At the 2022 Academy Awards, Will Smith shocked audiences by stomping onto the stage and slapping comedian Chris Rock in the middle of his monologue. Moments earlier, Rock had made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Rock compared Smith, who openly suffers from alopecia and has a shaved head, to Demi Moore in the film GI Jane. Smith, who initially laughed at the joke himself, saw his wife’s offended expression and took the matter into his own hands. After slapping Rock, Smith returned to his seat and repeatedly screamed at the comedian, “Keep my wife’s name out your f— mouth!”
The altercation has been the subject of memes, debates and opinion pieces ever since, overshadowing just about any other story. Most people have taken a side, supporting either Smith or Rock. While I personally don’t believe Chris Rock did anything wrong, certainly nothing worthy of corporal punishment, I’m not here to debate one way or another the morality of Smith’s actions. Instead, I prefer to analyze how the event symbolizes several double standards that still exist in our society regarding gender roles.
Women Must Be Defended
I would expect feminists to agree with me on this point. What cultural conditioning prompted Smith to believe he needed to defend his wife’s honor against such a joke?
Jada Smith isn’t bald due to a serious illness. She suffers from alopecia, something that affects a significant portion of the population. We all know people who suffer from alopecia because a specific type of the condition, androgenic alopecia, is responsible for male pattern baldness.
Yet baldness is one of the most common joke themes there is. There must be years’ worth of reels of A-list celebrities, Oscar-winning actors and films, and comedians making fun of bald men. I’ve never seen their wives or anyone else march on stage to defend them. I’ve never even seen anyone ever act offended.
When society says a woman needs her husband to defend her honor against a mildly offensive joke at her expense, the implication is insulting to both men and women. It implies that it doesn’t matter as much when a man is insulted, and it implies that a woman isn’t strong enough emotionally or physically to defend herself. After all, if Jada Smith was so hurt by Rock’s words, why didn’t she march on stage and slap him herself?
Physical Assault Is Less Serious Against Men
This one is the most obvious and is pretty hard to deny. If Chris Rock had been a woman, Will Smith certainly wouldn’t have been partying with the rich and famous a few hours after slapping her. He would have been in jail on a gender violence charge.
Frankly, I’m astounded by the overall societal reaction. Otherwise peace-love-and-feminism commentators seem to think Chris Rock getting assaulted in front of millions of people was, at best, kinda mean. Yet those same people want everything but the death penalty for any man who slaps a woman.
We already know that men are by far the more frequent victims of violent crime with men being twice as likely as women to be the victims of homicide. Does this not prove why? When it comes to their violent victimization, men are devalued by society.
Women Use Men for Violence
A common criticism of men’s rights activism is that, for example, even if men are discriminated against by conscription laws, it’s men who are starting the wars and commanding the armies. Yes, men are the majority of victims of violent crime, but they’re also the majority of perpetrators.
What Will Smith’s actions show us is a largely misunderstood social phenomenon at work. In the net sum of social violence, men are merely the more visible participants. When women want to use violent force or coercion, they often get a man to do their bidding. This can be Queen Victoria ordering her generals to colonize Africa, a woman hiring a hitman to kill her husband, or Jada Smith looking at her husband when she’s offended rather than acting herself.
Indeed, we’ve seen this at play on a larger scale with the war in Ukraine. Complaints about conscription laws forcing men in their 40s with young children to stay and fight while young single women are allowed to flee is usually met by uninspired dismissals that the President of Ukraine is also a man. However, the fact remains that on the level of the net social unit, the men must be the ones to get their hands dirty while the women receive a net benefit by being defended and not having to participate in traumatic violent events.
As you see, Will Smith’s actions were hardly an individual outburst. Rather, they were a manifestation of cultural norms that both men and women are subjected to. If we want a truly egalitarian society, we must recognize these for what they are and do our best to stop celebrating them.