Thank you, Buzzfeed, for collecting all of Chris Brown’s sins in the wake of his controversial performance at the Grammy Awards on Monday. It is one dreadful catalogue. The rundown begins with a February 2009 search warrant in which Brown tried to push a woman named Robin F. out of his car. After she pretended to place a call alerting police, Brown pummeled her face, bit her ear, and choked her until she began to lose consciousness. Eleven days later, pictures of Rihanna’s bruised and bloodied face spilled into the press. When Brown pleaded not guilty to assaulting Rihanna, their violent past came out in court. He was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of hard labor, which nowadays seems to mean roadside cleanup. Brown also had to enroll in a year-long domestic violence course. He completed it in December 2010. Two days later, he sent out homophobic tweets to Raz B of the group B2K. Raz B wrote back, prompting Brown to make a YouTube video with this lovely message: “When I see you my n**ga, I will smack you in the mouth, beat you, drag you down the street and treat you like a little b**ch.”
In March 2011, after a heartfelt-sounding taped apology to Rihanna, Brown turned around and called his assault on her a “mishap.” “At the end of the day,” he said, “if I walk around apologizing to everybody, I'm gonna look like a damn fool.” That same month, after Robin Roberts asked him questions about his abusive history on Good Morning America, Brown went into a rage, throwing a chair against a window and shattering it.
And then this week, of course, the people behind the Grammy Awards, in all their infinite wisdom, asked Brown to perform twice, along with giving him the award for best R&B album. After the blowback online, Brown tweeted Wednesday “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That's the ultimate FUCK OFF!”
OK, clearly this is a man who can’t handle Twitter. But is that actually a sign that we should feel badly for him—that he lacks some fundamental impulse control because he’s suffering from an underlying psychological disorder? Does Chris Brown hit women because he can’t help himself, in some deep way?
In a word, no.
In his extremely helpful book, Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft explains that the rate of mental illness among abusive men isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Nor are wife-beaters any more likely to have suffered from child abuse (with the exception of the extremely violent who choke, stalk, and kill). Brown reportedly watched his stepfather beat his mother when he was a child, but Lundy points out that only abusive men use their childhoods as an excuse for physically mistreating other people. What determines how abusive men behave, he argues, isn’t how they feel. It’s how they think—their value system. On some level, abusers have decided that it’s OK to hurt women or to treat them as objects. Maybe they have an elaborate set of justifications designed to elicit sympathy, but that’s what it boils down to: Essentially, abusive men choose to abuse.
Battering isn’t really about losing control or giving into impulse. In his many years counseling male offenders, Bancroft asked men who have punched their wives, for example, why they didn’t also throw the women on the floor. The men explained that they didn’t want to cause serious injury, or they didn’t want the kids to hear—or even: “I would never do that.” Bancroft writes that a typical abuser is like an acrobat in the circus ring who acts wild “but who never forgets where the limits are.”