By Sian Norris
Tonight, boxer Floyd Mayweather was due to speak at Bristol’s Colston Hall about his career punching men inside the boxing ring. The event has now been cancelled, with the venue citing "unforeseen circumstances".
Perhaps those circumstances were the protests that followed the invitation of a man who not only punches men inside the boxing ring, but punches women outside of it.
The world champion boxer not only has a history of winning trophies and plaudits for his boxing skills, he also has a disturbing history of violence against women. Since 2002, Mayweather has been accused of domestic abuse on numerous occasions. He pleaded guilty to two offences and has served 30 days of a 90-day prison sentence for hitting the mother of his children in front of them. Further allegations include punching two women on the cheek and the back of the head, and punching another woman all over her face and body.
Of course, Mayweather's history of violence was not due to be discussed at Colston Hall last night. Instead, the boxing star was to be given the opportunity to talk about his wins and the challenges he'd overcome in the ring. He was invited to promote his own legend and bolster his public persona as a self-proclaimed "good guy".
The event has now been cancelled. But the fact the invitation was offered in the first place raises interesting questions about our culture's willingness to support violent men and brush their violence under the carpet. We need to ask why it is that in 2016 we are still celebrating men who are repeatedly violent against women.
Mayweather isn’t the first celebrity to abuse women and be welcomed back into the entertainment industry with open arms and he won't be the last. From Mike Tyson starring in The Hangover after having served a prison sentence for rape, to Chris Brown playing at the Grammies when a few years earlier he beat his girlfriend en route to the awards, to Mel Gibson taking on starring roles after severely beating his partner. Then of course there’s Polanski, Pistorius, Ched Evans...the long and depressing list goes on. Each one of those famous men have allegedly abused women. And each one has come through those allegations with offers of more work, more celebrity, and more adulation.
Here in the UK, an estimated 1.2 million women experience domestic abuse each year, and on average two women a week are killed by a former or current partner. Violence is a grim reality of too many women's lives. It touches every one of us – either those of us who have lived with violence ourselves, or who have supported a friend through a violent relationship, an assault, a rape. Male violence isn't an abstract for women. Its impact is with us every day, we live with the fear of it, and we pick up the pieces of it.
So when we see men like Mayweather welcomed into our cultural venues, it hurts. Because it sends a message that men's reputations and careers matter more than the injuries and harm done to women.
What does it say about our society, that we are so willing to welcome abusers into the spotlight with open arms? We know about the punches thrown, the bruises blooming on cheeks, the broken bones, and the rapes. And yet we still offer abusive men all the riches and rewards cultural icon status brings. How can we claim to take violence against women seriously, when we refuse to condemn the men who choose to abuse women?
It's an interesting exercise to ask who it serves, when we welcome abusers back into a non-critical spotlight. Because what we are doing here is colluding with abusers. We choose to stay silent on the subject of their abuse, and instead play along with the narrative they or their agents have constructed about their image – from the "good guy" label trotted out by Mayweather to the 'troubled star' appellation given to Gibson and Polanski. And we do it all at the expense of their victims.
When we agree to ignore these men's history of violence, we say to their victims that their pain and their suffering matters less than the abuser's reputation. We tell these women that what happened to them doesn't matter – that what matters instead is for the abusive man to be able to continue their career unhindered and unembarrassed by their own violent actions.
And it's not just the celebrity men themselves that are bolstered by our tacit silence on their abuse. When we send out a message that male violence doesn't have to harm a glittering and award-laden career, we also give comfort to the abuser on the street. By staying silent about Mayweather's violence, or the allegations against Polanski, or Tyson's prison sentence, we send a message to other violent men that it is okay to abuse women. We send a message that men can beat and rape women, and rather than suffer society’s condemnation they will be welcomed back into the fold, the violence forgotten, the accusations silenced. We send a message to men that they can do what they want to women and it needn't have an impact on their future.
At the same time, we agree to ignore the impact male violence has on the victim's future – the PTSD, the suicide attempts, the health problems. Women's voices are silenced as we bend ourselves over backwards to rewrite the violent man's narratives with the words he chooses.
As we keep quiet, men like Floyd Mayweather get to speak. The women they abused have to listen, as the man who hit them tells the world he's a good guy, as his audience stands up and cheers.
Sian Norris is the founder and director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival, and runs the feminist blog sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman and Open Democracy. Her first novel, Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue is published by Our Street and her short story, The Boys on the Bus, is available on the Kindle. Sian is currently working on a novel based around the life of Gertrude Stein. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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