recording of your childhood hero Hulk Hogan using racist epithets directed towards a black man his daughter was allegedly dating at the time surfaced. World Wrestling Entertainment was quick to sever ties with Hogan, terminating his contract (yes, he still worked there!) and deleting his presence from their website.

While this by no means rids WWE, and the wrestling world at large, of their inherent racism, they should be commended for taking such drastic measures against arguably their most famous star at a time when famous men are still protected despite their wrongdoings.

A few years ago, I wrote about the challenge of rectifying my feminism with my wrestling fandom:

“[W]restling is one of the most obviously racist modes of mainstream entertainment. Let me count just some of the racial stereotypes throughout wrestling history that come to mind: The Iron Sheik was pitted against such all-American opponents as Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter during the height of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Gulf War; the Mexicools’ ring entrance comprised the use of a ride-on lawnmower, insinuating that people of Mexican descent make excellent yard workers; African American wrestler Charles Wright went from one black trope—a witch doctor named Papa Shango—to another—The Godfather, a pimp who came to the ring followed by his ‘Ho Train’; the Boogeyman was another witch-doctor-esque character played by another African American wrestler, Marty Wright (of no relation to Charles Wright); Native American wrestler Tatanka got around in traditional Native garb, such as headdresses and warpaint and carried a tomahawk; Kofi Kingston is from the Republic of Ghana, but somehow a Jamaican gimmick for his character made more sense; we all know people of African American descent are probably criminals, so why not bring two black wrestlers together in a tag team and call them Cryme Tyme?; Jim Harris played the wild ‘Ugandan giant’ Kamala, while the late Edie Fatu had a similar, albeit Samoan, gimmick as Umaga; and Mohamad Ali Vaez, of Iranian heritage, plays up the Islamaphobia angle for his character.

documentary called Wrestling for Rotary chronicles an independent wrestling gig for charity in country Victoria in 2011, where Vaez talks about the internal struggle he faces in ‘perpetrating stereotypes that my family suffers because of [racism].’

But, at the end of the day,’I’ve suffered inherent racism in the United States, so you know what? I’m gonna make money off of it.'”

I think my sentiments still stand.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Pro Wrestling?

[Radar Online] Hulk’s N Word Racist Racist Rants Caught on Tape—Foul, Disgusting Tirade Leaks.

[The Guardian] Hulk Hogan Fired by WWE After Racist Recordings Emerge.

[Grantland] A (Very) Concise History of Racism in Wrestling, 1980–Present.

Image via Lipstick Alley.

Some Thoughts on Bruce Jenner.

bruce jenner abc interview

I’ve been loath to contribute my feelings about Bruce Jenner’s coming out as a trans woman to a feminist/humanist/trans rights sphere because, as a cisgender person, the last thing I’d want to do is cisplain.

However, as probably the most well-versed person on human rights in my immediate circle of friends, colleagues and family members, I’ve been throwing my two cents out there whenever the conversation inevitably veres Bruce’s way.

Because the people I’ve been talking to about him* are espousing predictably ignorant views. Things like “what’s his deal?”, “is he a she-he” and “tell me about this Kardashian who now thinks he’s a woman”.

I try not to get angry when explaining that gender is a spectrum, being transgender is a legitimate gender identity, and that it’s not for us to judge a person who’s spent 65 years keeping this secret, but I can feel my expression change as the fury bubbles up inside me.

One person I was actually able to have a tempered conversation with about Bruce wondered whether ignorance to trans issues (and, by extension, race, gender, sexuality, disability, class issues) could excuse such bigoted reactions: “You can’t fault people for not being aware,” she said.

Except you can. How do you think anyone who’s sensitive to minority issues came to be that way? Because they listened to people who are from these communities and actually deal with these things on a daily basis. Read about them in books like Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness and online. Follow enlightened people on Twitter. Watched Bruce’s interview with Diane Sawyer to understand that not everyone who falls under a certain umbrella wants to be addressed in the ways that are generally accepted as politically correct. The information is out there and ripe for the picking so ignorance is not an excuse. I actually have more respect for bigots who are informed about the issues they choose to be so bigoted about, even though I fundamentally disagree with them and think they’re horrible people.

My friend agreed, saying that watching shows like Transparent (which is problematic in it’s own right) has opened her up to trans issues. The problem she has with Bruce’s coming out though, she said, is that he lied about it: “You don’t have to come out, but when he was asked whether he was a trans woman in the past, he said no.”

Sure, there are ways Bruce could have framed his answers to be more ambiguous, but the media still would have spun it to service their agenda. It’s not Bruce’s job to make us more accepting of people who don’t fit our preconceptions.

Imagine the weight on his shoulders being a trans woman whilst also being a) held up as an American hero as an Olympic gold medalist in a sport that women can’t even compete in (thanks, Alice Eve!); and b) a member of a family comprised of some of the most famous women in the world who, whether we agree with it or not, are the epitome of femininity in many instances. (And for all the Kardashian haters who’ve made comments such as those in the third paragraph of this piece, Bruce’s family has actually come out in support of him—a low barometre of decency, but I digress—in his transition which makes them better than you.) No wonder he didn’t feel safe or accepted to come out. (Props to Bruce and ABC for mentioning the very real violence trans people face, especially trans women of colour who aren’t protected by the security Bruce has.)

Maybe it’s just because I try to surround myself with progressive people (at least online if not IRL), but the reaction to Bruce’s interview has been overwhelmingly positive. Those who actually took the time to listen to his experiences can take into account the obstacles put in Bruce’s way that have prevented him from living his truth in public. Maybe it will open their eyes to the obstacles put in the way of other trans people who haven’t been #blessed with the privileges Bruce Jenner has.

*I’m referring to Bruce by his birth name and using male pronouns as that is what he’s stated a preference for at this time and is in line with GLAAD’s guidelines.

Elsewhere: [Slate] Jill Soloway Apologises for Joking About Bruce Jenner on Facebook.

[The Mary Sue] Why Transparent Has Lost the Trust of the Trans Community.

[Jezebel] Alice Eve is Sorry She Said Bruce Jenner is “Playing at Being a Woman”. 

[GLAAD] GLAAD Responds to ABC News Interview with Bruce Jenner, Releases Tip Sheet for Journalists.

Image via ABC News.

World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

aj lee wwe diva

A.J. Lee as Divas Champion.

After years of viewing the Divas (women’s wrestlers) matches as bathroom break time, it seems the time for women wrestlers to be cast in roles other than “eye-candy, crazy-person, or reality television shill” has finally come if recent social media campaigns are any indications.

Last week, the hashtag #GiveDivasaChance began trending, and some NXT (WWE’s developmental brand, with a weekly show airing on the online subscription service, the WWE Network) Divas were involved in a #LikeaGirl advertisement for the SuperBowl. This movement isn’t without its detractors, as NXT announcer Corey Graves took to Twitter to assert that the Divas don’t need a hashtag to make their own opportunities: yeah, ’cause that’s worked so well for them up to now.

This debate has emerged in the wake of WWE COO Triple H’s (real name: Paul Levesque) comments about the future of women’s wrestling on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s live podcast, broadcast on the WWE Network, a month ago. When asked about the trajectory of WWE moving forward, Levesque said, “I would like to see the women get more time and more dedication. We have a large fan base of women that watch and I think [the WWE Divas] are inspirational.” While it wasn’t until the last two minutes of the hour-long podcast that Levesque made reference to WWE’s female performers (instead calling the wrestlers “the guys” throughout the rest of the interview), it’s interesting that he thinks they should be given a higher priority in WWE when he’s arguably one of the only people who can make that happen.


Chyna as Intercontinental Champion, the first and only woman to ever hold that title.

Austin also asked Levesque if he thought Chyna—a pioneer in the world of wrestling, both women’s and otherwise—would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. (Again, that’s a decision Levesque would have a lot of sway over.) Despite Chyna’s (real name: Joanie Laurer) status as Levesque’s ex-girlfriend, she’s also found a post-wrestling career in porn, which severely limits the likelihood of her induction. Levesque said:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

Surely a nod to Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide of 2007 there, but is porn really the equivalent of massacring your whole family? In addition to having abuse allegations made against him by Laurer, which Levesque denied, he is a also good friend of Laurer’s ex-partner and co-star in that porn video who also allegedly physically abused her, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. While not a Hall of Fame inductee yet, he’s a member of the infamous Kliq, including Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall, the latter of which was inducted last year.

stone cold steve austin nwo kevin nash scott hall sean x-pac waltman

All of these men—from left, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Scott Hall—have been accused of or arrested for domestic abuse.

Furthermore, while Benoit may never be inducted, and rightly so, it’s not like the WWE flat out prohibits the induction of violent criminals: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is under suspicion for the accidental death of a woman he beat unconscious in a hotel room in 1983. While never charged, that investigation was reopened last year. Other criminals in the WWE Hall of Fame include convicted rapist Mike Tyson in the celebrity wing, the aforementioned Scott Hall, who has been arrested numerous times for domestic violence as well as the 1983 murder of a man in a bar, and the host of the very podcast in which Levesque made the comments that inspired this article, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a serial domestic abuser.

Recently, the WWE added a domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault clause to their wellness policy, stating that “upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated.” In the wake of other sporting codes’ embarrassingly lax attitude to domestic violence and crimes of a similar nature, this is a step in the right direction for WWE. The host of wrestlers who are or have been under contract to WWE with similar charges brought against them prior to this stipulation must be thankful for a time when they were swept under the rug.


mike tyson wwe hall of fame

Triple H (Paul Levesque) with, from top, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Mike Tyson, who’ve both served time for assaulting women.

To Levesque’s point, it’s easy enough to find out any of this information with a Google search. In the wake of the podcast, the first page of Google results yields nothing about Laurer’s adults-only post-WWE career. (Granted, you’d have to prefix Tyson, Austin et al.’s names with their respective crimes for those results to appear first.) If Levesque is as close to Hall, Waltman, Austin, Tyson (he and Shawn Michaels, as D-Generation X, inducted him into the Hall of Fame) and even Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who is also a serial woman abuser who was recently denied entry to Australia because of this, surely his children have met them. Why, then, is it so hard to talk to your children about Laurer’s choice when you associate with convicted criminals? Presuming Levesque and his wife, WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon Levesque, have told them about the substance abuse problems Hall’s had of recent, they can talk to them about the travails of what you can find online. In this day and age, it’s never too soon to start.

total divas

Some of the cast of E! reality show, Total Divas.

It wasn’t so long ago that WWE unapologetically traded on the sexualities of its female performers such as Sable, Stacy Keibler and Laurer herself. Total Divas, the E! reality show charting the lives of eight WWE Divas, could arguably be said to be doing the same thing. And there’s nothing wrong with a woman using her body to her benefit if it’s consensual and she gains pleasure from it. What Levesque is saying, whether consciously or no, is that using women’s sexualities to sell a product is fine, as with the WWE’s mid-to-late 2000’s trend of Divas posing for Playboy, but getting pleasure (presuming porn was pleasurable for Laurer) from them is a no-no.

In addition, this promotion of legitimately dangerous and criminal men over women such as Laurer (it should also be noted that Laurer’s been charged with domestic violence against Waltman) indicates that despite Levesque’s lip service, the WWE prioritises bad men gone by over its current female roster. WWE may profit from the Divas’ physicality, but it’s dropped the ball when it comes to protecting them physically. For example, Debra Marshall (then Williams) was under contract to WWE when her partner Steve Austin, also under WWE contract, beat her. Debra was never again to be seen on WWE programming while Austin is still lauded as one of the greatest performers of all time.

So to #GiveDivasaChance may finally indicate a change in consciousness coming from wrestling fans but comments from within the company such as Graves’ and Levesque’s show that insider perceptions of women in wrestling still have a long way to go, baby.

Related: Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

[Bitch Flicks] Body Image on Total Divas.

[The Work of Wrestling] The Women Warriors of NXT.

[Pyro & Ballyhoo] Full Joanie “Chyna” Laurer Shoot Interview.

[E! Online] WWE Star Kevin Nash & Son, 18, Arrested for Domestic Violence After Fight at Home.

[The Morning Caller] Grand Jury to Review Death of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Girlfriend.

[Fox Sports] Ramon Charged with Domestic Violence.

[The Smoking Gun] Stone Cold Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[WWE] Talent Programs & Policies.

[Deadspin] The Trouble with Floyd Mayweather.

[Herald Sun] Floyd Mayweather’s Visa Application Rejected by Australian Authorities.

Images via The Outhouses, Jobu’s Rum, Shitloads of Wrestling, Zimbio, Sabrina Brand, Pro Wrestling.

The Year of the Stalker.

morello oitnb stalker

2014 has been the year of the stalker, wouldn’t you say?

Let me count the ways.

In May this year, college student, men’s rights enthusiast and “involuntary celibate” Elliot Rodger shot dead three students at the Isla Vista campus of the University of California and murdered three more in his apartment before turning the gun on himself in an attack meant to target “blonde sluts” who wouldn’t sleep with him. We know this because of the video and written manifestos he left bemoaning his virgin status, fixating particularly on girls from his past who rebuffed him. (This is a frightening trend we can see in the stabbing death of a high school girl who said no to a prom invitation and the shooting killing of a Detroit woman who wouldn’t give her assailant her phone number. And for all you MRAs out there, male entitlement to women’s bodies doesn’t just hurt women: a man was stabbed nine times for defending his girlfriend against street harassment.)

In the fictional world, Orange is the New Black’s second season revealed the extent of inmate Lorna Morello’s crimes, including the stalking of her oft-discussed “fiancé” “Chris-tuh-phuh”, with whom Morello only went on one date in reality. This revelation was one of the more shocking storylines on the show, but on the whole it painted the perpetrator in a sympathetic light as opposed to a potentially dangerous criminal.

Robin Thicke presented a good case for being named the biggest sexist of 2013, and this year he solidified that title by producing an entire album dedicated to the stalking of his estranged wife, Paula Patton. The album failed at “Get[ting] Her Back”, the title of the lead track, and it also failed to make a dent in the charts, selling just 54 copies in Australia alone.

The young adult book blogging community didn’t escape unscathed, either, with author Kathleen Hale thinking she could publish an account of her stalking of a book blogger who gave her a bad review and not see ramifications.

And back to reality: gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a talk at Utah State University earlier this year when organisers wouldn’t do anything about the bomb threat she was sent should her seminar go ahead. Just today, she posted this snapshot of a cyber threat she received on Twitter.

Anti-street harassment organization Hollacback! attempted to shine a light on just what women go through every day while going about their lives in public. While many of the 108 incidences of harassment caught on camera over a 10-hour period of walking alone in New York City couldn’t be classified as stalking, one of the men did follow volunteer Shoshana Roberts for several minutes despite her giving him no indication that she was into it.

But stalking is nothing new: the focus on it in the media this year doesn’t mean it’s a novel phenomenon. Victims of intimate partner abuse, sexual assault and murder are a testament to that (As of 12th November, 2014, 61 women had been murdered by their intimate partners in Australia this year. The murder-suicide of an estranged Deer Park couple yesterday only adds to that unacceptable number.) It is interesting that 2014 has been smattered with high-profile (albeit sometimes fictional) cases of stalking.

In Australia, one in ten people will be stalked, with women making up 75% of victims. As with sexual and physical violence, most stalking is likely perpetrated by a person known to the victim, with 76% of women in the U.S. who die by the hands of their intimate partners having also been stalked by them. Still in the U.S., according to Colorado State University, those who identify as LGBTQ* were twice as likely to experience cyberstalking and harassment on campus, while non-white women also experienced a higher likelihood of stalking in general. And people with disabilities also experience a higher likelihood of victimisation across the board. While Hollaback!’s video was an important one, it failed at showing marginalised women’s experiences as evidenced in the statistics (which is why this video about the harassment experienced by women of colour in New York City is an important next step).

I don’t think the up-tick of stalking in news stories and fictional representations (Gone Girl’s Desi Collings is another example of this) is indicative of an increase in violence against women, I think it’s more representative of the fact that we’re finally starting to give a shit about violence against women. The deluge of allegations against Bill Cosby (though the general public’s response has left much to be desired, with the majority of people willing to believe one man in power over dozens of women with scarily similar stories and not a whole lot to gain) and the ousting of “dating coach” Julian Blanc from many countries, including Australia, on his tour of pick up artistry are evidence of this. We’ve still got a long way to go, baby, especially when it comes to non-white, middle class women, but respect for and recognition of women is gaining strides baby steps in 2014.

So 2014 is the year of the stalker not because stalking is becoming more prevalent but because police reports, news stories and fictional representations are moving into focus.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.

Related: Gone Girls & Nice Guys.

On Stalking.

Orange is the New Black’s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Robin Thicke’s Paula: He Still Hates Those “Blurred Lines”.

Elsewhere: [The Daily Mail] Elliot Rodger’s Manifesto Targeted British Pop Star’s Daughter.

[USA Today] Boy Stabs, Kills Girl Who Turned Down Prom Date.

[Crime Feed] Engaged Woman Shot to Death After Refusing to Give Man Her Phone Number.

[CBC News] Man Stabbed 9 Times for Asking Catcallers to Stop Harassing His Girlfriend.

[The Guardian] Robin Thicke Named Sexist of the Year.

[Vulture] Which Country Hates Robin Thicke the Most?

[The Guardian] “Am I Being Catfished?” An Author Confronts Her Number One Online Critic.

[Buzzfeed] This is What Happens When an Author Tracks Down a Critic in Real Life.

[Kotaku] Anita Sarkeesian Cancels Speech Following Terror Threats.

[Daily Life] Australian Government Tells UN Violence Against Women Isn’t Torture.

[The Age] Deer Park Women Found Dead in Suspected Murder-Suicide.

[Wire] Stalking Information Sheet.

[National Centre for Victims of Crime] Stalking Fact Sheet.

[CSU Women & Gender Advocacy Centre] Stalking Statistics.

[Victims of Crime] Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities.

[Jezebel] A Hollaback Response Video: Women of Colour on Street Harassment.

Image via SheRa Magazine.