The actor Evan Rachel Wood has, again, spoken out publicly about surviving an abusive relationship. And this time, she’s naming names: The man she says groomed and abused her is washed-up Goth-rock dork Brian Warner, who prefers to be known as Marilyn Manson. Multiple other women have now spoken out, too, detailing horrifying allegations of abuse.
Why, when all the evidence was right there in front of our faces, did the music industry let him get away with his violent, narcissistic misogyny for so long?
Hopefully no one in the music industry has the nerve to feign surprise. Manson himself told us everything we needed to know long ago. So why, when all the evidence was right there in front of our faces, did the music industry let him get away with his violent, narcissistic misogyny for so long?
That Manson was reported to be Wood’s abuser is one the worst-kept secrets in the music industry. Wood has repeatedly opened up about the abuse she has suffered in her life, and while she didn’t name anyone, it didn’t take Olivia Benson-level investigative skills to hypothesize whom she might be talking about. Wood testified before the California Senate that the man who abused her began grooming her when she was just 18. She said he physically abused her, deprived her of sleep, starved her and stalked her when she tried to leave him, calling her incessantly, she said.
These are more than just breadcrumbs: Woods began publicly dating Manson when she was just 19 and he was 36. Yes, love comes in many different forms, but we should all pause and frankly worry when we see a fully grown man dating a teenager — especially when the man begins to speak about all of the ways he manipulates, demeans and harms her.
And Manson did just that. For more than a decade, he has been upfront about his misogyny and abusive behavior. In a 2009 interview with Spin magazine, conducted shortly after his breakup with Wood, Manson said he called Wood 158 times while self-mutilating and then blamed her for it. “I wanted to show her the pain she put me through,” Manson said. “It was like, ‘I want you to physically see what you’ve done.'”
That lines up with Wood’s account of an abusive man who refused to let her leave. And even if it didn’t, Manson was telling on himself: Self-harming and then blaming someone else is a classically manipulative behavior.
But Manson didn’t stop there. He told the Spin magazine writer — in an interview that one imagines he hoped Wood would read — that he fantasized about murdering her. “The song ‘I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies’ is about my fantasies,” Manson said. “I have fantasies every day about smashing her skull in with a sledgehammer.”
Somehow, that wasn’t enough to make all of the adults in the room — the music journalists and editors, the record company executives and the radio DJs — pause and ask themselves why they were continuing to promote such a dangerous man.
(In 2020, Manson’s team told the music blog Metal Hammer that his 2009 Spin interview shouldn’t be taken literally: “The comments in Spin where Manson had a fantasy of using a sledgehammer on Evan … was obviously a theatrical rock star interview promoting a new record, and not a factual account.”)
It’s always been easier, it seems, to write Manson off as a joke. He is, after all, a grown adult who dresses up in white face paint and stylized contact lenses to make himself appear threatening, whose song lyrics include the trying-to-shock drivel one might expect from an angsty teen. He and his bandmates named themselves after serial killers — edgy! It would all be supremely embarrassing behavior from a teenager, let alone a man who is now well into middle age.
But the theatrics also give him an excuse for very real bad behavior. Manson may be a cringey attention-seeker, but that doesn’t make his alleged treatment of Wood (or of the other women who say he abused them) any less harmful. And it doesn’t make the entertainment industry’s decision to ignore his comments any less harmful to women everywhere.
Many of the men felled by the #MeToo movement were highly effective at hiding their true colors. They supported progressive and feminist causes. They said all the right things about women in the workplace. They were outwardly respectable, stand-up guys who used that facade to conceal their bad acts.
Even if a man wears silly makeup and puts on an aggressive stage persona, women and girls still absolutely have the right to safety and respect.
Not Manson. He was outwardly misogynistic. He spoke openly about at least some of the ways he may have abused, threatened and harassed Wood. And maybe that was part of the problem: Even though Wood was barely out of childhood when she met Manson, perhaps people assumed she knew what she was getting into. This “what did you expect?” reaction is one of the many ways we shame women into staying in abusive situations and make it harder for them to speak about their experiences if they do leave. Because even if a man wears silly makeup and puts on an aggressive stage persona, women and girls still absolutely have the right to safety and respect.
Wood was a teenager dating a man whom millions of people listened to and admired, even after he went on ugly sexist rants (“If you wanna get a man, spread your legs,” he said his father taught him. “And if you wanna keep a man, shut your f—ing mouth”), punched a woman in the head during a show, boasted about buying high heels for his infant goddaughter, claimed to have put his gun in a journalist’s mouth and publicly fantasized about bashing Wood’s head in. Magazines interviewed him. MTV and radio stations put his videos and songs on heavy rotation. Agents, bookers and producers worked with him. Even after his bad behavior could no longer be denied, nearly everyone surrounding him broadcast one clear message: This is OK.
It wasn’t OK, and it was Wood and the other women Manson is accused of abusing who say they paid the price. Now, finally, Manson’s label has dropped him. But while his powerful longtime enablers are finally recognizing that Manson is the villain in this story, they’re conveniently dodging responsibility. The truth is Manson wasn’t hiding. He’s a monster of an entire industry’s making.