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A quick name association exercise. Chris Brown: beats women. Ike Turner: beats women. John Lennon: a few days ago, I would have said “peace.” Now it’s “beats women.” Peace comes second.

I didn’t know that Lennon was physically abusive to women until I fell into a Beatles research rabbit hole last week for another story I was working on. Since then, my brain has run the gamut of reactions, dismay through anger, before arriving at troubled, which is where it’s stayed.

Lennon’s past as an abuser feels like an open secret. In 1980, during an interview with Playboy magazine, he put his history of violence on the public record. “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically — any woman,” he said. “I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women.”

Lennon’s admission that he’s “a hitter” has been public knowledge for 30-plus years. But it seems willfully obscured, as if forgotten and forgiven by everyone who loved him for his heroics, real or imagined. No one puts Ike Turner’s musical contributions to Motown ahead of the fact that he beat Tina Turner (nor should they).

Before Chris Brown’s name became synonymous with domestic violence, he and Rihanna were the R&B/pop poster couple for young love. After he viciously assaulted her in 2009 just before the Grammy Awards, there’s been much heated and public discourse about the merit of his existence, never mind his music.

Granted, Lennon’s dark past made headlines as recently as last September when Brown released his newest album and activists in the U.K. placed advisory stickers on his CDs warning “This man beats women.” Then the stickers were put on Lennon’s records as well, and people freaked out — even though it was true.

Comparisons between Lennon and Brown have been made before, but most of those stories err on the side of “Why demonize Brown? Lots of other men hit women. Look at Lennon.”

That’s a point — but it’s not the point. We absolutely need to look at Lennon, but not under the guise of normalizing violence against women. Rather, we have to look at Lennon in the greater conversation of Chris Brown, domestic violence, celebrity and racism because there are some heinous, ugly things at the root of this argument. We’re being urged to gloss over Brown’s behaviour (because so many other famous men have done the same thing before) and also letting inherent racial bias obfuscate key details about whom we hold accountable.

Lennon has literally become a martyr for love and peace, and that one ugly truth doesn’t fit with the legacy of gentle radical and revolutionary genius. Arrogant? OK. Abusive? No way. Lennon isn't in keeping with what the majority’s idea of a criminal looks like. Brown looks like one, Lennon doesn’t — at least that’s what’s reaffirmed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways through most media images, everywhere from advertising to TV to music.

If seeing is believing, it works in strange ways. The pictures that remain of Lennon, particularly after the Beatles, are mostly of him and Yoko Ono, and have become iconic. They reaffirm a story they told of a tangled, immersive, all-consuming love affair, one that often depicted Lennon in a subservient role to Ono, in a fetal position on the bed next to her or draped across her body. There’s tenderness, manufactured or not, that reinforces our idea of Lennon, the feminist.

There haven’t been any photos like that of Brown since he attacked Rihanna. Most show him sullen or defiant or threatening or overly pleased with himself. It’s not hard to imagine the man in these photos doing what he did. And we know what he did. We’ve seen it.

I remember the sickening sensation of seeing Rihanna’s picture after Brown attacked her. Hearing about domestic violence is altogether different than seeing it, and I think that leaked police photo of Rihanna’s bruised, battered and swollen face has been a huge factor in so many people refusing to forgive or forget the extent of Brown’s rage and entitlement.

That the assault is still being talked about four years later — well, that is a PhD’s worth of information, analysis and cause and effect there — is at least in part due to Brown’s obvious lack of remorse and refusal to acknowledge that violence against women is wrong.

That was another part of the story that floored me in 2009, and continues to this day. I honestly — and naively — didn’t think younger generations needed a public discourse about domestic violence, that it was a problem in the past. Of course it’s wrong to hit women. Of course everybody is equal. Of course reflexive violence is usually only an option for the weakest and least educated in society. Of course I am wrong.

And it’s because I’m wrong that it’s important to acknowledge Lennon’s violence against women. Would he have become the revered deity of peace he is today if we saw photos of his victims, his lovers, his wives? The rest of his Playboy quote is telling, even he was still grappling with how his past informed his present:

“I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically — any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. Everything's the opposite. But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am not [a] violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.”

Lennon didn’t get the chance to live to be old enough to confront his violent self, nor did he live in a time when that was expected of him. Brown can and does have that opportunity. Comparing Brown and Lennon isn’t an attempt to normalize violence against women, nor is it an argument against enjoying either’s music (I do), nor is it my way of saying people can’t change (they can), but rather to illustrate failings and flaws in our culture that perpetuate privilege and stereotyping.

Chris Brown deserves condemnation. So does John Lennon; he is not a god. Nobody deserves to be beaten. Of course these things should be obvious. But they’re not. So we have to keep saying them.

Follow Andrea Warner on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner 

Related:

The woman behind the Beatles: Good Ol' Freda

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This man beats women: John Lennon, Chris Brown and ugly truths

A quick name association exercise. Chris Brown: beats women. Ike Turner: beats women. John Lennon: a…

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Candaceshaw
#1 posted by
Candaceshaw
on May 02, 2013

I've never had a sense of Lennon as a particularly good guy - a great artist, yes, but not a good guy.  It doesn't surprise me that he was physically abusive to the women in his life; it wasn't something I'd heard or suspected before, but it's not surprising.  What is surprising is that he talked about it, and talked about it as something that he needed to change about himself.  That makes me respect him much more than anything else I'd heard about him.  It's rare for an abuser to acknowledge that what they're doing is wrong, or that they need to change, in a sincere way.

Separating the artist from the art is difficult, but it's something you have to do, especially if you work with artists.  Sometimes horrible people make great art, and vice versa.  Not all of the time, and not even usually.  

What's crazy to me is that the industry still embraces and supports people like Chris Brown, Mel Gibson, and R. Kelly, who are clearly horrible people.  I personally wouldn't want to be in a studio or on a set with any of those guys, yet they're still working, and people are still buying their product.  With so many talented, bankable, and decent people out there, why keep working with these assholes? It's never necessary, no matter what jaded industry people tell you.

chiqnorris
#2 posted by
chiqnorris
on May 02, 2013

I understand the gist of this article is to make people think twice, but there's a whole other issue here that should be looked at.

Women's rights has been an issue for... ever? Yet we're still using the phrase "woman beater", implying that it is wrong to beat women, not for men to beat men, or women to beat men. Equality is acknowledging that women also do damage to men. Equality is people beating on people. It goes both ways. Sure you can hate the man for beating up women, but you're also repressing women by feeling that way. You are fulfilling that cycle of treating women as weaker and lesser beings that *need protecting*. I for one do not feel the need for protection simply because of my gender.

I dislike anyone who decides to get into physical altercations before working things out like a reasonable and intelligent person, man or woman. I knew John Lennon was a womanizer (I've read plenty on him in the past, I think I have three biographies on my book shelf), but I was still fascinated by him, if only because he was beginning to get towards an age when he was becoming enlightened on his past doings. Of course we'll never know what would have happened further down the road.

I enjoyed this article because of the way it addressed the racist undertones in this particular situation. But I encourage you to look at this other side as well, if only as an afterthought.

staz
#3 posted by
staz
on May 02, 2013

Last time I checked, focusing on men beating women does NOT somehow imply that it is wrong for men to beat men, or women to beat women. It is simply focusing on the truth that violence against women is the most frequent and normalized (ie. "acceptable") form of personal/domestic violence. This normalization of "woman beating" (your term), is exactly what the author is pointing out when she notes Brown's lack of remorse and refusal to recognize that violence against women is wrong - a refusal that is not, unfortunately, limited to Brown himself.

I take the point about not characterizing women as "needing protection" - I, too, cringe at the over-use of "victim", rather than "survivor", to desribe women who have experienced physical or orher violence. But I'm not sure I agree with your approach to it - the post smacks of men's rights activism (Jezebel.com has good articles on the subject). "Equality is acknowledging that women also do damage to men"? Sure. All genders should be working toward an end to oppression and violence. But you're not going to convince me that men face the rape threats and violent, sexist comments that women do on a daily basis.

It's not about "hat[ing] the man for beating up women", it's about hating patriarchy and oppressive gender stereotypes.

theBeav
#4 posted by
theBeav
on May 02, 2013

Hello! Super article! 

But you concern trolling fuckers can beat it. I know you're trolling because chiqnorris and Ellingsworth seem to have created accounts for the sole purpose of being a dipshit. I say a because i am guessing its a case sock-puppeting. Lennon never became "enlightened on his past doings" he just admitted them. 

High five to Starz. and Andrea.

 

 

Andrea Warner
#5 posted by
Andrea Warner
on May 02, 2013

Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Discussion is great and appreciated, but please keep it (the language) clean out here. 

staz
#6 posted by
staz
on May 02, 2013

Just to clarify a minor point - I took issue with the poster chiqnorris, not the writer, Andrea (as I was generally on board with her article). I also truly hope they're a troll, not a real thinking person,  but who knows.

And it's staz, not starz, but thanks for the high five ;)  

taramacd
#7 posted by
taramacd
on May 02, 2013

thanks for writing about such an important topic. there can never be enough discussion on these issues, precisely because the problems are so deeply rooted in our culture and social values. for an interesting perspective on violence against women and rape culture, see "yes means yes" edited by  jaclyn friedman  and jessica valenti. some very bold, progressive ideas about how to deal with sexual violence in our communities.

CVMill
#8 posted by
CVMill
on May 02, 2013



I am very aware of this (hard not to be livin with a tender Beatles fan) and am disappointed for sure....and yet, i feel that he grew past that, enough to talk about it...and from all reports i have seen, he never hit yoko - so it may very well be that he changed his ways but was smart enough to know (much like an alcoholic) that you are never really out of the woods. a young man (or woman) does many foolish and often horrible things, but to learn and grow from them is reason for forgiveness. the dif between him and chris brown is that chris goes and gets a frickin tattoo of a beaten woman on his neck and then goes back with his enabler, while continuing with violent behavior in general. I am glad john put a human face on domestic violence, because it can happen to anyone, our dads, husbands, sons, and yes, even some women...if we demonize the person instead of the behaviour we are doomed to more of the same. rather than THIS MAN BEATS WOMEN it should say THIS MAN USED TO BEAT WOMEN AND THEN HE GREW THE FRICK UP. peace out...
boders
#9 posted by
boders
on May 02, 2013

Really important read. Thanks, Andrea. Echoing theBeav on the high fives and for concern trolling taking a hike (not just in this context!)

Andrea Murphy
#10 posted by
Andrea Murphy
on May 02, 2013

Thank you Andrea for this article and for bring the issue of domestic violence to the front page of CBC.

18 months ago I gathered the strength to leave my abusive husband.  One of the things I struggle with is the fact that this man is perceived in his community to be an upstanding bloke and that people find it hard to believe that he would commit domestic violence.  But he did.  

Bringing domestic violence to the fore for discussion and identifying people like John Lennon as being abusive men is good.  I never would have believed that Lennon, Mr. Peace, would be involved in domestic violence.  But by his own admission he has. 

This gives credence to the fact that if a woman says that she is being abused at home, we need to listen to her and believe her and help her.  And we need to dig deeper to help HIM stop the violence.  If your readers want to help stop the violence I encourage them to check out www.whiteribbon.ca

 

boders
#11 posted by
boders
on May 03, 2013

Repeating what Andrea Murphy said, over and over (and over) for my brothers: LISTEN. BELIEVE. 

Candaceshaw
#12 posted by
Candaceshaw
on May 03, 2013

@Ellingsworth, I'm pretty sure all of the men I mentioned did illegal things: Mel Gibson and Chris Brown are physically abusive, and R. Kelly is a pedophile.  They aren't just wacky, misunderstood geniuses; they're jackasses.

As someone working in the music industry, I've got an embarrassment of choice when it comes to who to book.  Do I choose to work with a known abuser, or another artist? 

I'll choose to work with a great artist who is nice over a great artist who's a horrible person, every time. You don't have to be a dick to produce great art; the dick's bios just tend to get more attention, because that's where the fireworks are.

thunderbear
#13 posted by
thunderbear
on May 03, 2013

Andrea...its SO easy to take shallow shots at a dead guy who can't defend himself!

Please consider. In the late 1960s and early 1970s I was a young man (one of tens of millions of young men at the time) totally in awe of the Beatles.

When the Beatles spoke...we listened! They were our compass. Our mentors.

When John and Paul told us that Beating women was NOT COOL, we listened! That was the first time that our significant elders told us that it was not OKAY to hit a woman! John Lennon grew up on the violent streets of Liverpool England. He was taught to hit. At some point he learned to stop hitting and went on to teach a whole generation of young men not to hit.       Thanks John for some great advice!

"I used to be cruel to my woman

I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved

Man I was mean but I'm changing my scene

And I'm doing the best that I can (Ooh)

I admit it's getting better (Better)

A little better all the time (It can't get more worse)

Yes I admit it's getting better (Better)

It's getting better since you've been mine

Getting so much better all the time"

---- Lyrics "Getting Better" by the Beatles.



eric1
#14 posted by
eric1
on May 03, 2013

Kind of ironic that 'thebeav' comes on an article about male violence and hurls his aggressive expletive ridden abuse at some new forum members for no apparent reason (but some paranoid theory). Like other losers and abusers, probably compensation for low self esteem and shortcomings in the manhood department.

@Ellingsworth and chiqnorris, good posts and don't worry, been around here for half a decade and most people participate to simply to share a common love of music.

DABCO
#15 posted by
DABCO
on May 04, 2013

While I enjoyed the article I find it rather discouraging that it rails so heavily on 'violence against women'. Shouldn't we just abhor violence, regardless of gender? It is a misconception that domestic violence is solely carried out by men against women. Scientific study has shown that each gender is equally capable of such cruelty. It is the pseudo-science employed by modern feminism which propagates these myths on the subject. Again good article but it has a very prominent skew. For a good summary see the article from the national post below and the references contained therein.

http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/story.html?id=a41532d6-d4df-46a2-a784-f6499938f3b0

Andrea Murphy
#16 posted by
Andrea Murphy
on May 04, 2013

Thanks Boders :)

Chris A
#17 posted by
Chris A
on May 04, 2013

I would see this comparison as more apt were it that Chris Brown had been freely admitting something he had done which he had not yet been admonished for, perhaps in an interview years later where no one was pressuring him to adress the issue due to any media coverage. For Lennon to admit this well after the fact shows that in a time where abusing a woman was only just starting to be a real taboo he was willing to adress his own past honestly. Chris Brown on the other hand has given no indication that he's legitimately remorseful. Instead his so called admissions are reactionary and disingenuous. If anything, the media is far too kind to that talentless cretin.

floralpattern
#18 posted by
floralpattern
on May 05, 2013

I agree with Chris A's comment. I understand Lennon's stated comment as expressing self-reflection, self-knowledge, an understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, a sense of sincere remorse, and the will to be a better self.  Chris Rock, from the information given, reveals none of that, and that is the difference.

I'm not invested in defending Lennon.  I'm just surprised that this difference, which seems more than apparent to me is not part of Andrea Warner's piece ... equating Lennon and Chris Rock is simplistic, though eye-catching as a headline

lisasilversgomezkavelin
#19 posted by
lisasilversgomezkavelin
on May 05, 2013

Please remove this article from the home page now. Seems more geared at gossip than music, considering it has remained the 'hot topic' for several days and the viewer has no choice as to whether to look at it or not. Intriguing topic to some? Possibly, but I am not cool with the fact that I *have to view and therefore participate. I deal with crazy stuff on a regular basis, and am inundated by it with every 'news' media online. I come to this site for every reason *other than this type of article, which I consider to be an invitation to spiral downward into what is bad about humanity. I'm disappointed and weary. Elevate our discourse. Elevate! 

love CBC
#20 posted by
love CBC
on May 07, 2013

John Lennon, in the interview quoted, uses the past tense. Doesn't that suggest that he no longer was hitting women?  It really makes me think that there had been a change in him. But perhaps that is just me trying to hang on to the mental image I have of him.  Everyone has dirty little secrets so I am not sure why we should hold him to a higher standart. He was able to articulate his issue which is half the road to changing the behaviour. 

Lotus_
#21 posted by
Lotus_
on May 08, 2013

Nicely written article though I really think the two artists are not comparable in the least. John Lennon used the past tense and I think owning up to something and sharing that is huge. Does Chris Brown do that? I don't follow gossip or that sort of music so I am not sure personally.... But irregardless, all people have their faults and flaws and their lessons they are learning, why condemn John for admitting what he did and sharing his shame? At any rate I generally try to separate artist from "real life" as much as I can, within reason I suppose -- it's not like we know what are grocery store clerk was up to, or our doctor, dentist etc., personal lives are just that, personal. And some of the most famous and well loved individuals over time have done some pretty messed up things!

Blazzing Light
#22 posted by
Blazzing Light
on Nov 28, 2013

John Lennon, in the meeting estimated, uses the last stressed. Doesn't that recommend that he no more was reaching women?  It really creates me think that there had been a modify in him. But perhaps that is just me trying to keep on to the psychological picture I have of him.  Everyone has unclean little tricks so I am not sure why we should keep him to a greater standart. He was able to communicate his problem which is 50 percent the street to modifying the behavior. 

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