Why Are We Ignoring That Lindsay Lohan Was Abused?
By April Bridgeman
Lindsay Lohan is a cultural phenomenon. Hearing her name immediately sparks a response in just about every American. Some see her as a talented child who never had to take responsibility or grow up. Others think she’s a problem — a degenerate party girl, a drug addict, a “hot mess.” She’s a representation of what’s “wrong” with entitled millennials. She’s irresponsible and unaccountable. She’s been on the media’s radar since she was 11 — the better part of 20 years — and she’s never failed to become a tabloid sensation.
Footage surfaced recently of her fiancé Egor Tarabasov violently assaulting her on a public beach in Greece. She ran from him only to be followed, grabbed, exposed, and forced away. Less than two weeks before this incident, she called emergency services in fear for her life. Tarabsov had strangled her and she truly believed he was going to kill her.
Considering the typical media circus surrounding anything Lohan-related, the outcry I was expecting turned out to be little more than a whisper. While a couple pieces circled documenting the altercation, they were few and far between. And in the case of the strangling, some gossip sites even brushed it off as mere “drama.”
Googling Lindsay Lohan now brings up rampant speculation about pregnancy, discussions of her engagement, and an inexplicable roundup of all the photos she’s taken with her finger in her mouth. Since the news of her being abused broke, Yahoo! has also deemed it worthy to publish a slideshow of celebrities who were able to rehabilitate their image, bemoaning the fact that Lohan can’t.
Why are media outlets largely ignoring the domestic violence perpetuated against her?
Certainly no one has hesitated in the past to dissect each and every minuscule detail of Lohan’s public appearances. Most of her life, in fact, has been spent under the grueling gaze of paparazzi and, by extension, the microscope of public opinion. Media has made every effort to cover her checkered past, reporting on how directors and costars have complained about her behavior on set. Similarly, her ongoing legal troubles were always headline fodder. People have spent years making jokes about the clearly dysfunctional relationship she’s had with her mother. Her father was a known alcoholic and addict who had a publicly turbulent relationship with her mom, not to mention was someone who regularly sold stories about his own daughter to the press.
And yet, when not only reports, but photos surfaced of the domestic violence Lohan’s faced, the media was silent. It’s an egregious example of the way in which our society consistently fails to adequately address domestic violence, reflecting the ugly reality that we only pay attention to certain victims.
Lohan, it has been made blatantly clear, is not “good enough” for our empathy.
Our culture, of course, has a longstanding and problematic history concerning matters of domestic abuse across the board. We’ve largely considered domestic violence and intimate partner abuse “personal business,” dirty laundry that is too impolite to air. Conventional wisdom has held that how couples work through their “difficulties” isn’t important as long as they do. Even in 2016, the national conversation on the matter is fraught with stops and starts.
Typically, only high-profile cases with significant evidence are enough to break into the news cycle at all. That said, an increase in such cases has worked to widen the avenue for discussion. When Janay Palmer was assaulted by her professional football player husband Ray Rice on camera, the aftershocks rippled through the news for months, even giving birth to the viral abuse-awareness-raising hashtag #WhyIStayed. Amber Heard’s recent domestic violence allegations against now-ex Johnny Depp, too, hit the media circus and stayed for weeks. Her decision to donate the proceeds of her divorce settlement finally sent the message to her detractors that she decidedly wasn’t in it for the money.
Lohan’s case, however, has attracted comparatively little attention. Almost everyone can quote Mean Girls, but no one seems willing to say that Lohan is a “real” victim who deserves our sympathy — or that she even warrants our attention in this arena at all. Six years ago, Lohan went to court with the words “Fuck U” written on one fingernail. She made headlines for days, about how irresponsible, rude, and disrespectful she was. Is that why it was okay for her fiancé to wrench her arm behind her back in public? Is her flaky behavior on set the reason why the most important takeaway for tabloids, in the wake of the violent fight she had with her fiancé, was whether or not this was actually about her perceived pregnancy? Is her history of addiction a justification for the treatment she’s getting at the hands of the man who is supposed to love her most?
Devastatingly, it seems that such noxious victim-blaming notions have permeated not only the media, but Lohan’s own thought processes. After the latest instance of abuse, Lohan gave an interview to The Daily Mail in which she said, “I know I’m not an angel but I’ve tried to fix things.” It’s a statement similar to those uttered by far too many abuse survivors, one that makes her sound painfully complicit in her own abuse — as if anyone “earns” the violence they’ve faced.
In the same interview, as she recognizes that she shouldn’t stay with someone who hurts her, Lohan still rationalizes his behavior in the moment. “Egor drank too much and he went crazy,” she explained. She goes on to describe their whirlwind romance, the warmth she felt for him, the suddenness of their engagement. It’s clear that Lohan is speaking her truth, in the haunting words of a person who’s been abused so long that a relationship absent of malevolence is a foreign concept.
Were our society attuned to the heartbreaking prevalence of abuse and knowledgeable of its contours, it would be clear that this a person who needs help and support — but who has instead received only ignorance and indifference. The media, it’s clear, has already moved past the idea of Lindsay Lohan as a person who “qualifies” as a victim.
Moreover, the media has decided to overlook the fact that erratic behavior and emotional outbursts are common in abuse victims, as are patterns of short, bad relationships. Nor has the media made any attempt to contextualize the fact that substance abuse is literally a textbook coping mechanism for a lifetime of mistreatment.
Of course, it’s important to note that if the media did report on Lohan’s abuse, it would no doubt do so in ways that were themselves problematic. One imagines pictures posted of her bruises; her injuries reported on or analyzed by doctors; tell-all secret reports from “friends” or other “close sources” about how they’ve worried about her relationship with Tabarsov or — far more likely — that they “always seemed okay together” and his violence is “shocking”; psychologists being called to speculate on her mental health or the potential for toxicity in their relationship; and “body language experts” reviewing past photos of them, looking for signs that things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows.
The way the media has handled this situation suggests there are two options for covering abuse — cravenly and thoughtlessly, or not at all. In this case, the media has chosen the latter. And this is, in its own way, equally insidious.
It’s appalling to be living in a time when a woman’s story of pain is only as important as she is “good.” It’s gut-wrenching to watch this happen to anyone, but there is a special pain in seeing Lohan’s treatment. Gossip rags have never hesitated to put her in the headlines. Her drinking, her court appearances, her attendance at parties, even her work ethic have all been fair game for the last decade. But when Lohan actually needed the attention, it was mysteriously absent. If she deserved weeks of media scrutiny for writing a dirty word on her fingernail, then she has absolutely earned our attention — and yes, our compassion.
It was too hard, it seems, to paint a portrait of a sympathetic victim — and far too easy to think of reasons she “deserved” it.