‘Slut-shaming’ Charlie Sheen should be the last of our concerns

charlie sheen today

This week, in Literally The Stupidest Thing I have Read About Charlie Sheen In The Past 48 Hours, is the call to “stop slut-shaming” Sheen.

Leading the charge on this one is a writer at Mic, EJ Dickson, who claims that, after Sheen went public about his HIV-positive status on The Today Show yesterday, “people immediately rushed to point fingers at Sheen, shaming him for his sexual braggadocio.”

Wowowowowowow. Ok. Ok breathe.

So after all that we know about Sheen — his history of abuse, his serial use of prostituted women, his virulent misogyny, his selfish and destructive behaviour — what we really need to concern ourselves with is “slut-shaming”??!?

To be clear, I do not believe Sheen “deserved” HIV. I do not believe anyone “deserves” any STI. I am not “gleeful” at his diagnosis, by any means. But my concern, with regard to this situation, does not lie with Sheen. It lies with all the women he used and abused (and will likely continue to use and abuse).

This is a man who called his ex-wife and mother of his children, Denise Richards, a “whore” and a “heretic washed up piglet shame pile” on Twitter and had a crowd at one of his stage shows chant “fuck that bitch” after a bit about his breakup with her. He referred to the women he paid for sex as “unsavory and insipid types” despite the fact that he is the only one engaging in unethical behaviour within these exchanges, not the women.*

Despite the extreme and ongoing violence and misogyny he’s directed at women, Sheen has maintained a healthy career and will, in all of this, certainly maintain his wealth, fame, and white male privilege.

Rather than being “ashamed” of his lifestyle, Sheen was, in fact, proud of it and used it to his advantage. The character he played on Two and a Half Men was based on him — an irresponsible, womanizing manchild, who lives a “playboy” lifestyle and parties to excess. The show essentially glorified his behaviour and treatment of women until they finally fired him in 2011, not because of his misogyny or violence, but because he publicly disparaged the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre (yes, it’s likely that public tirades like this one were connected to drug abuse, but Sheen’s addictions were not new). He immediately landed another gig on Anger Management, where he would play a softer version of that character (still an irresponsible cheater/womanizer with “anger management” issues, but “more mature”) in yet another show that relied heavily on sexist jokes and stereotypes. His original costar, Selma Blair, was fired via an abusive text, in which Sheen called her a “cunt,” after she complained that he was a “menace” to work with. The show was cancelled last year due to what was said to be “slipping ratings,” though now some are speculating it had to do with his health and appearance.

While I absolutely agree that there are a ton of misconceptions and stigmatization around people living with STIs, how they are transmitted and what that says about them as people (nothing!), the idea that we should somehow not be judging Sheen’s behaviour — or that judging his “lifestyle” amounts to “slut-shaming” — is ridiculous. We aren’t just talking about a guy who was very fond of women and happened to enjoy sex. We’re talking about a man who hated women and used them for his own means, absolutely disregarding their humanity and well-being, disrespecting them at every turn.

Jeremiah Johnson, an HIV prevention research and policy coordinator at the New York City-based Treatment Action Group, told Mic that he was “concerned [that] because Charlie Sheen has a history of having sex with sex workers, there will be a push to vilify those decisions and vilify people who engage in sex work.” What’s maddening about this statement is that, not only should men who pay for sex most certainly be judged and shamed for doing so (just as any misogynist, dehumanizing behaviour should be “judged”), but that it goes unmentioned that it is Sheen himself — a john — who is doing the vilifying. After this statement, Dickson goes on to express concern about “criminalization rendering [“sex workers”] invisible,” all the while invizibilizing Sheen’s misogynistic treatment of women, both in general, and specifically with regard to the way he discussed the women he paid for sex. She expresses concern about the “high risk” prostituted women face, but fails to mention who it is that puts them at risk: Men like Sheen.

Dickson writes:

“What is clear… is that because Sheen is not a ‘sympathetic’ HIV-positive person, and because many of his former sexual partners are on the fringes of society, many are comfortable shaming him — and his partners — for his status, rather than using his diagnosis as an opportunity to launch a wider conversation about, say, drug addiction or safer sex practices.”

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.

So after all we know about Sheen’s behaviour and his treatment, disregard, and outright hatred of women, we are expected to “launch a wider conversation about… drug addiction or safer sex practices?” Because, what? That conversation will convince selfish, abusive johns like Sheen to care about the women they buy? Fat chance.

Men who buy sex don’t respect women. Men who buy sex are the ones doing the “slut-shaming,” calling the women they sleep with “whores” and much worse. And you want us to direct our concern and sympathy towards those men? While you do everything in your power to normalize this behaviour, decontextualize the existence of the sex industry as a whole, and blame those of us who “judge” johns for the suffering of the women they buy?

Nope.

“Slut-shaming” happens to women because men hate women. It does not happen to men. This is not an “it goes both ways” type of situation. Men are not punished privately or publicly for having sex with women. They are celebrated. There is no revenge porn site for men. There is no epidemic of male rape victims being tormented to death because their rapist taped the assault. Women do not abuse men by calling them “sluts” and “whores.” Young men are not publicly humiliated after going down on a girl they liked or wanted to impress.

It is wrong that Sheen is being judged now, by some, because of his HIV diagnosis when he should have been judged long ago for his abuse and misogyny. But to call that judgement “slut-shaming” and demand our sympathies is a repulsive reversal akin to accusations of “misandry” or “reverse sexism.” It exhibits a deep misunderstanding of how systems of power work and how brutally women suffer within them, including in the sex industry.

*The wording in this sentence was edited on November 18, 2015 and previously read: “…despite the fact that he is the one who put them — and many other women — at risk, not the other way around.”

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Delilah

    I read a quote from Charlie posted on one of those abhorrent “sex worker review” websites: “You’re not paying them for sex, you’re paying them to leave afterwards.”
    Ultimately he is a very sad pathetic and soul dead individual.

    • Allison H.

      I think Charlie has a lot of trust issues with women and men. I have a feeling he thinks that women who pursue him might be after his money.

      • Tangelo

        So sad. Sadder still that he thought he could work through his trust issues by prostituting and being violent towards women.

      • He tosses money at women to get them to have sex with him instead of trying to get to know them as human beings, then he gets upset that they want the money he through at him. What does he expect? That women having sex for money will not be interested in the money. Of course the fact that he is only after their butts and boobs does not matter does it. I do not encourage gold digging behaviour in general, but some women really are in desperate need of money. Nobody has a real need for butts and boobs. Contrary to what they insist men can live without them.

  • Sally

    “But my concern, with regard to this situation, does not lie with Sheen. It lies with all the women he used and abused (and will likely continue to use and abuse).”

    That was exactly my first thought when I heard the news. I couldn’t help but wonder how many women he has coerced into unprotected sex and spread this deadly illness to… It makes me feel ill knowing that rich entitled men like this monster are using women and then we’re expected to believe johns respect sex workers and we’re not allowed to judge… dear lord…

  • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

    EJ Dickson’s tweet is just bizarre. It was SHEEN HIMSELF who called these women unsavory! Where’s the outrage for this?!

  • Yeah … I’m all for vilifying those decisions (to use prostituted women). Buying women’s bodies is vile. Everything that you said Meghan.

  • Coffeeanagrit

    I am a feminist who works in HIV. I understand your contempt for Sheen- I think he is sleazy too. But can you please correct the sentence about him putting escorts “at risk”? Being undetectable makes it pretty hard to transmit the virus, regardless of whether one wears a condom or not. And plenty of people with HIV now live long and full lives. It isn’t a “deadly illness” like it used to be. Here’s a link to some information on a recent study: http://www.aidsmap.com/No-one-with-an-undetectable-viral-load-gay-or-heterosexual-transmits-HIV-in-first-two-years-of-PARTNER-study/page/2832748. I’m hoping you hear me on this one because HIV stigma is absolutely a feminist issue. For women living with HIV, disclosure can be hard because a partner can react violently and use the fear and ignorance around HIV to justify subsequent violence. Obviously this is rooted in misogyny, but serophobia plays a role in this too.

    • Meghan Murphy

      This is a good point. Thank you for bringing it up.

      • Coffeeanagrit

        Thanks for listening! I really appreciate it 🙂

  • Meghan Murphy

    I am not judgmental about drug addiction at all… But I am judgmental about his violence against women and misogyny… I think it’s possible for people to be “nice” in some situations but also be abusive… Many abusive men seem very nice and even do nice things for others in many circumstances. It can be complicated…

    • Allison H.

      Well almost every person ever has been abusive at some point to some degree. I know he is very remorseful for the mistakes he has made and there is no doubt that his drug addiction has a lot to do with his behavior.

      • Tangelo

        Allison, if he is remorseful for how he treated women and wants to be a philanthropist, I’d suggest he show that remorse by giving any funds he has earmarked for charity to groups set up to end violence against women. Rape transition shelters. Groups working to end the demand to prostitute women and children. Anti-human trafficking groups. Organizations working to end domestic violence.
        On the individual level, he could show sincerity by immediately giving up prostituting women, viewing porn, denigrating women (including his ex partners). Feel free to pass these ideas on to him, if you wish.

      • Zuzanna Smith

        Is he really remorseful? I hear him feeling sorry for himself, that without a doubt. I’ll believe it when he comes out apologizing to women for using, abusing, insulting them and buying their bodies for his entertainment, until then I feel sorry for his family and his kids.

      • tinfoil hattie

        No. I have never been abusive. Occasionally mean? Yes. Ill-tempered? Yes. Snapped at people? Of course.

        Not abusive. “Everyone” doesn’t abuse people.

    • Allison H.

      I guess I didn’t like your statement of ” his outright hatred of women”. He certainly doesn’t hate me or his daughters. I think he has a lot of trust issues with women he has dated. I know he has been financially and emotionally screwed over by some but that doesn’t mean he hates women. There are some women who I hate like my mother for instance, it doesn’t mean I have hatred for women.

      • tinfoil hattie

        How much more evidence do you need? He hates, abuses, uses, discards, shames and vilifies women.

  • jackstar72

    How about a conversation about respect for women? The only slut I am shaming is Charlie Sheen. God he’s a creep.

  • Tangelo

    Great. He donated funds to an organization that works to help abused kids. After hours, he goes out and prostitutes women, many of whom were first prostituted when they were kids who left home due to abuse.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Almost all abusive men pretend as though if a woman would just ‘love them properly’ they wouldn’t behave abusively. It’s always our responsibility to ‘cure’ them of their violence and misogyny, isn’t it?

  • will

    Yes. Thank you.

  • Allison H.

    I totally agree that abusers are often seen as upstanding by the public but behind closed doors can be quite evil . That pretty much sums up my mother. I have no idea who Jian Ghomeshi is so I will have to google that. I don’t really claim to know him well but what I do know is he isn’t how I would have perceived him if I hadn’t had some contact with him. Remember is father was a very famous actor and his brother was very big in the 80’s. I kind of think he just was pushed into the limelight. Like I said he actually comes across as very shy when he is sober. Now of course I’ve seen him drunk and on drugs and he comes all out of his shell.

  • will

    Hahaha!!!! Yup. You got it. The failings manifest in Charlie are, in reality, women’s failings.

  • Tangelo

    If you see him, be sure to ask him how his own research into prostituting women in the USA is going. Ask if he has any insight into how all those sickos who prostitute adult women in the USA can live with themselves.

  • tinfoil hattie

    Who’s being shamed here are the prostitutes whose bodies he used for money. “ooooh, he had SEX WITH PROSTITUTES!” the stories bleated. Pooooooor Charlie! That’s where he got HIV! It’s all those bitches’ fault.

  • tinfoil hattie

    Fuck Charlie Sheen. He hates women. He uses women. He is an annihilator of women. I don’t care how “nice” he is. Good god.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Honest question: Are you an MRA?

    • Sally

      I got that impression from their first comment where they basically made it pretty apparent they are not a feminist in the first two sentences. This person has no interest in learning about feminism from this site. They come here to instigate.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yet she’s said some really repulsive things about rape/victims of rape…

  • Maureen

    According to TV Guide Charlie Sheen was paid $1.25 million per episode of Two and a Half Men. http://www.tvguide.com/news/top-tv-earners-1021717/

    This morning I gave a guy on the street five dollars because he really looked like he needed it. I’m pretty sure that’s a bigger percentage of my income than $15,000 is of Charlie Sheen’s income, (actually I’m certain of it) but I don’t expect the world to overlook whatever horrible other things I may do simply because I gave somebody five bucks.

    Also, according to Denise Richards, Sheen used child pornography while they were married, so he owes a hell of a lot more to abused kids than $15,000. His debt to them is immeasurable.

    • Sally

      You’re right. He should be jailed for life. But he’ll always get off the hook because he’s rich and now we’re supposed to feel sorry for him too.

  • Allison H.

    WTH??? Why would think that? Do bruises, lost teeth, hair pulled out, lashings, and a stabbing not constitute abuse?

  • Anon

    Whoopi Goldberg? She defended dog killer / torturer / fighter Michael Vick saying that strangling and beating dogs to death was a part of black, Southern culture. Goldberg is reprehensible, a truly horrible human.

  • Sally

    BUT BUT BUT… he’s such a nice guy! According to a commenter who met him once. Seems legit.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Also good points! Thank you for this perspective, Sylvia!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yes, I read that!! WTF!

  • Coffeeanagrit

    I don’t disagree that he put them at risk, but you know just as well as I do that the actual virus has weakened over decades and the risk estimates are outdated. And you are likely also aware that people who are not at risk tend to overestimate their risk while those who actually participate in high-risk behaviours underestimate it. If something is not 100% safe or effective, then they believe it is false; and if there is a possibility of risk then they assume it is high-risk. So I am thinking of the audience of women on this blog reading media coverage who then panic and call ASOs terrified that they are suddenly at risk when they are not. Educating people about how HIV is transmitted and de-stigmatizing HIV go hand in hand.
    What should be a reminder that HIV is still something to take seriously (as you point out) can bring significant levels of distress, panic, and fear to publics when we frame people as victims preyed upon by PLWH. And while marginalized clients who access services at ASOs face the barriers you identify and nobody thinks HIV is a picnic, surely you agree that the experience of living with HIV for white, bourgeois men like Sheen is much different. And if heaven forbid Sheen’s white partners and escorts seroconvert, they will be well taken care of. They aren’t women living on the fringes of society like many of your clients. But if we keep circulating media reports about this being some giant “AIDS coverup” (go check out the tabloids on the newsstands this week– people read that stuff as if it is reliable journalism), then it will be the most marginalized PLWH who will bear the brunt of the stigma. Even though we disagree, I want to acknowledge and appreciate the work that you do as it is at times difficult, often thankless, and nevertheless very important. Take care.

  • Tired feminist

    And everyone here is buying it, of course.

  • Alienigena

    I don’t care enough about Charlie Sheen to hate him. I don’t know him personally. But I think your continued defense of him is pretty suspect given the overwhelming evidence that he is a card carrying misogynist. My brother loves his daughter but I think he is a misogynist. He can’t tolerate women having power and would never have a relationship with a woman who was his equal (educationally, professionally). He likes to feel superior. I think I will just relegate you to the ‘brick wall’ category of human. The kind of person ‘who does not receive input’. The kind of person who claims they learned all they needed to know by the age of five. Who has a bit of a superiority complex (my experience and beliefs trump yours). I sometimes wonder if people who write the kind of things you do, use female monikers and photos on the Internet are really men (or dogs, sorry to all the dog lovers). It seems you are not, but your comments really make it seem like you won’t really benefit from anything this site has to offer. Maybe not an MRA but probably a troll.

  • Applejack

    Bingo. Nailed it.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Plenty of people catch STIs for plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with one night stands. What about prostituted women or women in porn who are pressured to have unprotected sex (which they are, like, all the time)? You have no sympathy? What about people who catch an STI from a partner who didn’t know they had it? Just using a condom can’t always protect you anyway. Beyond all that, most STIs aren’t really that big of a deal and are easily cureable nowadays. HIV is a scary one, but the people who suffer most/are at higher risk are marginalized women, including Indigenous populations in Canada, as well as, of course, women in Third World countries. http://sogc.org/newsletter/november-2014/world-aids-day-focus-marginalized-peoples/ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/hiv-rates-on-sask-reserves-higher-than-some-african-nations-1.3097231

    So it doesn’t make much sense to chalk it up to irresponsible people having one night stands and certainly it doesn’t mean it’s their own fault or that they somehow deserve it/don’t deserve sympathy and support.

    • Michael85

      I wasn’t talking about those people, I was clearly talking about the fools who think unprotected sex with people they don’t know (or hardly know) is a good idea.

      “Just using a condom can’t always protect you anyway.”

      In most cases will, but at least those people tried. The vast majority of people who get STDs from casual, unfamiliar partners (one night stands, brief flings) didn’t use protection. It sucks for those that did use protection and were extremely unlucky.

      When someone, like Sheen, who engages in highly risky behavior on a near daily basis knowing full well they’re playing Russian roulette with their body it’s hard to garner sympathy when the chamber was loaded.

      Most people deserve sympathy for their STD status but fuck Sheen.

  • Sally

    I call troll.

    • Sabine

      Definitely.

  • Sally

    “I know it sounds crazy to express some sympathy for a self-described asshole like Sheen”

    No, not crazy at all. Pretty run of the mill misogynistic, actually. We’re not surprised or shocked. Really. You’re defending an abuser. We see that every day. Your opinion is not novel on any level whatsoever.

    ” I guess I really think there are much more important issues for feminists.”

    If you sincerely don’t believe that critiquing and criticizing abusive behavior should be a TOP priority for feminists, you do NOT belong on this website. Get lost. We all see through you.

    I’m also betting $50 you’re not a middle-aged lesbian woman who supposedly works with neglected and abused kids. I’m even willing to bet you’ve never actually met Charlie Sheen.