Photo by Lionel Hahn

Use your words, Will

The feminist fix: Smith’s rationale is too close for comfort for many survivors of domestic abuse

Artillery Row

“Use your words, Will” is the latest article in Julie Bindel’s online column for The Critic, “The feminist fix”, which explores feminism’s answer to today’s challenges. The previous article, on bullying in the workplace, can be read here.

As the ruckus about Chris Rock and Will Smith rages away, so do feminists. Men using violence and intimidation against other men to defend women’s honour? This ploy to protect the weaker sex is as boring as it is sexist posturing.

Has Smith ever spoken out publicly against sexism?

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a working-class community in the North East of England where rules for boys and girls were reliant on deeply entrenched sexist stereotypes. I was a middle child between two strapping brothers. A true story: when my older brother went on holiday with his family, he didn’t bother with any type of security system to deter burglars; he simply put a photograph of himself in the front window of his house.

Whilst it was nice to know that the bullies at school were largely deterred from going after me once they knew who my brothers were, it was also counter-productive: I was prevented from fighting my own battles, and felt chaperoned and patronised on more than one occasion.

Sexism is a funny thing, because it presents as its own opposite. Describing women as vulnerable and in need of male protection is actually about male dominance and attempts at ownership.

As much of the world is aware, Smith slapped Rock after he made a cruel joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, the actor married to Smith. After the lamping, Smith repeatedly yelled at Rock, “Keep my wife’s name out your ****ing mouth!”

My. Wife.


Not. Yours.

Has Smith ever spoken out publicly and passionately against sexism? Would he have kicked off if Rock had made similar remarks about another woman? Of course not: only his property gets protected. I make no distinction here between Smith and any other posturing, macho male.

This differentiates me from some commentators who are suggesting that any criticism of Smith’s behaviour is racist and would not be levied at white men in similar circumstances. TeenVogue magazine, for example, continued its valiant tradition of promoting anything harmful to young women by publishing a piece that describes criticism of Smith as “weaponized white womanhood”.

“… they [white women] can’t imagine a world where a Black woman, Jada, is so loved that her husband would get up and slap someone to defend her honour,” says the author. “They’re used to being the Regency romance lead.”

Smith’s tearful attempt at justification was what many violent men say

A Guardian op-ed on the incident actually included the term “performative pearl clutching” to describe white women objecting to violence when perpetrated by a black man. I can only assume that in the imagination of the writer, black women don’t mind violence being perpetrated on black men, so long as black men are the ones doing it, and also that white women should only comment on the behaviour of white men.

As “super insaiyan”, whose Twitter handle includes his age (27), pronouns (he/him) and socialist credentials (“eat the rich”) commented: “White women on Twitter somehow decided that Smith’s actions meant he must be beating his wife.”

He means feminists like me. I had tweeted:

“That love can make you do crazy things comment by Will Smith after he lamped Rock — I can’t tell you how common an excuse this is when violent men beat their female partners. I did it because I love you! Macho prick.”

Feminists, including women of colour, understand the connection between the manipulative reasoning trotted out by narcissistic, controlling men and their use of violence. Violence is bad, unless a man is in love. Then he is irrational, impetuous and loses self-control. Anyone that works in the field of domestic violence and abuse can see the links between Smith’s behaviour and that of men who excuse other acts of violence.

What those feminists critical of Smith’s behaviour are arguing, is that his tearful attempt at justification was what many violent men say when they flip out and assault female partners. We are not saying that what Smith did to Rock is the same as beating up a woman, nor are we arguing that one thing leads to the next. But Smith’s rationale for this particular active violence is too close for comfort for many survivors of domestic abuse.

Smith should not carry the burden of being ascribed a ‘role model’

First there is the “that’s my woman, nobody gets to insult her” attitude. The absence of any consultation with the woman he was supposedly “protecting” is notable. There are so many men online claiming that any criticism of Smith’s actions means that white women do not believe black women should be protected by black men. What a load of disingenuous rubbish. Protecting from what? Offence? It was clear that Pinkett Smith was humiliated, and that Chris Rock was a dickhead. But the way macho defenders of Smith are carrying on gives the impression that Pinkett Smith was in grave danger when he stepped in so valiantly.

The feminist fix for sexism? Men should speak out and protest the words and behaviour by men that harm women and girls, whilst recognising that we do not need superheroes or for our experiences to be used to make men look hard.

Smith should not carry the burden of being ascribed a “role model”, either for actors, performers, black males or the rich and famous. Had Smith not been in the public eye and instead whacked Rock round the back of the bins of a housing estate, he might have been accused of setting a bad example to the younger men and boys. The concept of “role models” is flawed to begin with. The problem is not whether individual men can set a good example; it is more that the culture of misogyny that encourages such blatant displays of self-serving machismo needs to be dismantled.

I have heard excuses for both Rock and Smith about how both men come from communities where when words are ineffective in solving a problem, fists can be. I also come from a community where this was the case, but there lies the problem. To varying degrees, so do all women. That community is patriarchy, and how it works is that when women can’t be manipulated into compliance, violence is always an option.

Rock’s so-called joke, Smith’s slap, Hollywood and the Oscars. All toxic. Just like masculinity.

Julie Bindel’s latest book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation, was published in September 2021.

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