Charlie Sheen’s Women

Why is Charlie Sheen seen as likable despite his serial abuse of women?

Anna Holmes (“The Disposable Woman,” NYT)  is tired of Charlie Sheen’s antics being seen as amusing.

Even now — after Mr. Sheen began carpet-bombing his bosses in radio rants, prompting CBS to shut down production on the show — observers still seem more entertained than outraged, tuning in to see him appear on every talk show on the planet and coming up with creative Internet memes based on his most colorful statements. And while his self-abuses are endlessly discussed, his abuse of women is barely broached.

Our inertia is not for lack of evidence. In 1990, he accidentally shot his fiancée at the time, the actress Kelly Preston, in the arm. (The engagement ended soon after.) In 1994 he was sued by a college student who alleged that he struck her in the head after she declined to have sex with him. (The case was settled out of court.) Two years later, a sex film actress, Brittany Ashland, said she had been thrown to the floor of Mr. Sheen’s Los Angeles house during a fight. (He pleaded no contest and paid a fine.)

In 2006, his wife at the time, the actress Denise Richards, filed a restraining order against him, saying Mr. Sheen had shoved and threatened to kill her. In December 2009, Mr. Sheen’s third wife, Brooke Mueller, a real-estate executive, called 911 after Mr. Sheen held a knife to her throat. (He pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.) Last October, another actress in sex films, Capri Anderson, locked herself in a Plaza Hotel bathroom after Mr. Sheen went on a rampage. (Ms. Anderson filed a criminal complaint but no arrest was made.) And on Tuesday, Ms. Mueller requested a temporary restraining order against her former husband, alleging that he had threatened to cut her head off, “put it in a box and send it to your mom.” (The order was granted, and the couple’s twin sons were quickly removed from his home.) “Lies,” Mr. Sheen told People magazine.

The privilege afforded wealthy white men like Charlie Sheen may not be a particularly new point, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are endlessly derided for their extracurricular meltdowns and lack of professionalism on set; the R&B star Chris Brown was made a veritable pariah after beating up his equally, if not more, famous girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Their careers have all suffered, and understandably so.

This hasn’t been the case with Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a “bad boy” (see: any news article in the past 20 years), a “rock star” (see: Piers Morgan, again) and a “rebel” (see: Andrea Canning’s “20/20” interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million followers, setting a Guinness World Record.

But there’s something else at work here: the seeming imperfection of Mr. Sheen’s numerous accusers. The women are of a type, which is to say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers — pornographic film stars and escorts — whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)

Others, namely Ms. Richards and Ms. Mueller, are less-famous starlets or former “nobodies” whose relationships with Mr. Sheen have been disparaged as purely sexual and transactional. The women reside on a continuum in which injuries are assumed and insults are expected.

“Gold diggers,” “prostitutes” and “sluts” are just some of the epithets lobbed at the women Mr. Sheen has chosen to spend his time with. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo and a TV star in his own right, referred to the actor’s current companions, Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, as “whores” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Tuesday. Arianna Huffington sarcastically tweeted that Mr. Sheen’s girlfriends “symbolize modesty, loyalty and good taste.” Mr. Sheen’s own nickname for Ms. Kenly and Ms. Olson — “the goddesses” — is in its own way indicative of their perceived interchangeability and disposability.

It’s these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman’s active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it’s part of the deal. The promise of a modern Cinderella ending — attention, fame, the love and savings account of a rich man — is always the assumed goal.

Objectification and abuse, it follows, is not only an accepted occupational hazard for certain women, but something that men like Mr. Sheen have earned the right to indulge in. (Mr. Sheen reportedly once said that he didn’t pay prostitutes for the sex; he paid them “to leave.”) One can’t help but think that his handlers might have moved more quickly to rein in their prized sitcom stallion if his victims’ motivations weren’t assumed to be purely mercenary. (Or if they enjoyed parity and respect with regards to their age, influence and earning power.)

She’s got a point.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Popular Culture, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tony says:

    She’s got an excellent point. By all accounts Sheen has a recurring problem with violence towards women. If he wants to live his life as a technicolour freakout, that’s up to him. But that doesn’t extend to violence towards other people.

    As a side note, however, it’s worth noting that in spite of his long record of unpleasantness – often violent unpleasantness – toward his female companions, his lengthy record of abuse is basically enabled by the fact that a parade of women still seem happy to sleep with/go out with/marry him.

    The press shouldn’t enable or turn a blind eye to Sheen’s behaviour, but I can’t help but feel that the quickest way of stopping it would be for women to stop shagging the bugger.

  2. PJ says:

    Another point from David Carr, also at the NY Times, about how Charlie Sheen’s mistreatment of women wasn’t the thing that most likely ended the show, it was him insulting Chuck Lorre. Chuck Lorre being the creator of Two and Half Men and a couple other successful sitcoms including The Big Bang Theory that’s also airing on CBS.
    CBS really showed what’s important to them.

  3. Dean says:

    The women Charlie Sheen surrounds himself with don’t deserve to be abused. However, when you, in effect, give yourself to a serial abuser, you have to know what you’re signing up for.

    That being said, with so many giving him a pass and society enjoying the circus, we continue to enable his lifestyle. I find this whole episode similar to the Anna-Nicole Smith situation. Eventually, somebody was dead. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this end in a similar manner.

  4. Tony says:

    “Eventually, somebody was dead.”

    Apropos of nothing much, can I just point out that this is an exceptionally fine piece of wordsmithing?

  5. michael reynolds says:

    It’s these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexualit


    Yesterday three of Charlie’s, er, friends, appeared on Howard Stern to compete in a Charlie Sheen Mistress contest. First prize, 10 large.

    All three said they thought Charlie was a sweet, good guy, and a lot of fun. Among them was the above-mentioned Capri.

    The winner of the contest, Kacey, was actually concerned for Charlie. Though Kacey admits to being a rather committed drunk and drug user, she felt Charlie had pushed vice to an intolerable point. And yet, Charlie gave her 30k for what was supposed to be a 5k job.

    Kacey’s win came because, in the words of Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate, of the “train wreck that is Kacey.” Among Kacey’s stories were her belief that she might have been pregnant with Charlie’s baby, that she had an abortion (her fourth) and that as a consequence of this abortion she was unable to pay her dentist the next day for veneers he was giving her in exchange for sex. So she offered the dentist a slightly different solution, (he says, being delicate.)

    Howard did not have a gun to anyone’s head. All three came in voluntarily.

    Not everything is a feminist fable. Equality requires us to accept the possibility that if Charlie is a drunken, bingeing pig, it’s entirely possible that the women with him are likewise.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds

    Chris Rock’s old bit about how, if your daughter winds up on a stripper’s pole, you’ve failed as a father, is apt. I’m sure many of these women were in for the ride and knew–or should have known–what they were getting into. In the classic words of Bob Seger, “I used her and she used me and neither one cared.”

    Violence and threats of violence, however, go beyond the bounds of even those sort of relationships. And yet Sheen is a beloved screwup in the vein of Robert Downey Jr. rather than the disturbed psychopath that he really is. (Downey, so far as I know, has hurt only himself with his addictions.)

  7. Boyd says:

    …Sheen is a beloved screwup in the vein of Robert Downey Jr. rather than the disturbed psychopath that he really is.

    This is something I don’t understand, either. But the question in my mind is, why? Is it because, as Ms. Holmes appears to contend, Sheen is a rich white guy (hence the comparisons to Lindsay Lohan, Chris Brown, etc.)? I don’t think she did much to support that conclusion beyond merely making the comparisons, so I can’t say I agree or disagree with her theory.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    I am not getting a “beloved screw-up” thing that has to do with his being white or rich. Or beloved.

    He’s an amazing technicolor train wreck. That’s why people are watching. Because just as with his drug and alcohol abuse, he’s taking public meltdown to a whole new level. It’s really quite spectacular as self-destruction stories go. It’s Meltdown 3-D in Imax.

    So people love the story.

    As for physical abuse it goes without saying: no. That’s where the fun stops dead in its tracks.

    However Charlie points to police reports that do not match the tabloid reporting. And the supposedly terrorized Capri (quite possibly not real name) was extolling him as anice guy and good lover.

    And I don’t see much room for charges of sexism. If the hookers are to be excused because of their backgrounds then it follows that Sheen might be as well. So might Jeffrey Dahmer or James Earl Ray for that matter. Abuse doesn’t just happen to women, and we should someday try to work through the implications of genetics and environment and their relationship to guilt or victimization.

    Charlie Sheen is absolutely f**ked up. Why? No idea. His friends like Kacey, also absolutely f**ked up. Also no idea why.

  9. mantis says:

    Why is Charlie Sheen seen as likable despite his serial abuse of women?

    Charlie Sheen is seen as likable?

  10. Jenn says:

    As a girl (or woman I should say) in my 20s I’ve seen a lot of people at my school comment, laugh and joke about Sheen. The guys seem to almost admire his “rebellious antics”.

    I don’t think there’s one particular reason why his physical and verbal abuse of women isn’t discussed very much but in fact many different reasons…

    #1 – This is especially true for the younger generation: Hip hop music and video games have desensitized us into believing misogyny isn’t a very big deal and can, in fact, be entertaining.There are video games where you are playing a criminal and you get points for running over/killing prostitutes. The lyrics in music like that of Eminem, Biggie, Snoop Dog very often insults and degrades women. And the lyrics even discuss violence as a solution to their anger.

    #2 – Sheen’s behavior isn’t as entertaining or funny if you consider all the real harm he’s caused the women in his life. Thinking about the violence and abuse “ruins the fun” and so people don’t talk about it because they’d rather be entertained by Sheen instead of thinking seriously about how sick and degrading his behavior has been.

    #3 – Sadly, it’s considered OK for prostitutes, porn actresses, goldiggers, and even ACTRESSES WHO WEREN’T THAT FAMOUS BEFORE MARRYING SHEEN (as is the case with Denise Richards) to be treated that way – ESPECIALLY by a wealthy white man.

    #4 – On that same note, this is a very sensitive topic in the black community but time after time our society has demonstrated that it’s OK for a white man to be violent against a woman but the backlash is much stronger when a black man commits such a crime.

    I’m not defending Chris Brown who to me is nothing but a violent, angry, talent-less thug. But Sheen has behaved in the same way and no one bats an eyelash. This is very very sad. The media circus surrounding Charlie Sheen is to be expected, But the public’s acceptance (and even enjoyment) of his behavior is a real eye opener to the current state of our society.

  11. Mary says:

    I do have a problem with the author playing the proverbial race card claiming that black abuses of women don’t get away with it, while white Charlie does.. in all candor, we have seen rappers since the ’80s spouting their misogynistic garbage and excuses being made for it, by all and sundry. We see the womens’ movement act as apologists for Muslim perpetuated atrocities against women, female genital mutilation, stonings, honor killings and other atrocities that make any decent person sick. Charlie Sheen has gotten a pass, because the very left he and his leftist hypocrite father, embrace have shown their lack of commitment to the very issues they claim to care about. They’re given a pass by the leftist media, and all the organizations that present themselves as the guardians at the gates, but reality shows they’re only interested in exploiting issues to make more money and to seize more power and control for themselves

    Face it, over the past few years, we’ve seen the left use racist epithets, threaten those they disagree with, with violence, the leftists feel they have the entitlement to be hateful, to discriminate and abuse others, because they aren’t going to be held accountable for their actions. A female democrat state representative from Tennessee makes vile, hateful, demeaning remarks about a conservative woman candidate’s femininity, inferring someone ought to lift her skirt to verify that she’s a woman, because she doesn’t conform to leftist ideology The left is demanding that children as young as 5 be sexxualized in schools, as is being done in some European countries and some states in the US, I’m sure anyone who hasn’t seen the article yet, can google to read the articles about a 2nd grade teacher in California using 2 of her students, 7 year olds, to perform oral sex on each other as an example for the rest of the class. the NEA teacher’s union submitted a plan to the UN 2 force all countries to instruct children in schools, on oral sex, orgasism etc.. just recently.

    Sorry, but they aren’t even bothering to hide it, though they’ll call you a liar or a hater for daring to stand up to this corrupt, abusive agenda of theirs. This is much bigger than Charlie Sheen, it’s the leftist’s disease, the embrace of anything goes so as to sublimate people and demean their individual liberties. Reduce all of us, including women and children to nothing more than chattel to be exploited.