It’s been an insanely busy week, news-wise. Between Robin William’s passing, the paramilitary occupation of Ferguson, MO and the rest, you might have missed the news that Christy Mack, an entrepreneur, pin-up model and adult film star, was brutally beaten by her ex-boyfriend.
The crime in and of itself — a woman being beaten to near unrecognizability by an ex-lover — is horrific. But it’s the response to Christy Mack’s assault that makes it especially disgusting… particularly with what it says about how we view women and women’s sexuality.
Christy Mack and and the War Machine
On August 8th, Jon Koppenhaver — a professional mixed martial artist who also goes by the name “War Machine” — showed up unannounced at Christy Mack’s house, surprising Mack and an unnamed male friend of hers. As soon as he arrived, he immediately started beating her friend before turning to Mack. According to a statement she released last Monday, he forced her to strip and shower in front of him before hitting her repeatedly in the face and torso; used a kitchen knife to saw off hunks of her hair; used her phone to cancel all of her upcoming appointments; and attempted to rape her but was unable to achieve an erection. Mack escaped while his back was turned, running naked through the neighborhood until she found someone who let her in and called the police. As a result, Christy Mack suffered over 18 broken bones in her face, a broken nose, the loss of several teeth, fractured ribs and a ruptured liver. She’s unable to speak, eat solid food, see out of her left eye or walk without assistance.
(Warning: these pictures are brutal.)
Added below are the graphic photos and story about what happened pic.twitter.com/U1T1X2OP4d
— Christy Mack (@ChristyMack) August 11, 2014
War Machine, on the other hand, insists that he went there in order to propose to Mack, calling her his girlfriend, and maintaining that this is all the result of her being with another man.
I’m not a bad guy, I went to surprise my gf, help her set up her show and to give her an engagement ring and ended up fighting for my life. — War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 11, 2014
I only wish that man hadn’t been there and that Christy & I would behappily engaged.I don’t know y I’m so cursed.One day truth will come out — War Machine (@WarMachine170) August 11, 2014
On its own, this is incredibly disturbing. There’s no question that Koppenhaver is incredibly disturbed and delusional; he doesn’t dispute that he beat her, just the circumstances under which they occurred. In his mind, he and Mack were still happily together; in reality, Christy Mack had broken up with him back in May and he’d moved back to California. Their relationship had apparently always been contentious at best — War Machine has “joked” several times about raping or beating Mack and Christy Mack’s statement mentions repeated beatings and abuse — but this escalated the violence to a new and horrifying level. But the injuries didn’t end with the beating. When the news broke, the Internet reacted in what is an increasingly — and depressingly — typical manner.
The Victim’s Always To Blame
It didn’t take long before the victim-blaming started. Gossip site What Would Tyler Durden Do was quick to leap on the idea that Christy Mack was cheating on War Machine, suggesting that yes, it’s a shame that it happened but she kinda provoked him. The Dirty didn’t bother mincing words: “It’s All Christy Mack’s Fault”, calling her “retarded” and an “idiot” while insisting that her friends warned her that this would happen. Similarly, Fox News headlined their story “Friends say they warned porn star Christy Mack to stay away from violent ex”, carrying the implication that once again, this was somehow Mack’s fault. (None of these links will provide traffic to any of these sites.) And then of course, there’s Twitter, reacting with the class and aplomb one would expect:
Bruh Christy Mack cheated on a bloke called ‘War Machine’ and she’s ringing police that he beat her? Man called war machine — Sugar Ray Cliff (@CoryRose32) August 17, 2014
Classy people on Facebook also decided to get in on the action:
The implication, of course, is that Christy Mack shared responsibility for the beating at the hands of War Machine — deserved it even — because she supposedly cheated on him. Even War Machine insists that he went over to her place to surprise her — the home of an-ex girlfriend who lived more than 300 miles away from him, mind you — with the most honorable of intentions. Sadly, the shock and horror of seeing another man there — whether clothed or in bed — meant that he had to do something. Something that included stripping her naked, beating her face in, breaking her ribs, knocking out her teeth, sawing off her hair and kicking her so savagely that her liver burst. Similarly the scolds who shake their heads and cluck their tongues saying “Hey, you had to know he was violent,” say that this is partially her fault because hey, she should have known better. She could have left him. Strange how that sounds so much like “You shouldn’t have dressed like that.” “You shouldn’t have led him on.” “You shouldn’t have been drinking.” “You shouldn’t have gone back to his room; you had to know what he was thinking.”
Here’s the thing: even if she was cheating on him — hell, even if he caught her in the middle of fucking his best friend while writing insults about his mother on her Facebook page and singing “‘Enry the Eigth” to the tune of “I’m cheating on my boyfriend because fuck him that’s why” — this does not mean she deserved to have a finger laid on her, never mind trying to rape and potentially murder her. There is no justification for beating her. None.
And yet every time, every time, we hear about a man beating a woman, there is inevitably a chorus that chimes in with some variation of “well, maybe the bitch deserved it.”
We heard it from War Machine’s fans. We’ve heard it from Chris Brown’s fans after he assaulted Rihanna. We heard it when Charles Saatchi wrapped his hands around Nigella Lawson’s throat. We heard it when Charlie Sheen choked Capri Anderson and threatened to kill her. And we hear it time and time again on the individual level, when non-celebrities are abused by their partners. But it’s their own fault because “he should’ve known better.” “She had to know what he was like.” “We warned her.” “He must have provoked her.” “What did she do to piss him off?”
This victim-blaming isn’t just deplorable, it’s terrifying. It says “yes, there’s a time when it’s okay to beat somebody’s face into goo.” “Oh, it’s a shame she was beaten into hamburger, but you have to admit, she was kind of asking for it.” It absolves the abuser — in part or completely — from his own actions.
Because let’s be clear: Christy Mack didn’t grab War Machine’s fists and slam them into her own face. She didn’t possess him with her feminine powers and override his free will. He made an active choice to beat her. Her having poor taste in boyfriends doesn’t exempt him from responsibility, nor is it something that she should be punished for. He decided that the best course of action was to punch and kick a woman he outweighed by seventy pounds until her face shattered. Until he knocked her teeth out.
Blaming the victim means that victims of abuse are less likely to come forward or seek help. Admitting and escaping abuse is hard enough; having to prove that you didn’t somehow bring this on yourself turns it into a Kafka-esque nightmare. But of course, in the case of Christy Mack, this goes beyond garden variety victim-blaming. No, this gets kicked to the next level because Christy Mack was a sex worker and much of the vitriol surrounding people’s responses to her stems from daring to be paid to have sex for the pleasure of others.
The Crime of Being A Slut
A woman’s sexuality tends to be a trap. Good girls may be alluring and desirable but they’re pure and innocent. They can be sexy, but not sexual. Bad girls on the other hand — women whose sexuality and conduct don’t conform strictly to the socially-approved standards — are sluts and whores and deserve whatever they have coming to them. A woman’s sexuality teeters on the razor’s edge of acceptability; one blowjob too many, one casual encounter with another person’s penis and she tumbles from her pedestal into the pit, where all manner of abuse is suddenly reasonable. And if she should happen to not just enjoy sex — especially sex outside of a committed, monogamous relationship and only in the missionary position with the lights out — but somehow bring money into the mix… well, then she’s not just a slut but a whore, barely even human.
We see this dismissive attitude towards sex-workers in almost every field from masseuses providing full-body sensual massage to dancers to escorts to porn stars. If a woman mixes sex and money then she must be tainted goods by definition. We assume — at best — that strippers were inappropriately touched by Daddy, that porn-stars are broken women with drug habits to support and abusive childhoods lurking in their history. And this confluence of unacceptable sexuality and accepting money for it makes it all the more tawdry and sinful. But our ginned up outrage and high-dudgeon allows us to enjoy the frisson of naughtiness even as we judge them safely from our moral high-ground. This is never more evident than in the case of Christy Mack’s assault. The media fell all over themselves to remind us that Mack is a porn star. News outlet after news outlet led with titillating photos of Christy Mack in her underwear, posing provocatively next to text describing her horrific injuries. And of course, we hear over and over again that “well, yes, it’s sad but you know…”
No woman deserves that, not even a porn star. — $hah Ronin (@_ShahnAnthony) August 12, 2014
Porn Star or not, Christy Mack is a human being who doesn’t deserve to be beaten nearly to death. That dude is a psycho, justice is needed. — nighggggacole. (@cursedsnails) August 12, 2014
The first three are typical: she’s not a “real” person, she’s a lying whore, etc. But those last two that are especially insidious. On the surface, they seem like positive statements of support: “Nobody deserves to be beaten like that…” But it’s that subordinate clause — even if she is a porn star — puts the lie to the sentiment. It’s saying “… except she kind of does. Maybe not that much but…” Because she’s a slut. She’s a sinner. We’re better than her and that shields us from the filth that attaches itself to women like that.
The great irony, of course, is how many of Christy Mack’s detractors condemn her for the crime of performing in pornography mere moments after they’ve just finished jerking off to her. We want her to perform for our pleasure and denounce her for doing so. She’s dehumanized for doing what we want her to. Let him with the free right hand cast the first stone. She is sexual in a way that society doesn’t approve of and thus is deemed to be undeserving of basic dignity and compassion; she has dug her grave and now must lie in it. Let’s call this judgement out for what it is: misogyny. Pure and simple.
Seeing a woman’s vagina on screen doesn’t automatically make her less of a person. Watching somebody have sex for an audience — whether on Brazzers or MakeLoveNotPorn, RedTube or BeautifulAgony — doesn’t diminish them or entice others to abuse them. No supposed moral failing is “deserving” of abuse, nor does it make it inevitable. Christy Mack’s assault was the result of of one man making the choice to beat her. And hedging our condemnation of him — every slut-shaming comment, “not even a porn star” hemming and hawing and “yes but she…” victim-blaming moment of it — helps to absolve him of his crime.