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In the wake of sexual assault allegations surrounding husband and now-former CBS CEO Les Moonves, Julie Chen has voiced her support of his claims to innocence, having left one of her two CBS TV hosting gigs at The Talk while remaining onboard its reality game show, Big Brother. Columnist Rachel Abbott weighs in.

Content Warnings:

Sexual assault, rape, violence against women.

In the wake of sexual assault allegations against her husband (former CBS CEO, Les Moonves), TV host and personality Julie Chen announced that she will be stepping down from her position at CBS daytime talk show The Talk. Along with that announcement came the news that she will, however, retain her position as host of the reality game show Big Brother. Chen made a public note about her position on the issue. Stating the following: 

“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the mid-90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years,” Chen said in a July 27 statement. “Leslie is a good man and loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”

Chen continued on to announce via Twitter that she would be taking a brief hiatus from The Talk a few days ahead of its ninth season premiere to spend time with her family, but made splashes in the media by signing off from Big Brother for the first time in her eighteen year tenure as host not as just Julie Chen, but as Julie Chen-Moonves.

At the height of the #MeToo movement earlier this year, twelve women stepped forward and accused Les Moonves of sexual assault and harassment. Moonves was formerly a Chairman and CEO at CBS, as well as an executive at Showtime and the publishing house Simon & Schuster. His victims stand by their allegations of Moonves, which include an array of acts of sexual violence ranging from forced kissing to rape, all of which spanned over a series of decades from the eighties to the late aughts. He reportedly threatened to end women’s careers if they didn’t acquiesce to his advances; and more of these allegations against him can be read in Time Magazine and the New Yorker.

I have no doubt in my mind that Les Moonves is a predator and rapist. After all, a key component of the #MeToo movement is to believe women when they share their experiences, and I believe the twelve women who have spoken out against Moonves. They’ve demonstrated great bravery in speaking out against one of television’s most influential and profitable leaders. Moonves fiercely denied the allegations, saying that he may have made advances but never crossed a line of consent. He has since stepped down from his positions at CBS but remains employed in a limited capacity while they train his predecessor.

His wife, Julie Chen, lingers somewhere between neutral and supportive of her husband. As stated above, as host of Big Brother, she recently began greeting and signing off as Julie Chen-Moonves, a subtle but significant addition to her professional name. Watchers have taken this as a signal that she’s standing by her husband in light of his rape accusations. Logic follows that if she’s standing by her husband, she’s denying the validity of the accusations made against him. However, her exodus from The Talk, of which she was a founding employee since its inception 9 years ago, indicates that the accusations are taking a toll on their family and personal lives.  

 

“Right now I need to spend more time at home, with my husband and our young son, so I’ve decided to leave The Talk,” she said in her farewell statement.

On a personal level, I find this entire situation difficult to grasp. My knee-jerk reaction is to be angry with Julie Chen. How can she so blatantly disregard the accusations of twelve women against her husband? Moreover, why would she want to? I can’t imagine aligning myself with a man accused of such monstrous and reprehensible behavior. I wouldn’t want that kind of human to be my husband. The logic to follow is worse, that being the thought that perhaps she knew all along. Perhaps she’d heard stories of him fondling his employees and chose to look the other way. But even that seems too evil. It’s easier for me to imagine that she didn’t know and learned of this news at the same time as the rest of us. Given the timeframe of the accusations, not only was he assaulting women in the workplace, but he was assaulting women in the workplace while married to Julie Chen. Sexually abusive, cheating, manipulative of the careers of a dozen young women—these signals should send Chen running — not walking — in the direction opposite her life partner.

And yet.

And yet, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we do not have access to the Moonves-Chen household. We don’t have access to whatever surely painful conversations have occurred over the past few months. At the very least, we can guess that Chen is distressed by the news about her husband — whether that be because of the realization that her husband is, in fact, a sexual assailant, or due to the overwhelming coverage the press has given this issue. Given that Moonves has assaulted at least a dozen women in his life, Julie Chen could very likely be experiencing assault and manipulation herself. Leaving now, as Moonves grapples with his damaged career and reputation, could spell disaster for Chen and her son. It does not matter how wealthy, established, or accomplished Chen seems to us; serial abusers have highly developed tactics of manipulation that can bring even the most powerful woman to her knees. Indeed, many abusers get off on targeting powerful women in particular.

That’s not to say that Julie Chen is necessarily suffering from domestic abuse herself; we don’t know her life and cannot fairly draw conclusions based on the actions of her husband. And while the actions of her husband are not a reflection of Chen’s character, we must remember that she is sharing a household and a child with a rich, influential man with a track record of abusive and violent behaviors. Whether she had acknowledged it to herself or not, she is in a dangerous position.

I want to ask Julie Chen to be better. I want her to state that she believes the women who have accused her husband, that she’s ended her relationship with the man she thought she knew, that she and her son will be creating a beautiful life for themselves away from that evil man. I want her to remove all traces of this abusive monster’s influence in her life. I want her to apologize to the survivors of her husband’s abuse, as well as for not believing them sooner. I want least want her to stop using her husband’s fucking name on national TV. Maybe I want too much.

On the other hand, I must remind myself that wanting these things from Julie Chen is akin to making her atone for her husband’s crimes, which as mentioned a moment ago, we cannot do. Chen herself hasn’t done anything wrong, apart from being too publicly passive. Is it fair to ask that she apologize and uproot her entire life? It should be him of whom we ask for atonement, him that we ask to throw his life into uncertainty, not her. As someone who was recently making $70 million a year, he can certainly afford to put himself into intensive therapy and community service.

Julie Chen’s situation is complicated and precarious. Above all, I wish for her safety in the coming months as she and her husband deal with the allegations against him. However, I also wish for her to take a stand on the side of the abused — on the right side of history (or, in this case, herstory). I want her to live a life free from abuse and free from complicity. I hope she can find that.

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Rachel Abbott
Rachel Abbott is a columnist for About Magazine. By day she works at Half Price Books, and by night, she writes. She is interested in the LGBTQ+ women’s experiences, intersectional feminism, and WLW media. Her fiction writing has appeared in Prairie Margins, The Stockholm Review, Z Publishing’s Texas Emerging Writers Anthology, and more. She studied creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Now she lives in the heart of Houston with her partner and their two rescued dogs.