The list of men who made great music but were not always great people is expansive

Sable Starr, 14, and Lori Maddox, 14, celebrating John Bonham's 24th birthday.

We are a lucky species, in that we are able to hold more than one thought in our heads at once. We can enjoy films that may not be in line with our political ideology, dance to music created by assholes, and appreciate art made by idiots. In fact, this is mostly what we do all the time. If we didn’t, we would have very few options for entertainment. The reality is that most of our favorite actors, musicians, and artists are… Wait… Maybe you should sit down for this one…

… Kind of stupid.

I’m sorry but it’s true.

I hate listening to radio interviews with actors and musicians I love because they are almost always disappointing idiots. I am exhausted by a culture that desperately wants our celebrities to be everything: intellectuals, political commentators, spiritual guides… It’s ridiculous. Actors are actors, rock stars are rock stars, artists are people who make art. None of these qualities necessarily makes these individuals qualified to do anything more than that. If they happen to be intelligent, political beings on the side, great. But it’s just as rare to find that our idols also share our ethics and politics as it is to find this in any other very wealthy narcissist.

This reality is compounded when we’re talking about male stars. This is because we live in a misogynist society that not only teaches men that women are not so much full human beings deserving of respect, but that women are more like cars or fancy watches: things that are more easily acquired with fame and fortune. “Money, power, women” is the male American dream and it’s one that treats commodities as priorities and women as among those commodities.

Wholly interconnected to this is rape culture — that thing where sexualized violence and male entitlement to sexual access to women is so normalized that even what we understand to be “consensual” sex is steeped in the same values. Sex is something men “get,” through whatever means possible and, when they succeed in “getting” said sex, they are congratulated, made to feel powerful and virile — like real men — rather than punished.

Knowing all this, is it any real shock that so many of our favorite male artists and entertainers turn out to be abusive dirtbags? I don’t say this to excuse men’s behaviour — this is not a “boys will be boys” argument, rather it’s an argument that says: Don’t idolize your idols. Particularly when they are men. Rock stars are not gods. And when it turns out that your favorite comedian, director, or musician is a rapist or an abuser, try not to let idolization fog that reality. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to unlike whatever music that man created or forget the ways in which that art impacted your life or created a soundtrack for your formative years, but it also doesn’t mean you ignore the truth about these men, simply because it makes your desire to bask peacefully in the warm glow of nostalgia more difficult.

On that note, here is a list of men who created what many consider to be great music who were not necessarily great people:

1) Jimmy Page kidnapped 14-year-old Lori Maddix and raped her. (We’re all aware that kidnapping a 14 year old and having sex with her never counts as “consensual,” right?)

2) John Lennon openly admitted that he beat women in his younger years.

3) James Brown was an extremely violent abuser who beat his second wife, Deirdre Jenkins, to a pulp on a regular basis. She wasn’t the only one. His third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez, had him arrested four times on charges of assault and in 2005 a woman named Jacque Hollander accused him of raping her in 1988.

4) Um, Michael Jackson…

5) Miles Davis beat his wives regularly, by his own admission.

6) Rolling Stones guitarist, Bill Wyman, “dated” 13 year old Mandy Smith when he was 47, eventually marrying her.

7) In 1993, Tupac was arrested for sexually abusing a 19-year-old-woman. From the sounds of it, he participated in a gang-rape with three of his friends. (This is a tough one for me, I’ll be honest…)

8) Sid Vicious abused Nancy Spungen and was charged with her murder.

9) Chuck Berry was convicted of transporting a 14-year-old Indigenous girl across state lines for sex.

10) Ozzy Osbourne tried to kill his wife (and was subsequently arrested for domestic abuse) in 1989.

11) Iggy Pop had sex with “baby groupie,” Sable Starr, when she was 13.

12) Dr. Dre beat up two women in the 90s.

13) It’s common knowledge that Ike Turner viciously abused Tina Turner while they were together.

14) Elvis Presley began pursuing Priscilla Presley when he was 24-years-old and she was only 14. Looking back on their relationship, she said, “I was someone he created. I was just a kid and I was consumed by him. All I desired was not to disappoint him.”

15) In 1992, Wilson Pickett’s girlfriend, Jean Cusseaux, filed a domestic violence complaint against him.

16) R. Kelly, who some might not consider “great,” but I was a fan and many others are/were too, raped girl after young girl. (He also married Aaliyah when she was 15.)

17) At 27, Steven Tyler convinced 14-year-old Julia Holcomb’s mother to sign over guardian rights to him so he could take her across state lines with him while he was on tour. Of her relationship with Tyler, Holcomb said, “I was subordinate to him as in a parent relationship and felt I had little control over my life.” She also pointed out that Tyler referred to her as “my Little Oral Annie” in his memoir.

18) And finally, Lori Mattix told Thrillist that, in the early ’70s, “[David Bowie] escorted me into the bedroom, gently took off my clothes, and de-virginized me.” She went on:

“Two hours later, I went to check on Sable. She was all fucked up in the living room, walking around, fogging up windows and writing, “I want to fuck David.” I told him what she was doing and that I felt so bad. Bowie said, “Well, darling, bring her in.” That night I lost my virginity and had my first threesome. The next morning, there was banging on the door and it was fucking [Bowie’s wife] Angie.”

This took place when Mattix was around 13 or 14-years-old (some sources say she was 15, but in a vh1 documentary, Mattix says this happened before she was with Jimmy Page (at which point she was only 13 or 14). He also faced rape allegations in 1987.

This list could go on… And while we are free to continue to value and enjoy the music these men produced, the desire to appreciate said music shouldn’t override the truth about rape culture and violence against women that exists behind it. In fact, denying this truth perpetuates the very culture that allowed these abuses to happen in the first place.

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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  • calabasa

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this (and re-read the piece on “Pedophile Culture”). First off, everyone thinks it’s normal for men to be attracted to pubescent girls as young as 13, even if it’s not considered right to act on it (but celebrities get a free pass, as they do for rape–until it catches up with them, like Cosby–and drugs, etc.). But it is considered completely *abnormal* for women to like young pubescent boys. This is why there is even more of an outcry about female teachers having sex with young students (not because it’s usually more condemned and prosecuted the other way around). I mean sure, there might have used to be a “good for you” attitude about boys having sex with grown women, presuming all males constantly want sex and are never hurt by it (also a patriarchal attitude), but not so much anymore, and certainly any grown woman in her 20’s, 30’s and beyond who openly said it was normal for women her age to be attracted to 13 or 14-year-old boys would be greeted with incredulity and scorn. So is it that biologically men are attracted to a greater age range, as women are attracted to a greater gender rage of sexual activity (male-on-male, male-on-female, and female-on-female), regardless of orientation? (I mean, most of these stars also had sex with grown women too, including women who were older than them). Is it conditioning? A mix of both? The truth is, it shouldn’t matter because neither excuse is justification. It is potentially *damaging* for an adult to have sex with someone that young, and that should be enough, and celebrities shouldn’t get a free pass (and yes, of course amazing and even brilliant people do awful things, which they may know very well are awful; Pablo Picasso, Alfred Einstein and Roman Polanski come to mind. Human beings are complicated).

    Personally I think the attraction to very young girls (in the absence of true pedophilia) is often about ego. Older women don’t get as starstruck, even by stars. They are more their own people and less malleable. I guarantee when these same men wanted a little more interesting fare or the thrill of the chase, they went after a beautiful, less available grown woman.

    When it comes to “sexual liberation” and the orgies Bowie liked to be involved in–I admit I am of two minds (as I am of most important questions about sexuality). On the one hand it sounds like it could be super fun. On the other hand it sounds like it could be super-exploitative. I think in a world in which we did not have a gender hierarchy and other glaring imbalances–racial and economic–free love might work. In the world we live in it will always remain rife with opportunities for exploitation and abuse.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think you might be right that it’s partly about ego — men don’t want to be around their equals, they want to be around women or girls who idolize them and don’t challenge them.

    • Cassandra

      I think the attraction is partly about the young girls not knowing the creeps they’re dealing with are indeed creeps and not actually demi-gods, but I also think that many males get off and destroying and taking things that don’t belong to them. They love hurting young girls.

  • And who knows how many early/mid 20th century male music icons of the new western music industry had dark pasts? Their secrets are long buried with the culture that allowed them to use and abuse with impunity (and in many cases even more fame for their ‘wild’ lifestyles).

    The most heartening thing about your list is that it exists. It is a small list and likely only the tip of the iceberg but if a feminist had tried to make such a list in 1970 they would have found no public evidence – even Priscilla was regarded as a fortunate beneficiary of star adulation then.

  • JaneCatherine Maloy

    Times change. People change. We all are not the same people we were 30 or50 years ago. As a practicing Christian, one of the foundations of my faith is “forgiveness” and I have been given forgiveness for my short comings so, I extend that same to others. We need to concentrate and focus on the “here and now” and our vigilance and the where we are going in this “hand basket”. I see how much has changed though my times and I am pleased. I am 67 years old. JaneCatherine

    • Cassandra

      Eeeeeewwww that forgiveness crap stinks to high heaven. Telling women that they need to be forgiving of rapists is disgusting.

  • kirsch

    Thank you for writing this piece! I’ve been struggling with this topic in the days since David Bowie’s passing. I have to admit, my first reaction toward the faction of people on the net who immediately (in my eyes) began to drag him and even shamed people for daring to mourn him was that of extreme irritation. On the other hand, as a feminist who tries to be cognizant of exactly this kind of pervading rape/pedophile culture and the constant excusing of it, I felt like I was copping out by not judging him as harshly as I probably would someone I wasn’t a fan of (Woody Allen, for example). And so I’ve been listening to his greatest hits, feeling equal parts guilty and sentimental.

    In the end, I think people on either extreme are just trying to make things easier for themselves. If he (and male celebrities like him) can be given a free pass then there’s no need for guilt to sour the enjoyment of his catalog. If you can completely condemn him as a terrible person who’s misdeeds rob him of all artistic/personal worth, then there’s no need to examine how deeply, terrifyingly mundane his behavior is even among the non-famous.

    In the meantime, I’ll go on with the thorn in my side…

  • Meghan Murphy

    I think they were “willing,” yes. But they were also 13… Is an adult man having sex with a 13-year-year old girl ok with you?

  • therealcie

    On a related note, I find it discouraging that girls and young women are still more likely to fantasize about being groupies than about becoming musicians themselves.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Totally. When you read/watch interviews with Maddix she talks about these experiences as though they were the highlight of her life and that it the highest a woman could reach. I mean, sure maybe it was fun, but fawning all over rock stars doesn’t seem like a particularly fulfilling thing to me. As a teenager perhaps I might have thought this way (and yet I’m pretty certain, even then, I had other ambitions…), but as an adult? Naw.

      • Sally Hansen

        sadly many people never do grow up.

  • Meghan Murphy

    If you read the article you’ll see that the estimated age of 13 is based on her own testimony. And yes, the sex was technically consensual, but that doesn’t make it ethical. Statutory rape laws exist for a reason.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Right. And anyone who understands power should understand that even if a girl “pursues” a grown man, it is still not ok for him have sex with her. Why is this such a hard thing to understand?

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yes I think you’re right.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I didn’t mention Axl Rose because I don’t think he’s really regarded as an important/great musician so much as a joke… Am I wrong?

    • Sally Hansen

      i dunno about him being a joke, but his music is obnoxious anyway lol

  • Blefusc-Yule

    Maybe some not so greats here but:

    Vince Neil and Tommy Lee – Motley Crue
    Slash, Steven Adler and Axl Rose – Guns and Roses
    Scotty Weiland – Stone Temple Pilots
    Chris Brown
    Vanilla Ice
    Eminem
    Bobby Brown
    Rick Allen – Def Leppard
    Glen Campbell
    Kid Rock
    Jerry Lee Lewis
    Ian Watkins – Lost Prophets

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yep. Knew about most of these dudes. (As you likely guessed, I left them off because I tried to choose more well-regarded musicians…)

      I suppose Eminem might count, though I’ve never been a fan myself.

    • Urshy Andinach

      Frank Sinatra
      Should be on this list

  • Jude

    Miles Davis. That one’s hard.

  • Melanie

    A lot of men deliberately seek out underage girls and then pretend they didn’t know when they get caught. It’s an old trick. These guys called them ‘baby groupies’ because they knew they were underage. They knew exactly what they were doing and took actions to avoid
    being caught. They took advantage of the fact that they were powerful celebrities and that people would let it pass because ‘it was just the times’ or ‘just the lifestyle’. But statutory rape was illegal in the 70’s and 80’s. People will make any excuses for their heroes, especially if they’re men. That’s the point.

    • Meghan Murphy

      This is a good point, considering how many keep saying “things were different in the 70s.” Things may have been different but it seems clear these men still knew they were doing something wrong…

  • Alienigena

    Picasso and Einstein. Both have an iffy reputation re: their spouses/partners.

    Picasso had a reputation for being cruel towards his partners.
    https://fineartebooks.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/a-toxic-love-gilot-describes-her-life-with-picasso/

    Einstein’s reputation seems to vary according to the biographer or account. In some he is reputed to be cruel towards his first wife. He is known to have had extramarital affairs. His relationship with his children is also a bit tenuous but the accounts vary.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/jul/11/internationalnews

    http://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/06/arts/dark-side-of-einstein-emerges-in-his-letters.html?pagewanted=all

  • Milly

    I’m with you tinfoil hattie. It’s not that hard. Don’t feed the beast. Support women’s art.

  • Alienigena

    A 15 year old is more mature than someone in their 20s? That just seems like a BS rationalization. Teen girls want to have relationships with older men, uhm, no. I remember being hit on by someone in his fifties when I was 12 and visiting his home. I also remember going to the local university to research my high school papers and waiting at the bus stop and being asked by a boy my age whether I was a university student. Was I mature enough psychologically to be considered someone in my late teens? No, I was not.

    I don’t know how liberated my sister felt when she became pregnant (she was on birth control but after a blow up with my mother (who found her birth control) I don’t know if she was, I assume not) and attended a sort of wayward girl’s school (pregnant teens) for the remainder of her high school education. Her boyfriend basically abandoned her. I think you would have to have been on some mind altering substances to think the 1970s was a sexually liberated age for all. The consequences were entirely different for teenage girls, in particular.

  • Tangelo

    There is always an imbalance of power between children and adults.
    Differences in physical and psychological maturity, real world experience, and economic dependency would still be in play.

  • Alienigena

    I think Robin Morgan says it best in her essay “Goodbye to All That”.

    Re: sexual revolution
    “Goodbye to the Weather Vain, with the Stanley Kowalski image and theory of free sexuality but practice of sex on demand for males.”

    “Goodbye to Hip culture and the so-called Sexual Revolution, which has functioned toward women’s freedom as did the Reconstruction toward former slaves—reinstituting oppression by another name.”

    “To hell with the simplistic notion that automatic freedom for women—or nonwhite peoples—will come about zap! with the advent of a socialist revolution. Bullshit. Two evils pre-date capitalism and clearly have been able to survive and post-date socialism: sexism and racism.”

    http://blog.fair-use.org/2007/09/29/goodbye-to-all-that-by-robin-morgan-1970/

  • Melanie

    I’m not sure what your point is. We’re talking about adult men who have been through puberty preying on children who have barely begun it.

  • Sally Hansen

    Assault/rape and other allegations aside, I think one of the reasons it’s really difficult to find any artist with intelligence these days is partly/mainly because of the Hollywood Blacklistings during the anti-Communist witch-hunts that went on decades ago. Many artists who were creating social commentaries through music, writing, acting, etc, were barred from work and that has had a lasting negative affect on what is currently being produced half a century later. Furthermore, as a result, these days, in order to really “make it” in the industry one will most likely have to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity, or else one must remain artistically obscure in order to maintain principles. It’s a tragic dilemma. So in terms of misogyny, it’s not surprising it’s so prevalent. There’s hardly anyone left after the purge to challenge the status quo. I don’t think it’s that most artists are just dumb. Those are simply the ones that made the grade, the ones who don’t make waves.

    • Meghan Murphy

      That is a very good point. In today’s climate, it’s hard to imagine anyone but a mindless neoliberal getting anywhere in Hollywood/pop culture.

      • Sally Hansen

        And honestly, I can’t even really blame mindless neoliberals because I used to be one. I think the real problem lies in being unwilling to change one’s opinion when confronted with the evidence that one’s opinion is just completely wrong. You have to have intellectual integrity to do that. I think a neoliberal can have intellectual integrity, but they’d also have to eventually stop being a neoliberal in order to maintain it lol

  • Sally Hansen

    what is with all the biological determinists on this site lately?

  • Cassandra

    “Even adolescent teenagers at fifteen have desires for older men which is why most countries in Europe acknowledge consensual sex from 14 and 15 years of age.”

    What does “acknowledge” even mean? Acknowledgment of “consensual” sex when it’s an adult male with a 14 year old girl in a patriarchy means diddly squat. The power imbalance is unethical. The end.

    P.S. Most teen girls don’t want to fuck old guys.

    • Queered

      Yeah, loads of teenage girls want to have sex with older men. Most of my friends did even if I did. Sexuality is not black and white and what is patriarchal is telling girls who they should desire. Bowie was also a kid by the way. Look at footage of him in this era…he was a 25 year old with no control of his life, very much out of it. Made was clear about this–she was not raped, she wanted to have sex. I say people ought to respect her and leave her alone.

      • Meghan Murphy

        I did not want to have sex with older men when I was a teenager. I did not want to have sex at all when I was 13 years old. A 25 year old man having sex with a 13 or 14 year old girl is not ok.

    • Alienigena

      “Most teen girls don’t want to fuck old guys”.

      Especially if they have a psychologically and physically abusive father. Men my father’s age never appealed to me. The abuse didn’t lead me to seek a surrogate daddy or male role model. Or to latch onto any male who showed me the slightest kindness. It just gave me the sense that people were self-serving idiots or jerks … because they thought that my dad was a great guy. And would not listen to any accounts to the contrary, including my mother’s account.

      I really hated the music of my so-called era. So, I had no admiration for any of the rock or pop stars, They produced mindless pap in my opinion. And it doesn’t hurt that I don’t seem to have a romantic bone in my body (except for voyages that involve the circumnavigation of the globe). So, betrayal in love, lost love, whinging about your ex-lover, expressing lusty feelings, just turned me off. I didn’t purposely listen to the radio (or turn one on myself) before discovering CBC’s FM station. I played the piano, was a member of school choirs, sang in church. My exposure to popular music occurred by happenstance – when my siblings or friends played their music. Or when I attended weddings and a band played (fiddling music was big amongst Quebec Anglos (my father’s family) who had moved to other parts of Canada).

      I think discovering music from a variety of eras and peoples is the most prudent course of action. Berlin cabaret songs sung by Ute Lemperer featuring talented composers and librettists, e.g. Spoliansky’s The Smart Set. Authentic blues as sung by Odetta. Amazing harmonizers like the Fairfield Four (gospel singers). Emma Kirkby (just an amazing voice). Jane Sibbery. The McGarrigle Sisters, a Canadian folk duo. More modern folk musicians like Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman, and Iris Dement. I even like some punk, but not what most would consider the good stuff. Kashtin, Canadian folk group (indigenous). Kronos Quartette. Quartetto Gelato (Canadian and have a sense of humour). “Blow up Hollywood” (studio musicians who perform their own work) … don’t know how to classify them. World music (Vartinna, Zap Mama, Jai Uttal, Black Uhuru, Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, etc.). There is so much amazing music in the world … why limit yourself.

  • Cassandra

    This is gross and irrelevant. This sounds like a “she was fully developed and looked older than her age” excuse for predators to prey on youth. IT DOESN’T MATTER if a girl has gone through puberty. Her MIND and JUDGEMENT are not adult.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Maddix looks soooo young in those photos. Those men knew full-well how old she was.

  • Lavina of Rome

    Good thing a lot of the metal bands I like keep their personal lives personal.

  • Queered

    Nope, just reality. Girls want to have sex and should be able to. Which is why less prudish countries than the US acknowledge female sexuality. It’s really simple.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Umm… The US LOVES the idea of sexualizing young girls for adult men. What are you talking about???

    • Jude

      Female sexuality = girls, to you. No women. Interesting.

  • Urshy Andinach

    Yes because she’s French Canadian and the age of consent in Canada was 14 until 2008 when it was raised to 16.

  • Urshy Andinach

    Yes and Celine Dion is also French Canadian. The age of consent in Canada was 14 until it was raised to 16 in 2008.

    I know a lot of people who find this relationship uncomfortable.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I scoured the internet yesterday, looking for interviews that she said this, but couldn’t find any… Any chance you are aware of any French interviews where she has said so? I have, like many others, long been disgusted by this relationship, where it seems pretty clear he was a ‘father figure’ and groomed her… I find it incredibly strange how Canada is treating him as some kind of god.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I think that’s fair — that is, to point out that this kind of thing was condoned and even encouraged by society at large, that it wasn’t *only* about these individual men.

    • Urshy A

      It wasn’t just the attitude s of men. Four of these men – (Five if you believe Mattix claims that Jimmy ask her mothers permission for him to see her – which again is stated by Mattix in the supporting text this article is using) where actively supported by the women’s families in these act.

      Chuck Berry had family knowledge that he was travelling with their child, Holcomb’s mother signed her over to Steven Tyler, Bill Wymen’s mother-in-law travelled with them on their honeymoon (all of this in this documents supporting text) and when Tina Tuner went to her mother for safety she was not only sent away, her mother famously call Ike so he could intersect her bus and drang her home.

      It wasn’t just mens behaviour thats actions were questionable it was the whole culture and the way women were treated even by other women and the people who where supose to be looking out and protecting them.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Well, to be fair, the law exists, not in order to “tell a fifteen year old when and with whome to have sex,” but in order to tell adult men they may not fuck children.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Diversion. We are saying that adult men are doing something wrong in sleeping with teenagers — we are not talking about “punishing” teenagers, we’re talking about punishing men.

  • calabasa

    I’m reading this a year after my original comment above, and after a very abusive relationship with a character-deficient person…it’s interesting; when I was 17 years old and a virgin, smart but very vulnerable (after childhood trauma and some sexual abuse), I got involved with a 24-year-old man who sexually abused me. Technically I was at the age of consent in my state, but what he did was abuse: he never used a condom, he would come inside me, he trained me to give him blow jobs, he never once made a single gesture toward foreplay (I never once had an orgasm). I would come over just to hang out with him and his friends, and he’d push me in the next room and unzip his fly. He had sex with me in my sleep. He raped me rather brutally one day in the shower. It took me a long time and a lot of revictimization to identify any of this as what it was.

    Last year, at the age of 32, when extremely vulnerable I went on a dating site. I had been researching highly triggering subjects for a book, alone, in an apartment in Mexico, after shattering my ankle and tearing four ligaments trying to run from the police because I was scared of rape (after being tracked down on the beach with my boyfriend)–as it turns out, I was right to be scared, as I was threatened with it by the officer who tracked us down, and I’m sure had I been a Mexican woman rather than a U.S. citizen he would have done it. I had also been taken advantage of by two men I thought were my friends that year, who got me drunk to try to tag-team me when I was sad after a break-up, and I had, in a despairing kind of “repetition compulsion” gotten myself into various scrapes with gross rapey men. I had stood up to my insane, tyrannical and abusive boss, while being scapegoated, unsupported, and shouldering the burden of my colleagues’ fear and hatred of her (and betrayal by some who were my friends). I had lost some of my friend group because I did not want to go back and hang out with the circle of young artists who included the two men who had taken advantage of me. I had broken up with my boyfriend, who left after I shattered my ankle on the beach, because it was just too much of a burden taking care of me when I was alone, jobless, and unable to walk, stranded in my apartment without a fridge or AC (standard for poor Mexicans, but no joke in the tropics). To be fair to him, he was young, immature, and at least took care of me long enough until I could hobble to my bike and ride around to get food and ice for my cooler.

    Insanely enough, in this horrible time I decided to use the time I was laid up with this injury to try to write the book I was writing about sex tourism in Mexico. The research I did was profoundly triggering.

    Since all of this–since what happened to me this last year–I have done a lot of research about revictimization and I know that in a sense for a long time I have carried that same air that naive young girls have that makes character-disordered men so want to despoil them…I have had a target on my back for a long time.

    In any case, I returned to the United States, to my hometown, not having worked out ANY of the trauma from Mexico (or from any of the rapes or violence I had experienced in my teens and twenties), and, being very lonely and down, went on OkCupid. I basically found this sort of man: somebody who wants a powerful, intelligent woman (or thinks he does), because he’s a narcissist and wants someone he can feel proud to be the partner of, but also someone who is, as I said, a narcissist (as in, he has narcissistic personality disorder, I’m convinced–a serious character disorder similar to psychopathy) and so he wants a vulnerable partner that he can control. He hit the jackpot with me: he saw me as attractive, intelligent, talented, and extremely, extremely vulnerable. I was so vulnerable when I met him that I told him about past sexual abuse before we met in person, simply because we had gone to college in the same town and knew some of the same people, people who knew me when I was going through a really rough and crazy time because of sexual assaults I experienced in college. I usually have avoided even opening up to boyfriends after quite a while together, finding they can’t handle it or they have a completely inappropriate response to it (yes, I have not picked good boyfriends; even the non-abusive ones have not been the mature individuals I’d like to be dating. I tend to have too much empathy and attract people who feel insecure, and date them partly because I feel bad for them. I need to get over my fixer tendencies, they’re terrible, and a disservice to everybody). I think it shows how vulnerable I was that I told him about this BEFORE I MET HIM. I think his dark side was basically like, “cha-CHING!”

    I think that, at the age of 32, I was as attractive as a naive and vulnerable 14-year-old, to him. I was SO vulnerable, and all I wanted was love (just like a young girl). I was SO tired of being treated that way, but I naively thought (again) that if I went into it with the right intentions (that is, if I went into it wanting to love and give love), everything would work out all right, and I just needed to give it a fair shake. I hadn’t given it a fair shake before that, either holding back on loving my partners because of trust issues or (I suspected) in some relationships looking for abuse. I didn’t want either of those things with this new man; I just wanted someone to love who loved me, and in spite of intellectually knowing it was a bad idea I was still used to equating sex and sexually pleasing with love and loving (what I really needed was a therapist, and any decent man listening to me spill my guts on OkC would have gently told me that, and not dated me; and certainly not pressured me into sex on our first date despite our agreement to take things slow, and my “no’s”).

    Looking at pictures of me with him, I even LOOK young. I am young-looking anyway, but it’s not so much my skin or features as my expression; in the picture he took of me before he posted our relationship status to Facebook, the morning after he first sexually assaulted me, I am wearing no makeup, and look about the same as I did when I was sixteen–extremely young, naive, sweet and innocent. I sort of blush and close my eyes and smile, or look up and away–too shy to look at the camera. I had already forgiven him for what he’d done, because he’d been so horrified with himself for doing it (though he didn’t actually apologize), and I felt bad for him. I think the romantic day he planned the next day, and his rush to publicize our relationship, were both a way of covering up what had happened and avoiding talking about it–typical abuser behavior.

    I wonder if women who are traumatized as girls (pre-pubescent or pubescent), especially from sexual abuse or battering, maintain the allure of young naive, “corruptible” girls, for these type of men who get a high out of abusing women (although with young girls there is the high of being their FIRST abuser, and them remembering you forever as having “despoiled” them–if that doesn’t come from a serious hatred of women, I don’t know what does; but abusing someone who’s been abused before, especially being supportive first and then pulling the rug out from under them, that has its own special kick).

    Of course, this boyfriend ended up raping me too. I have spent an entire year (in which he has continued to try to prey on me) processing this, and thinking how I arrived at this juncture in spite of being an intelligent woman (at this point typing that only brought a sting of tears to my eyes for a moment).

    I see attracting him as the natural endpoint to a fifteen-year cycle that began with the first man who ever raped me, when I was 17 (that man to whom I lost my virginity, the one who “groomed” me for abuse). I have never dealt with any of it and so it’s repeated itself throughout my life, often when I’m not looking for it, even when I’m totally minding my own business. We have energetic auras that I am convinced are as strong as chemical signatures. People who have been mugged are more likely to be mugged again, people who have had their homes burgled are more likely to have their homes burgled again…we project our particular fear, and predators can smell it, like blood in the water.

    I am no longer afraid of being raped. I went through hell this year, and am not sure I could go through much worse. I also came to a very intimate understanding of just exactly what a character disorder is. I armed myself with knowledge. And when I realized I was trying too hard to learn about the sad condition of the person who did this to me, I began to try to learn about myself.

    Narcissism has a scientifically proven correlation with rape. Of course celebrities are more likely to be narcissistic (whether they have the full-blown disorder or not; it’s a spectrum). Men are also more likely to be narcissistic. I think that’s because men are RAISED to be narcissistic, and women to be their supply (to be neurotic and over-empathetic; narcissists love to prey on empaths. My ex-boyfriend is STILL trying to use pity ploys to prey on my empathy and get me to see him, so he can sleep with me again and toy with me some more. I feel sorry for him. I think deep down he does want love and realizes just how bad he blew it…but it’s like a monster inside of him, which is how he characterized it himself. However, I should not feel sorry for him in a self-sacrificing way, and forget just how badly he traumatized me, or that I was diagnosed with PTSD and am taking medication for it).

    Narcissism, though thought to be at least partially hereditary, is encouraged by a mixture of spoiling and neglect (for example, a mother who dotes on her son and a father who neglects or belittles him). From my extensive study of it, it strikes me as a dissociative type of disorder (not with fully-formed split personalities, which is extremely rare and in fact controversial as to whether or not it truly exists); but its existence is predicated upon cognitive dissonance. Someone who scores high on the narcissism checklist is someone who feels at once massively entitled and extremely insecure. It is also a character disorder based in denial, which again makes it a dissociative type of disorder; the person must deny the evils they have done and project a false glory in order to live with themselves–and they need admiration and attention like other people need air (again, this is a spectrum, and many people might be highly narcissistic but not actually have a full-blown disorder, or they might fit the criteria for the disorder at some points in their life but not at others; that is to say, it varies, and can get better or worse depending on life circumstances and comorbid disorders, as well).

    Think about the cult of masculinity. What IS it if it’s not a mixture of insecurity (males needing to do certain things in order to retain their “man card”) and entitlement (males raised to believe they are superior to females)? In a sense ALL superior positions in a hierarchy are based on this kind of narcissistic dichotomy between the fragility of one’s position and the sense of entitlement to it; and ALL inferior positions in a hierarchy are based on a similar push-and-pull dichotomy of enabling (serving the oppressor) and resentment.

    So, in a sense, for someone who is SERIOUSLY crippled by the one-two punch of having been raised a white man within the hierarchies of race and sex, born with a genetic predisposition and/or subjected to the common nuclear family reality of a mother who idealizes the oldest son and a father who neglects him (Freud was onto something when it comes to familial jealousy, though I think it has more to do with patriarchy, going back to the ancient Greek tales of Oedipus and Elektra, than it does with anything innate), despoiling the innocent is EXACTLY the kind of thrill that makes them feel powerful; and even having only one or two of those ingredients–say, internalizing toxic masculinity plus a bad family, or internalizing toxic masculinity plus a genetic predisposition to be an asshole (and how many millions, if not billions, of men might fit this profile?)–is probably enough to make a lot of men secretly (or, in your colleague’s case, not-so-secretly) desire to corrupt an innocent? (And, as I mentioned earlier, a mixture of hatred for and desire for women has something to do with it too…most older women are too difficult as targets; get ’em while they’re young, is some resentful men’s thinking).

    There are also the relatively more brave men who get off on breaking intelligent women, who will go after older and more accomplished women and ruthlessly exploit their weaknesses (my ex was like that). You are absolutely right when you say this is a “character disorder.” The difference between a personality disorder (like borderline personality disorder) and a character disorder is someone with a personality disorder doesn’t understand what they are doing is wrong (or they are not willfully and maliciously trying to hurt others), they are just disordered in their relations to others, often because of experiencing abuse themselves; whereas someone with a character disorder knows what they are doing is wrong and either they are doing it maliciously or they just don’t care that damaging another person is a byproduct of their behavior, because they see other people more as objects than people (low empathy). And again, of course, people in general are conditioned to see women and girls as objects and not as people (children too; only men are automatically considered to be full people).

    I do think that some of these men are quite complicated and traumatized in their own right. Men who suffer abuse are more likely to grow up to be abusers, whereas women are more likely to grow up to be revictimized, and fail to protect themselves or their offspring (this is true in rhesus monkeys too, though whether it’s been studied in other primate populations I don’t know). This, again, could be a product of patriarchy rather than biology, as the brain is so plastic (and so could be helped with therapy). Roman Polanski’s most famous film hinges on a monstrous, sexually abusing narcissist, the reveal of which is the most shocking and unforgettable moment in the film; as someone else mentioned in this comment thread, Woody Allen was capable of writing extremely well-rounded women characters. My ex-boyfriend is a writer who also wrote a moving story with insight into the characters of women who feel ignored. Whether or not this is about pretending, or about conscience and a desire for redemption because they are aware on some level of the terrible ways they treat women, or about a true desire to understand women’s experience I don’t know.

    Narcissism has been called “emotional autism” by some. Having dealt with a character disordered person (and learned to decode his manipulations, which he is sometimes aware of but often, I think, not aware he is doing), I can see that in many ways emotionally he is like a six-year-old (or even like a toddler). Children often do impulsive, cruel things when they feel slighted or ignored or not given enough attention (fortunately they are usually too young, small, and intellectually unformed to do any real damage–unlike grown people with childish temperaments, who can lie, manipulate, and do terrible, terrible things, with their adult bodies and intellects). The children who have been naughty then blame others, lie, gaslight (pretend, deny), etc; nothing is ever their fault, and they can’t stand any criticism at all. They have to be trained out of this behavior. They are also, however, kind and altruistic at times, and we try to encourage this behavior in them. (Interestingly, we train that behavior less out of boys than out of girls, and encourage kindness and altruism less in boys than in girls–the “boys will be boys” attitude and its corollary, “ladylike behavior”–more evidence that men are raised to be narcissistic and women to be empathetic).

    Highly narcissistic people are like these children. They have low empathy (which isn’t to say they don’t have feelings–they definitely do–but they only feel their OWN feelings). People who are narcissistic CAN feel empathy, if they choose to–if they direct their energies to it–or if asked to imagine themselves in another’s situation (selective empathy); they just choose not to, most of the time, so they can continue doing what they’re doing and serving their own selfish purposes (pleasure, power, control). Again–a character disorder; they can feel empathy but they choose not to (in fact, since they consider these symptoms ego-systonic–they are fine with them and not anxious to change them–the best thing to do for such people would be to convince them that their lives might work better if they didn’t do such things; that these tactics really aren’t working out for THEM. Appeal to them on a selfish basis).

    In the case of my recent ex-boyfriend, I am not sure if his continued desire to see me is because he just wants me to feel sorry for him now so I won’t out him in the community, if he just needs supply (attention), if he thinks I am one of the few who understand him and yet don’t hate him (in spite of what he did to me), if he feels, at some level, really ashamed of himself for what he did and feels he needs my forgiveness, if he feels resentful of me for feeling that feeling and wants to abuse me again to feel powerful, if he identifies me as someone he respects or admires or envies and so wants to abuse me to feel powerful, or if he, on some level, actually likes or feels affection for me (mixed with resentment, since he so utterly killed the possibility of any sort of relationship between us). I suspect it’s some combination. (I know that, like all men who believe that power is more important than love, even if love is what they most desire, or would benefit from, he believes my empathy and desire to see the best in people is a weakness; he believes my weakness is contemptible; and he believes that he should point out that I need to cut that shit out by ruthlessly exploiting my over-empathy and my inability to stand up for myself, sexually, and probably feels justified in exploiting me sexually to satisfy himself, toy with me and feel powerful because of how contemptible he thinks said inability to stand up for myself or think I deserve better really is. I suspect he also partially envies my ability to see the best in people, to feel compassion for them and to not want to exact horrific revenge, as he does; he probably also resents my pity, even though he is definitely not above using it to manipulate me, which itself probably gives him a chuckle while he’s doing it. It’s complicated, and I understand it all a little too well now to let him–or anyone–do it to me again).

    So, basically these men are emotionally immature. I think that’s why we have the running joke that men never grow up, emotionally (“when do men finally mature?” “About six months after they’re dead”), and I think that’s why so many men–particularly insecure men, particularly vainglorious men, particularly men who subscribe to the cult of masculinity–prefer the company of girls to women. Either they want to despoil the young girls, and they like to have their egos stroked, or they are intimidated by the grown women, and don’t want to be the more vulnerable (weak) or besotted, or some combination (or because they are child-like themselves, and still “feel” like teenagers, emotionally, and relate more to young girls, or because they feel their waning virility as they get older and feel flattered by and revitalized by the attention of young girls and younger women, and again don’t have the moral sensibility bred into them to see the power differential there and why it’s problematic, or because they like the idea of having a younger woman on their arm because of entitlement mixed with insecurity again–that toxic combo–after all, who wants an old woman on their arm, women are accessories and it’s all about impressions, and on and on etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum).

    My ex is to be given credit for at least going after women he finds in some way strong or intelligent or age-appropriate, even if it’s only because it’s a reflection, in his own mind, of his own importance (or what he’d like to be and feels he deserves), and a part of his “mask” (he fancies himself an intellectual, likes to play the role of the “good guy” and, after all, men with much-younger girlfriends do look ridiculous); and even if, in his mind, when he begins to feel insecure or things don’t go right he must “win” and prove himself superior by abusing and breaking the woman he is feeling inferior to and insecure about. I mean, it’s super-shitty that he goes after vulnerable women (or women he finds intelligent but who are vulnerable in particular ways), and that he does horrible things to ex-girlfriends, but at least he’s not raping children (a low bar, to be sure; it’s sad).

    All this is to say that it all comes down to the same thing…toxic masculinity (or masculinity in general), and how it creates men who are emotional children, massively insecure, needy, selfish, and entitled at the same time, who think they should be able to do anything they want and then be cute and charming to mummy and daddy (the public) and get away with it. This is of course going to be more common among celebrities as they are nearly always going to be more narcissistic than the general public (why they go to such lengths to be special and celebrated), but many of them feel conflicted about it, and do have other depths, and may mature out of it, if their work and later lives are any indication (none of which is to excuse them or their behavior, early or late).

    I think it’s very sad that men’s emotional characters are so limited under patriarchy. Emotions are the foundation of what make us human, and contrary to the Spock-like stereotype of pure unemotional rationality, emotions are necessary to make reasonable and rational decisions. Love and vulnerability are an essential part of the human experience, and it must be strange to be expected to love someone you are raised to feel superior to, and end up feeling so afraid and resentful of in addition to feeling entitled and superior to (massive cognitive dissonance all around). It’s certainly strange on our part to be expected to love someone we are raised to feel inferior to (resentment is bound to come up, unless we embrace our subservient social position).

    I also think it’s horrible that men abuse women and children, and I think it’s awful that there are women who are raised to feel less than human because of constant sexual and physical violence; I know how much it has affected me (I have felt defined by it for a long time, and if there’s one silver lining to the horrible experience of this last year it’s that after being abused yet again at this advanced age, after going into a relationship with someone I had everything in common with and with the best of intentions, I am finally seeking therapy, and feel, in some sense, that this experience has highlighted for me the importance of letting go of that identity–of not believing in the message the men who abused me were sending, as it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them), and I haven’t experienced it to the level of a prostituted woman or girl, or a victim of sex trafficking. I think it’s horrible that some men cannot or will not try to love their equal, and that we think it is normal for men to function emotionally on the level of children, and claim they go after young, easy-to-impress, suggestible girls for “biological” reasons rather than that they are easy to exploit and control; or that, in this stereotype’s corollary, the man’s reward for marrying and being a “good” man is that he should get a mommy for life, who takes care of him and his needs as if he were a child. It’s disabling to him and horrible for women and girls everywhere, whether we are the wives or the disposable sex toys, or both.

    All of which is to say…yeah. Narcissistic, spoiled man-children abound, and they are dangerous (but I still feel sorry for them, and the kicker is I don’t know if it’s because I was raised to).

    One more thing to end this epic comment (and I know I’ve talked a lot on this site about my experience with this particular ex-boyfriend this year that I’ve been processing, but I feel I have a learned a lot, more than ever before, about many things–men, women, character disorders, the patterns we are raised to repeat, because of this relationship): narcissism is often characterized as “emptiness,” or the destruction or burial of a core self (a real self) and its replacement with a false self, because the real self in childhood is seen as disappointing, inferior, not measuring up (I can imagine this happening to boys who feel emotions and don’t fit the horrible notions about what it is to be “masculine;” you know, “boys don’t cry,” “man up,” “you throw like a girl,” etc.); because this happens so early on, emotional development is stunted, and everything else is a projection.

    Narcissism is also about “winning” at all costs, competition, admiration, attention; people with the full-blown disorders will be chameleons, changing depending on with whom they’re speaking; they “mirror” what they think others want to hear or experience. Similarly, with partners or other people they get close to, in the “devaluation” and “discard” phases they will mirror that person’s particular problems back to them (you could think of this as “gather intel on them during the wooing phase and then ruthlessly exploit that knowledge to gut them during the breaking phase”); I think, however, it’s more about them, in a sense, showing the other person their vulnerabilities and also “absorbing” them, or taking them on and provoking or acting out those vulnerabilities (which can happen in a lot of relationships, particularly dysfunctional or co-dependent relationships, and is called “projective identification”). Needless to say, acting out of women’s vulnerabilities (or anyone’s, really, but particularly women’s) can often lead to abuse.

    If my hypothesis is correct, and men are raised to be narcissistic, though the majority of them may not become full-blown narcissists they are nevertheless raised to not have complete “selves.” It seems paradoxical, as men are considered the “default human;” nevertheless, as George Orwell notes in “Shooting an Elephant,” the tyrant becomes a kind of puppet, his strings pulled by the oppressed masses he is lording over; one misstep and the illusion is shattered (again, the paradox of the fragility of power; the flip side is the power in vulnerability–love. This is not the same as saying “subs have the power” in BDSM because of SO MANY REASONS that can all be boiled down to “the socialization of patriarchy,” but yes, there is a power in vulnerability, and a paradoxical powerlessness in the fight to retain the powerful position). So, if men are raised ONLY to impress, and to project an “image” of the powerful, then perhaps they don’t feel they have a “self” without defining it through traditionally “masculine” activities like competition, violence, and plunder; unlike women, they don’t have menstruation or childbirth; they need rites of passage, they need to define themselves in opposition to femininity, and position themselves as superior for so many reasons (envy, fear, justification for subordination, faulty logic due to confirmation bias that doesn’t take into account environmental factors shaping societies, and so on).

    If Freud was most wrong about anything, it was the concept of “penis envy;” we can see this both in the much higher prevalence of MtF than FtM transgender people, and in the way men relentlessly push “progress” both because of the fight against mortality but also because they can’t, as women can, give birth–create life out of their own bodies, which is part of the same fight for immortality and also the reason for the existence of patriarchy, to control how and when women give birth and ensure their own “line.” And if part of narcissism is “mirroring,” this explains both the infatuation with the co-dependent love story in most cultures (men sweeping women off their feet and becoming what they think the women want to woo them) and with their later abuse of women (they are mirroring to them their own vulnerabilities, and the way they capitulate to patriarchy by ignoring their own needs and putting the needs of others–namely, men–first, as they have been taught); they ruthlessly exploit this.

    None of which is to victim-blame but to say that perhaps a lot of the hatred of women is, in fact, not only men’s fear of us realizing our power or resentment of that power but envy; that women are perceived to have more of a “self,” and therefore more integrity; and that women MUST stand up to men, quit over-empathizing and demand respect if we expect men to cut it out and have some respect for us. AND that, of course, collectively we need to get rid of these ideas of the gender hierarchy to give men back their souls and take the burden off of women to be the soul-tenders of the human race. (The relationship between victimizer and victim is a complex dance; shamans call it “the dyadic relationship that exists between narcissist and victim,” and neuroscientists call it the “neurochemical reward system” at play in both parties within an abusive relationship). We need to change this dominant way of looking at male-female dynamics–this destructive gender hierarchy that wreaks such havoc upon sexuality, emotional and moral development, and relationships– and then (since in our brain-changing self-awareness we are among the most “plastic” of species) all this so-called “biological” behavior will disappear.

    TL;DR: You are exactly right, TheClaw, that the massive defense of the incredibly common phenomenon of male heterosexual ephebophelia is symptomatic of men’s feelings about women and women’s place under patriarchy, and of the character disorder which is masculinity. (I just reread Franzen’s “The Corrections,” and as much as I hated his women characters and his characterization of rape in “Freedom,” and think he is a douche for his characterization of Jodi Picoult’s writing, his description in that book of teenage Denise’s abuse by a much-older man who is her summer-job colleague is spot-on and chilling; it reminds me very much of my own abuse when I was a teenager, and thinking how it was “flattering” or I “couldn’t resist it” or “had to do it because he wanted it and I in some way compelled it…” I wasn’t even attracted to my abuser and was out of his league in every way; had I been older I would never have dated him–except, of course, if I had been in a bad place, and vulnerable, as I was last year when I got back from Mexico).

    *Note to person who excuses the behavior condemned in this piece for sketchy “biology”-based reasons: people of the age of these “baby groupies,” no matter how intelligent or physically developed, do not have full capacity for making good decisions; the frontal cortex doesn’t mostly finish forming until the mid-twenties and doesn’t completely finish forming until the mid-thirties. And society would also find it strange if women of all ages found fully-formed late-adolescent boys to be the most attractive of males, since women are expected both to be submissive to a dominant (older) male and are also held to higher moral standards than men are (expected not to objectify males the way men are expected to objectify females).

  • calabasa

    “The pedophilic quality of rape culture,” as you put it, grooms girls and women for abuse forever (or until they can somehow fight their way out of it). It’s what perpetuates patriarchy, and always has.

  • marv

    No it’s politicized sexuality by male supremacy that is the cause in both cases. Psychological deficiencies are a diversion.

  • Derk van Aggelen

    Bob Marley beat his wife more then once.

  • Nicky Grimms

    Interesting read.