I know a lot has been discussed about “the slap heard around the world” this past weekend at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. However, I think there is one key aspect of this traumatic event that is not being discussed – men’s rights. I want to be very clear, that being pro- men’s rights, does not mean that I am dismissive or against women’s rights in any way, as these two social issues are separate, equally important matters. As the actions, and reactions, of Sunday night demonstrate, however, men who are victims of violence need our help to advocate for them too. Just as we continue advocating for the equal rights of marginalized individuals, we need to ensure that every victim receives the care and support they need. I want to recognize that the plight of men who are victims of violence can be rife with unhealthy gender stereotypes and judgement.
We have made such positive, impactful strides to advocate for victim’s rights; but perhaps not when it’s comes to men who are victims of violence. Maybe we are not as “woke” as we thought in the 21st Century. Why is it that this was such a divisive debate about whether a slap was deserved or if it is even considered assault?! We saw other actors console/check-in with Will Smith, or perhaps talk with him to diffuse the situation, but we didn’t see anyone provide comfort or support for Chris Rock while he was on stage. After the altercation, Chris Rock looked stunned and shocked, and appeared to be looking for help or some direction on what to do. Unfortunately, we did not see anyone come to his aid in that moment. We shouldn’t be more concerned about the well-being of a perpetrator and their future career instead of the victim/survivor.
Some would classify Will Smith’s actions as “toxic masculinity”, where others might dismiss it as just more “boys will be boys”. When it comes to conflict resolution between men, the notion that men are allowed to settle their differences with violence needs to stop. Disputes should not resort to violence, and words are not justification to hit someone. The rhetoric that somehow Chris Rock “deserved it”, is along the same lines that domestic violence survivors face when asked “what did you do to provoke this?” Many individuals who were either physically present or watching the Oscars at home may have been triggered, especially men who have been victims of violence, and are probably still experiencing a trauma response. We cannot and should not treat violence and assault lightly.
Furthermore, I want to acknowledge the tremendous pressure that Chris Rock must have felt to not press charges. Men may feel pressure to not press charges out of fear of judgment because it may come across as ‘unmanly”. Some may even excuse Will Smith’s actions by saying “what's the big deal, it was just a slap”. It's all violence, whether it's a slap, a punch, or anything else. In this circumstance, it may have looked bad if Chris Rock had pressed charges for assault; but should it? What is wrong with someone who was just assaulted to hold their perpetrator accountable?
I want to be clear - an individual who just assaulted another man was allowed to remain there, and the show went on like nothing had happened. Everyone just watched as a man got up from his seat, walked up on stage, assaulted a person, returned to their seat, and then continue to verbally assault/yell at their victim. Will Smith went on to receive an award and enjoy the rest of the night at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, but I doubt that Chris Rock fully enjoyed the rest of his night. It has now come to light that Will Smith was allegedly asked to leave the Oscars, but he apparently refused. How was he the one allowed to make that decision and not be forcibly removed?
Will Smith attempted to apologize to the Academy and his fellow actors and nominees during his acceptance speech. However, many people, myself included, believe that his apology should have been directed at Chris Rock. Will Smith has also released a separate statement of apology, but many feel that it is not enough. When Will Smith received his Academy Award for Best Actor, the audience gave him a standing ovation. Why is acceptable to commend someone after they’ve just assaulted another person?!
Some people are demanding repercussions for Will Smith, including being barred from the Academy, as well as returning his Academy Award. The Academy has released a statement stating that they are opening an investigation into Will Smith’s actions and potential consequences. However, they are also giving Will Smith an opportunity to write a letter/statement to the Academy explaining himself and his actions. Chris Rock also needs to be part of this conversation and decision, because we should all be allowed to work and live in safe environment. If we are truly wanting restorative justice, then we can’t only be talking to the perpetrator about what would make people feel better, safer, and heal from trauma wounds.
Men who are victims of violence may face unique challenges that can hinder the healing process. All victims deserve to be heard and part of the discussion, and they deserve equal support.