Recently, quiet furore has erupted over rape allegations that have resurfaced against Cristiano Ronaldo. The rape, that has been dated to have happened in 2009, when Ronaldo was at the peak of his career, was dealt with at the time through an out of court monetary settlement with the victim. However, as they surface again the victim, Kathryn Mayorga, has now identified herself and is seeking the deserved punishment for the accused star.
However, despite a singular response where he said this was an attempt to unfairly drag him and everything he stood for through the dirt, and promised that he would fight it with the help of stellar lawyers, nothing has fazed the star or his popular support. Fans still cheer for him and support him; more importantly, a huge chunk of them have also defended him, going so far as to victim blame and delegitimise her assault and rape.
The way a man of Ronaldo’s stature functions within the public sphere where he is so blindly idolised merits closer scrutiny. A man adored by millions across the globe by virtue of his social capital sees so much more support despite the fact that there is very strong evidence of rape against him begs the question of how far is a man seen as a ‘god’ immune to the consequences of his actions.
Men who function within a gender imbalanced power structure manipulate it by presenting themselves as a beacon of good.
Men who function within a gender imbalanced power structure manipulate it by presenting themselves as a beacon of good – and this has a big role to play in the public perception around them since they already have male privilege. The public perception thus never wants to see its idol as one who can do wrong – and violate someone because they ‘can’t’ or ‘don’t need to’.
With Ronaldo, the minute the news of the allegations went public, a posse of fans came to his rescue – a toxic chain of shielding the oppressor ensued. This sort of unbreakable public perception and image – one that millions over the globe worship – puts him at a pedestal where no matter what wrong he commits, he never has to face the consequences for those wrongdoings.
A similar example can be seen closer home in the Bollywood industry, where Tanushree Dutta has been trying to speak out about her assault for years, a story which falls on deaf years even though every time she speaks up she has to relive her trauma. Not only this, she has been victim to a lot of hate from fans of Nana Patekar and others who victim shame her into being an “attention whore” and someone who is trying to find fame after being a “failed actor” by trying to malign the image of a reputed and widely revered actor.
The pure and untouchable aura that such oppressors create around them is something which when threatened by anything – let alone something as gravely violating and criminal as perpetuating assault – invites instant aggression and backlash. Those who are followers and fans erupt into defending their stars and shielding them from their wrongdoings – becoming assault and rape apologists who refuse to see anything but their stars as legitimate. Much more so, they start seeing their star as the one who is the victim in this situation. This sort of fan manipulation that leads these fans into not using their rationality or not wanting to believe that their idol could ever be wrong exposes the victim to very harmful and dangerous situations.
By virtue of the existing imbalance in power dynamic, men never face the repercussions of their wrong doings no matter in what capacity – whether it is to with a man taking advantage of a woman or harassing her. As long as he is seen as meritorious within the public eye he doesn’t have to be answerable for the excesses he commits. A very pertinent example was that of Harvey Weinstein – who was shielded by his merit for a very long time; similar was the case with Bill Cosby.
People who are blind supporters throw abuses and slurs, threaten harm to the victim
Such men not only profit from the way the power dynamics and environment is skewed in their favour, they actively manipulate it and exploit it. In case of Ronaldo, even though in previous accounts he admitted to having violated a woman because it was all a private affair, the minute it became public he vehemently denied the allegations and went to the extent of victim blaming in so far as saying that it was a smear campaign of sorts, to malign his image and hurt him when he was completely innocent.
While this sort of shielding of the oppressor happens – it often happens at the cost of victim blaming and shaming. The victim is made to feel like their experiences of violation were illegitimate – maybe they were asking for it, maybe they were the ones who initiated, maybe they were trying to deliberately sabotage the person because they wanted their five minutes of fame off of the star’s hard work.
The way then that this backlash against the victim functions when the fans refuse to want to believe their perfect idol is capable of being a predator pushes victims into the fringes. It culminates in constant harassment of the victim – on all platforms and across every sphere of her life. People who are blind supporters throw abuses and slurs, threaten harm to the victim and in a lot of cases such as one of Dr. Blasey Ford, harass and threaten them in real time physical spaces.
This sort of behaviour from those that become the pall-bearers and support systems of oppressors which enables them to thrive on their oppression and their ability to mete out excesses without the fear of being held accountable drives the victim into the margins – where they feel like no matter how compelling or traumatic their assault is, it will never be taken seriously enough for their assaulter to face the repercussions of their actions because the victim cannot touch the invisible shield around that person which is upheld by their fans and supporters.
All powerful men derive success and continue to enjoy exploiting their access because of this sort of fan worship, creating a strong layer of protection which ends up shielding such stars from facing the true extent of the repercussions of their actions; from those in Bollywood like Nana Patekar and Alok Nath to still others like Kerala film industry super star Dileep Kumar, who was accused in an abduction and molestation case of a fellow actress just to ‘settle score’. Despite this, there seems to hardly be a scratch on the image that any of these men share among their ardent fans and those that see them as the ultimate icon – the star they aspire to embody and be like one day.
All of this ends up creating a vicious cycle of fear within the victims from speaking out. However, it is a cycle that needs to be broken in order to break the perpetuation of assault by men in positions of power and privilege who count on their fan bases to save them from facing the repercussions of their actions. It is time that these layers of exploitative privilege are peeled back and men are persecuted fairly for the crimes they commit and the violence they carry out under the garb of being “perfect idols”.
Featured Image Source: The Telegraph