Help Wanted: Charismatic Rebel – No women need apply

Lynne Murray says:

Anti-heroines, anyone?

Over the past several days actor Charlie Sheen has been waging a media blitz to win friends and influence popular opinion with a series of bizarre interviews (summarized in this link for those who may have missed them) glorifying his own talents, professing magical substance abuse healing, employing sex workers as child care providers, and general trumpeting his own entitlement. This is not to say that in general sex workers are not good caretakers for children.

I’ve been amusing myself by imagining a female attempting the same exercise. It definitely stretches the imagination.

First, envision a 45 year-old actress with a top ranking television show who has a history of substance abuse and hiring sex workers, some of whom turn up with injuries in police stations afterward. This woman has five children (three in ex-spousal custody), and invites interviewers into a home she shares with a marijuana magazine cover model and a porn star, whom she maintains are helping her care for her toddlers in residence. Does she meekly enter rehab and work to provide a more wholesome home environment for the kids? No, she states that her genius simply aroused envy in the less gifted people who showcase her talent, and demands a raise. She is ridiculed by many, yet millions follow her rants simply because they are so outrageous.

I don’t admire the behavior no matter what gender of the person doing it, especially because of the children involved, but I think I’d want to read a book about a woman doing that.

We live in a culture that both glorifies and mistrusts rebellion. But love it or hate it, it’s more available to men than women.

In 2008’s Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women by Maria Raha, a rock journalist (who also wrote Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground) says of growing up in America:

“[W]e become young women who are expected to avoid getting too fat, too loud, too inquisitive … As a woman who doesn’t meet mainstream beauty standards; who has never had enough money to even consider indulging in material overconsumption (another expectation for women); who questions too much and is too loud, too angry, and too unhappy with the world around her most of the time, I know the most important thing to me during some of the most challenging times of my life has been cultural images commemorating women who pick up, move on and stare down convention like a time-tested enemy.”

p. 13 and 15 Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women by Maria Raha

Marilyn Monroe said it in 40 seconds in Some Like It Hot — I had forgotten how short that song was, the impact echoed longer!

And yet the dropped flask that ends the song telegraphs that women have to pay the price immediately and in full for any transgressions. Everyone pays eventually. Much as I adore S. Hunter Thompson’s writing, his life ended in disease and suicide.

I confess that part of what makes me laugh about the opening to S. Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the sheer, screw-you bravado of it:

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . .” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was filled with what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by S. Hunter Thompson.

The scene is beautifully imagined in the Terry Gilliam film:

So I laugh at Thompson. Charlie Sheen’s antics … not so much.

But Sheen’s popularity does not appear to be affected by his rants.

I’m guessing that those who view his defiant, high profile, televised breakdown of the past week as appealing rather than as a slow-motion train wreck do so for reasons similar to those that make Thompson’s Fear and Loathing books appealing to me. They please the rebel somewhere in my soul who replies with an upraised one-finger salute when authority figures try to exert control.

After movie star Errol Flynn‘s trial for statutory rape, the expression “In like Flynn” entered into the language and was used admiringly to refer to a situation where one is certain to succeed — a sure thing. In his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn says that after the trial he took the precaution of posting, “a neatly printed notice on the door … Ladies: kindly be prepared to produce your birth certificate and driver’s license and any other identification marks. One of my pals scrawled under that ‘preferably on your thigh’.”

p.293, My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn

Our culture as a whole has always had a soft spot for a certain kind of rebel, who sometimes gets away with the unthinkable — just so long as he’s young or youngish, wealthy and unrepentant, male and rampantly heterosexual.  Those who don’t fit the profile need not apply.

7 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Charismatic Rebel – No women need apply

  1. I noticed a while back that the iconic “rebels” of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s tended to be, er, of a type, and after that, someone being styled a rebel was more cause for suspicion than kindred-feeling. Although I don’t think that was conscious evaluation until just now, reading this.


  2. Just one comment — there’s actually a lot of overlap between sex workers and child care providers. Many women I’ve known have moved back and forth between those fields. I can talk about why, but mostly I want to note that there isn’t any inherent reason *not* to hire a former (or current!) sex worker as your child care provider except anti-sex prejudice.

  3. I hear you and agree about Charlie Sheen, but I take issue with your equating sex work with bad parenting.

    I’m a parent who occasionally does sex work via porn. I also know of other sex worker parents, nannies, and babysitters. The fact that they are sex workers has no bearing on their ability to raise, nurture, educate, and provide for children. It’s a stereotype that I wish wasn’t perpetuated.

  4. Lori and Marlo, I’m glad you both commented on this issue–thanks! I did consider this point as I’ve also known sex workers who were excellent child care providers.

    The point I meant to make was to compare Sheen’s situation with a hypothetical in-your-face, rebellious woman with toddlers in residence who presented her sex worker lovers (whom she had only known for a few months) as part of a child care solution. I think she would have received swift condemnation way beyond losing custody and very little of the “ain’t it cool, wish I could do that” that greeted Sheen’s situation.

    When writing the post I thought about adding a disclaimer about sex worker parenting, but to my mind, it would have derailed the whole post from a discussion of how rebellious women are perceived (and punished) into a totally different, though equally valid, dialog. So I halfway expected, and certainly hoped, to discuss it as we are in the Comments area!

  5. Lynne, I understand what you were attempting to write, but you did so extremely poorly, and by choosing both to include a mention of sex workers as child care providers for the scandal value, *and* omitting the disclaimer, you chose to perpetuate really damaging stereotypes — about women. One course of action (no mention at all) or the other (mention, disclaimer) would have been fine, but what you did was not.

    Saying “I thought of choosing differently” does not excuse the choice you made. I am frankly disappointed by your glib response, which to my eyes shows very little understanding of the issues at hand.

    I don’t want to “discuss” the issue, because to my mind there is nothing to discuss. There is an offense on the table. I want an acknowledgment that it was an uwarranted smear of these women, just to paint an extra-lurid picture of Sheen to make your rhetorical point. It was unecessary, inappropriate, and disrespectful.

    It only becomes a derailment when you fail to acknowledge the effect of your choice of words.

  6. Lori, I read your comment and thought more about it. I agree you are right that this is perpetuating a damaging stereotype and I apologize. Because the post has been up for over a day and we have had this discussion in the Comments, rather than take it down, I am adding a disclaimer to the blog post as you suggested.

  7. The Sheen situation has been reminding me a little bit of when Anne Hecht publicly suffered mental health problems in 2000. But that was pretty quickly resolved into her going into some kind of treatment, and was regarded as a mental health problem rather than a charismatic act of rebellion.

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