Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Do Mel Gibson’s Violent Tirades Matter?

If you haven’t listened to any of the tapes of Mel gibson’s violent and degrading verbal attacks on his partner (or, I assume, now his ex-partner) Oksana Grigorieva, you might not want to. They are disturbing for the level of potential for violent assault that they communicate; for their level of woman-hating; and for the intensity of the hatred he sounds like he feels toward Grigorieva in particular, for daring to be her own person. The tapes are, in a word, disgusting. (Links to them are available at the end of this blog, if you feel you must hear them.)

So why not just ignore them? Why do they matter? Much of the news coverage and commentary discusses Gibson’s threats and insults as if they are just the entertaining explosions of a fading celebrity. I have read articles from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times that focus on questions such as: 1) How his behavior is affecting his film sales, 2) How the Radaronline website is gaining in popularity by exposing his tapes, and, 3) How Gibson’s decline is connected to the overall weakening of the power of the Christian Right. I’m not saying that these articles mention the topics I listed; I’m saying that each of those topics was what an entire article was written about.

More important is what they aren't writing about. I haven’t succeeded yet in finding a single article that discusses what the Mel Gibson tapes show us about domestic violence, which is particularly striking given that domestic violence is the main issue that these tapes are about; they are acts of domestic violence in themselves, they refer to past domestic violence assaults by Gibson, and they contain threats of future assaults by him. The media response shows how powerful our societal tendency remains to avoid talking about male violence against women, and to try to change the subject to anything else under the sun.

Now I will answer my own question. The tapes matter because, 1) They show how terrifying Gibson’s behavior would be to a woman involved with him, 2) They show how an admired (at least by many, though certainly not by all) celebrity can be a terrorizer, and virtually a jailer, of women in private, and 3) They illustrate powerfully the mentality of men who abuse women, because Gibson in so many ways acts just like other batterers. What I most notice about Gibson is what an ordinary domestic violence perpetrator he is, not what a special one he is. Ordinary, that is, and very dangerous, as many ordinary batterers are.

There are multiple layers worth examining. Over the next several days, I will write more about this case and deal with the questions of:

  • How Gibson reveals the classic abuser mentality
  • How stunningly misogynistic his rants are (and I do not use that term lightly)
  • Why it’s important to understand the connection between his contempt for women and the rest of his well-documented bigotry
  • Why he should be considered dangerous
  • What this case shows about how our society needs to change in order to stop domestic violence (including a discussion of why Whoopi Goldberg’s comments about the case are so unfortunate)

And as I said, you really don’t need to listen to the tapes, especially if you’ve been through abuse yourself. But listen to them if you want to.

TAPE #1: Gibson Admits Hitting Grigorieva, Threatens To Kill Her

TAPE #2: Gibson Says He'll Burn Down House After Demanding Sex

TAPE #3: Gibson Screams Disgusting, Anti-Female Slurs and Vulgarities

TAPE #4: Gibson Tells Grigorieva That No One Will Believe Her That He Hit the Baby (But He Doesn't Deny It)


  1. I have been wondering the same thing. I have a court hearing coming up to address custody and visitation for my abuser, and I keep wondering whether the Mel Gibson story will help, but from the reaction I've been seeing around the internet, I doubt it. Terrifying.

    I haven't listened to the tapes; I can hear exactly what they sound like in my head from my own experience.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  2. Battered women have never been able to truly expose the truth because people would say that the women are overdramatizing or delusional. Oksana has captured the truth and revealed it. These tapes are here to stay and they will help battered women hear that htey are not alone. Cheers to Oksana for her courage.

  3. i am still disgusted by all the victim-blaming and tacit approval of his behavior going on EVERYWHERE. what could have been a landmark moment to reveal an ugly side of human relationships is swept over and excused. i cannot stand it and it makes me believe we are light years away from achieving true equality as women. where is the outrage for his vicious verbal assault? where is the community who calls for his immediate arrest and where is his mea culpa? in his sick, twisted mind she DID deserve it and the way he spoke to her was "no big deal." i thank god evrey day i finally found a man to love me who listened to the tapes and said "he should be arrested just for speaking to her like that." the psychological damage alone done to her and her 12 year old son who witnessed these vile assults is staggering. but SHE's the golddiger? SHE's the whore? i shake my head in disgust and mutter in dismay. james brown was right -this really is a man's world.

    excellent column, thank you.

  4. It is the legal community that must stand as one and say "We are not going to defend this type of behavior ever again, We Refuse to revictimize the victims. Our oath to ourselves and our devine powers prevents us from defending violence against a person of lessor power." Instead, we witness each time we open the phone book, ad after ad by those who have taken the Bar Oath "Accused of DV, SEE ME". I do not see one ad that states "If you are a victim who is seeking justice, see me.

    A little story. I asked my lawyer if he was going to take me as all the others did. He said no, of course. But when the question was broached in a different manner, more indirect, he said it was HIS JOB TO TAKE PEOPLE. So much for legal help and the legal community.

  5. I listened to these tapes on Saturday night and cried having flash backs of what I left behind and what after 2 years and 55K I am still in court trying to resolve. My daughter's father is a version of Mel. He never hit me. He didn't call me a whore, but he called me a thief, abuser, hollow-souled fraud of a human-being. He called me twisted and distorted, a person with no empathy, he called me the C word and so many other things. I was always well liked and was surrounded by friends galore. I had always been told the opposite in my life, developed deep loving relationships and had acted authentically. All I thought about as I heard the tapes is that this is the worst kind of abuse Mel is projecting. This is the kind of abuse you can't get a band-aid to fix it because it robs your soul. It doesn't enable you to trust again or feel safe again, it forces you to second guess yourself and question yourself constantly -- this kind of abuse leaves you disoriented and confused wondering who you really are and if maybe their right - even when you know deep inside they are not -- you still have to keep telling yourself that.

    Our situations were very similar. I left my daughter's father when I was 7 months pregnant because I couldn't take the insults, put downs, tirades, rants, humiliations, shaming episodes, blaming and control. We have been in court for 2 years.

    The hard part is that the court presumes you are both 50/50 at fault for not getting along. As a woman, particularly a woman suffering from abuse, takes more than 50% the blame because her efforts to preserve herself and save her children make her appear inflexible, crazy and over- reactive. I don't know how this changes? I read blogs about Mel and I am sickened by the names people call Oksana and how they blame her.

    I read articles written by the crazy father's rights group Father's and Families that trivialize abuse and look at claims of abuse as woman's ways to manipulate the system. This is a major problem

    One more thing, people talk about Mel's ex-wife Robin like she is an angel -- her story is locked up probably based on a very healthy settlement amount. Abusers don't just start being abusers -- sometimes it takes the first wife since they were much younger when they met a lot longer to escape the mayhem. That was the case with my daughter's father's first wife ... but she was suicidal and is now being permanently treated for depression and anxiety disorders. Wished I listened to her.

  6. There's a lot of info on the web about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and its connection to domestic violence. Whether Gibson has any PTSD or not, who knows...but, my question is this:

    Should an abuser with a PTSD diagnosis be treated any differently than an abuser who doesn't have an official diagnosis?

    I am currently in an emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abusive marriage. We are in counseling. We see the counselor separately, then for joint sessions. The counselor is involved in PTSD studies, and treats local soldiers returning from war. He has diagnosed my husband with PTSD (from being stalked by a murderous former step-father who killed my husband's mother, then himself. My husband was in his 30s at the time).

    He's also diagnosed me with PTSD both from a prior sexual assault and from the trauma of a 10 year abusive marriage with my husband.

    I really wonder sometimes whether the counselor is more focused on the PTSD than on the abuse. He says that we "trigger each other".

    I read "Why Does He Do That" and shared it with the counselor. He seems to verbally agree that PTSD is not an excuse for abusive behavior, but is more focused on helping my husband interrupt the PTSD episode than he is on the CHOICE my husband makes to go down the abuse road.

    I'm so confused.

  7. Thank you for stating what most media pundits miss when going on their victim-blaming tirades. I don't understand why the media is blaming the victim for recording Gibson, always hinting to her setting him up. Being a survivor of violence myself, I believe rants liked these happened all the time. That is why she recorded him. When I hear the media yap about Gibson needing an anger management class I think of "abusers don't abuse because they are angry, they are angry because they are abusive." The Gibson spin in the media is just another example of abuse apologist culture I guess. Make excuses for the seemingly nice guy that we think we know from movies. Speaking of which I hear his latest movie is doing quite well at the box office, further proving that our culture is always quick to forgive the celeb with a few slip ups with his "anger issues." Yuck.

    Looking forward to seeing you speak in Ithaca. Thanks again for the article.

  8. Don't forget that Mel's father is a Holocaust denier. Having a man like that for a father, you either distance yourself from the madness or start drooling like Papa. Considering his own anti-Semitic comments, his choice seems clear.

    Mel also insists Mass be said in Latin, and does not recognize changes the Vatican has made. He used profits from his fictionalized film about Jesus to build his own church, and the priests only follow his orders. Megalomania, anyone?

    Also keep in mind he used to quote his mother's marriage advice to him when asked about the "secret" of his purportedly happy marriage to Robin, which produced many children. He would say something like, "My mother told me to be nice to my wife." Normally, one would be think that should be a complete given, so much so as to be considered trite advice. However, when you're married to a Holocaust denier and produce a child like Mel, I guess it becomes a fervent hope and plea. Let's hope she was spared hearing of his vitriol for his mistress . . .