Open Letter to Chris Brown

Dear Mr. Brown,

You are standing at a crossroad of your life. One that many men have come. One that I had been. You joined (probably a long time ago) the ranks of men who have abused women. I wish I could tell you that I wasn’t part of the group but I am. Like most men, the cornerstone of my pride was based on my sexuality and physical toughness. There were times in my life where I felt humiliated for not being violent or abusive. I felt like the only way to wipe out the humiliation was to be violent and abusive. My crossroad came when a person came into my life and shook me to the core. This person started the deconstruction of my male belief system and 20 years later am I continuing that work. I was stuck in this “man prison” because my definition of masculinity was limited. Once I alleviated both perceived and real peer pressure that motivated me to engage in physical and sexual aggression to affirm my masculinity I was free. I hope this letter gives you some of the same freedom.

I took great pride in being labeled a “ladies man”. I was more interested in conquering women for sexual use than in the sensuality of the sexual experience. I regarded sexual experiences as conquests and often achieved these through conning. Just because I didn’t use force or coercion doesn’t make my abuse any more or less significant or vile. My interest had been in sex objects for my use and not as sexual partners. What I learned and what I hope you learn is that your behavior was terrible but you are not terrible. The second is that abuse is never good. Whether it is insults, shoving your partner, undermining confidence, or making slurs. I don’t limit my definition of abuse as just physical. It is all abuse.

My crossroad came unexpectedly. During my college years, there was a woman that every guy was interested in but none seemed to good enough for her. Let’s call her Marie. Of course, she became the object of my desire. I could do what no other guy could. I never talked to her. Instead I talked to her friends, did things for them, was available to them. I knew they would get around to telling her what a “nice guy” I was. You see, at the time I had the equipment to be involved in an adult relationship but I did not have the maturity, probably just like you. Eventually, we talked and I gained her trust. So much so that she told me intimate secrets of her life. Slowly she told me more and more. I eventually gained so much of her trust that she told me that she wanted to be intimate with me but there was something she had to tell me first. On the cusp of what I felt like I “worked” so hard for, what could have been that bad? I played the game and was about to win. Well, Marie told me that at her previous university she was ganged raped. I never have had a lower moment. I came face to face with who I really was. Marie loved me for who she thought I was. It was definitely someone I could be. Was it someone I wanted to be? My answer was yes. At that moment, I knew I needed a new soul or at least some major work on the one I had. The range of emotions that she went through that I had ignored for such a long time made sense to me now. One moment she was like a scared child, the next she was confident. One moment she wanted me right next to her, the next she couldn’t get away from me fast enough. This wasn’t day to day. This was minute to minute. I realized I had come close to abusing her even worse than the guys that gang raped her. I was no better than them. I had been using my penis as a weapon. Inflicting damage without thought of any consequences on others. I was always told what I was doing was part of being a man. It was game. I was playa. But if this was a game, how come I didn’t feel like a winner? I started going to domestic violence groups and eventually became an operator on a domestic violence hotline. I showed new female students areas on campus that had blue lights where phones were located for emergencies? Why would anyone need protection from winners? I realized I wasn’t a playa, I was jerk (to say it lightly). I began to do Women Self Defense workshops. Marie was proud of what I was doing but I had to share with her my most intimate secret. I wasn’t who I presented to be. I detailed my sexual history. I told her the extent of my search for sexual power, the ways I conducted that quest, the purpose it served, and the effect on others. She hugged me and said “Thank you”. She asked me to do her a favor. She asked me “Can you teach boys not to abuse women?”. Another enlightening moment. I was doing everything backwards. I was trying to teach women how not to get abused instead of teaching young men not to abuse.

I’m reaching out to you to do the same. Here are some of my recommendations where you could start. Because like myself, I think you have some work to do if you are truly sincere about not doing this again. Don’t allow your guilt and shame to ward off confusion, tears, tenderness, sorrow, and love. When we allow ourselves these feelings, the women and children in our lives may be able to feel a commonality and closeness with us, rather than feeling driven by us. I had to be comfortable not being in control, being patient, listening, offering advice, being of service- if power and control are essential to who we are, these will always be alien. But if we want love and connectedness, rich relationships with women, children, other men and ourselves…you have to be open to these. I had to do was develop a self disgust for the very behavior that I thought defined me. I had to look at the damage I inflicted on the life of others. That took me dropping the excuses (i.e. it was her choice, its all part of the game). Friends and family may even try to excuse your behavior (i.e. she started it, you didn’t plan on being abusive, you didn’t really mean it). Don’t accept the excuses. Look at your behavior for what it is. Divorce yourself from the image of playboy/ ladies man. The longer you hold onto that image the further away you get from stopping your behavior. That means getting away from your songs you have been so used to producing. It means divorcing yourself from the artists that produce music that encourages the behavior. It means possibly losing endorsements, money, and friends but it is an essential part of your healing process. Keep checking yourself. Make sure you are always aware of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that encourage your old behavior. Intervene in the patterns and continually fight old ways. Use your music as a sounding board for the survivors of violence against women. Use it to help with the healing process for friends and survivors and to raise society’s awareness of the extent of the problem of violence against women. Lastly, confront men in the absence of women. Confront the attitudes when you are not on camera. Let people know this is the new you and not someone trying to reduce their sentence or come back into good graces. There are people out there who are willing to help and support you. This is only the beginning. Be well.

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Women and the Criminal Justice System

Think of prison populations and you think of men. Indeed, men make up the greatest numbers within the system. Yet, the population of women in U.S. Prisons has more than doubled in the past 10 years. How a woman will be punished when she violates acceptable norms reflects the common view of that woman’s role in the greater community. Customary influence by family and community, for women, has traditionally been effective and much more violent than for men. The promise of formal controls, which for women carries a heavier toll than for men, seems intimidating and could account for the lower female prison population. The fact is, though, that across the world the percentage of women confined in prison is only a fraction of the total prison population, yet their sentences are generally longer and harsher. The question should be, Why this disparity when it comes to women and law?

Recent studies challenge the stero-typical thinking that women who are imprisoned are “bad”, or “whores”, or unnecessarily “tough”. Universally harsher and longer sentences illustrate a partiality. The issues of gender role and patriarchal culture must be understood to comprehend the relationship of women to law. Women in Kabul, have been targets of intense repression and victims of fundamentalist interpretation of religious law. Recently, a young woman wanted to marry a boy she had chosen and rejected by her parents’ choice. When she appealed to the Taliban for help, they sentenced her to five years in jail for violating Islamic law. Her two female cousins, 14 and 15, were taken to be married by force in exchange for a fee paid to their families. While the Taliban authority exemplified extremism, it is common for the Afghan family of the groom to pay a fee for his bride, diminishing the woman to property of a patriarchal society.

In the United States, the disparity of incarceration rates for men of African or Hispanic descent is well documented. For women, Black, Hispanic, or White, the disparity is even sharper. The percentage of women under correctional supervision had risen to almost 10 percent by 2006 compared to 1.3 percent increase for men. The disparity in incarceration rates for women may in part be attributable to the claim frequently made by women prisoners that they were incarcerated for crimes that were coerced, or even committed by their male partners, for whom they took the fall under the mistaken belief that a woman would get a more lenient sentence. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice also reveal that prior to their own imprisonment, the majority of these women prisoners had been victims of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, or coerced drug abuse involving older men; in other words crimes committed against them by men presaged these women’s incarceration.

It has been my experience that men commit homicide as the result of extreme rivalry and competition,, and committed the act in public and outside of the family. This indicates to me that men are conditioned from infancy to see their role outside of the family core and into the world arena. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to remain within the family unit. Most women that commit homicide share a commonality of similar background experiences of abuse. Maybe it is time that homicide be examined as a “social issue and cultural phenomenon”. Additionally, society is critically unforgiving for women who are believed to have betrayed their maternal attributes. While men who commit homicides are viewed to have momentarily lapsed into uncontrollable anger, women are seen to have violated their nature. The behavior of a man in this situation is seen as an extreme exhibition of his masculine nature, even at times more firmly establishing his masculinity, but a violation of this nature for a women overturns her identity and leads to her ruin.

Whatever the violation and wherever the country, the population of women in prison continues to grow. Logic would say that women are committing more crime. Are they really? Or, has society, through the utility of formal and informal law, changed the intensity of its response to women?

“The advancement of women without a doubt is a pre-condition for the establishment of a humane and progressive society”

United Nations

A society reflective of that goal can only be measured by the maturity and benevolence of its citizenry and a complete respect for human life.