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Not Them! When the artists we love betray us

By: Mary-Margaret Sweeney, director of community engagement, DVN

When I was growing up, I learned a lot of things about being a woman in our culture. Don’t walk alone at night; if you have to though, carry mace. Don’t show too much skin or people will get the wrong idea. Ask a man to walk you to your car for protection–from other men. The messages, often conflicting ones, are endless. Like many teenagers, I would retreat from these confusing realities by diving into art. You could almost always find me in my room listening to music, watching a movie, or reading a book. So then, what are we to do when those places we go to for refuge and inspiration are just as ugly as the world we were hoping to disengage?

Everyone has heard about Harvey Weinstein by now. He undoubtedly had a hand in some film you’ve enjoyed, given his prolific career. And as the news of his alleged assaults broke, I added another name to my list.

Woody Allen, Johnny Depp, Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Bill Cosby, James Caan, and the most difficult one for me – David Bowie. All men with a fan base who have contributed in major ways to their art forms–and have also been accused of domestic violence or sexual assault. As we add another to the list (and the list above is not nearly exhaustive), how do we, as advocates, navigate this? What duty do we have to withhold our patronage and support? Is it possible or ethical to separate the person from their art?

The work we do is demanding, asking us to feel, see, and think about things that some never face in their lifetime–and we do it 40 hours a week. When I learn that one of my self care escapes from that work, the incredible discography of David Bowie, may be implicated in the very battle I am waging, what am I to do?

I thought about this as I drove home from a conference today, NPR updating me on the latest information about Weinstein. I thought about the artists I love who have not been accused of gender-based violence, and a few of my favorites came to mind. “Not them,” I thought. “I hope I never hear it about them.” And then one of my music icons came on the radio; one that makes me smile and turn it up to an unreasonable volume. I hoped I would never hear him accused of gender-based violence because I’m working toward a world with less of it. I need music I can still play at trainings that is not problematic. Music that I can use to pump myself up on the way to an important meeting. And, to continue in this work, I need entertainment. I need inspiration.

Often times women, especially those who do the kind of work that I do, are asked why we are suspicious of men. “Why do you always assume the worst?” Because before I was old enough to date, I was instructed in the dangers of it. Because the statistic that one in three women experience domestic violence is actually too low in my anecdotal sample of friends. Because simply going to a movie, buying a song on iTunes, or picking up a book to enjoy on my day off can support an abuser. Until the world looks different, we will be skeptical, careful, and also try to remain hopeful.

Written by Mary-Margaret Sweeney, DVN’s Director of Community Engagement