Chris Brown in Film Adaptation of Steve Harvey’s 'Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.' Say What?
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I’m not saying we shouldn’t forgive people, I’m just saying we should think more about the cultural forces that want us to forgive Chris Brown so quickly.
The reality of intimate partner violence doesn’t exactly make good fodder for the fluffy idealism of romantic comedies. Intimate partner violence is an epidemic. Although overall rates of IPV have gone down in the last 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control, each year women suffer about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes, while men are the victims of about 2.9 million incidences of violence. It is well established in psychology that violence is a cycle, a much deeper problem than a "mistake” or a “bad apple.” Intimate partner violence is scaffolded by a culture that believes men and women have innate and distinct characteristics that lead them to behave in certain ways. Unfortunately, the most popular books on dating perpetuate these same ideas about gender and romance.
This suggests a strong relationship between dating advice that relies on old adages about “men being from Mars and women being from Venus” and really problematic behavior from men toward women because ladies, “that’s just the way he is.” Dating advice like Harvey’s sets up a paradigm in which women are blamed for their relationship problems because they don’t understand the men they are trying to love. It may not be directly causing the violence, but it sets up a cultural framework that allows for it to happen.
If Harvey’s message is to help women, then there should have been great pause in choosing Chris Brown to co-star in his film. Someone who has not demonstrated an effective ability to manage his own behavior when it comes to his intimate partnerships should not be the best choice to star in a movie that is supposed to help women make better choices when it comes to men. Unless Brown is going to play the male character you should never ever date or take back, choosing him to co-star in the movie is not just insensitive, it is downright irresponsible.
It may sound as though I am being too severe. After all, dating advice is trying to help women, right? And some of the advice is not completely terrible. For example, telling a woman to move on when she is getting the runaround and wants something more is good advice. But that advice is much less effective when operating within a culture embedded with narrow assumptions about gender. Suggesting men always have to act like “men,” furthers ideas that men should be tough, unemotional and insensitive when it comes to dating. If the burden is put on women to act better, then it is a slippery slope to allowing unacceptable behaviors from men because they are just "being men."
I can see how it is easier to believe what Steve Harvey is saying is true about men and women. The alternatives to the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” story are destabilizing and call into question the very way we understand sexuality and gender. It pushes us into the unknown murky terrain where women are independent and don’t always want to get married and men (gasp) have feelings, needs and room for improvement. It appears that our lore around romance doesn’t add up to the realty of romance today.
Perhaps Harvey thinks that women should be more forgiving. He has said in multiple different outlets that he thinks women (specifically educated black women) have gotten too picky when it comes to dating. I would argue that given the statistics of unhappy relationships, emotional and physical abuse, and divorce rates, it seems we, as people, aren’t picky enough about our romantic partners. Dating, like people, is much more complicated than black and white assumptions about a range of experiences.