So I was walking the dogs with my friend Kerry, and truly out of the blue, because she doesn't even follow the celebrity stuff like I do, she says, "How come Lindsay Lohan and Britney are drunken bimbos but with Charlie Sheen it's boys will be boys?"
Bob Thompson is Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University:
"Yes it's a double standard," he says, "Charlie Sheen is from the silent film era -- he's a rounder, he gets drunk and stumbles -- Chaplin played this character. This idea of the dissolute, drunken and fun-loving guy who always manages to get caught -- just out there sowing wild oats -- and he plays that character to great effect on his show."
In other words, he says, "What we hear confirms how we see him on his show -- there's a lack of dissonance that makes people just not that outraged, unlike, when Michael Richards (aka Kramer) went on that racist rant -- I was never able to watch him on Seinfeld again but if I turn on Two and a Half Men it's just like a scripted form of TMZ from the night before!"
Rationally, he says, "We should be more sympathetic to a Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, only because we can say Charlie's a grownup and should know better, but it just isn't so. We've watched these young women grow up, there is this "child star gone bad" element, and Lindsay has been quite contentious, said and done things that invite the desire to see her knocked down a few pegs."
Dr. Carole Leiberman is a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them and How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. She agrees there is a boys will be boys attitude versus a jumping on women for doing similar things.
"I'm wondering if it could be because men still have more control in Hollywood and feel more taken advantage of, more vulnerable and more angry at girls and women who are 'bad'."
She continues: "Men have been hurt by women like Britney and Lindsay, men who control what gets on the news, they have had their hearts broken by these bad girls yet continue to have fantasies about enjoying the life of the bad boys," she says, "and the news would be more skewed to naughty girls than Charlie just being a bad boy."
Yana Walton, Vice President of Communications for the Women's Media Center gets pretty specific.
"The media has always glorified men's misbehavior, and the underlying assumption is that women actually like the 'bad boy,' or that this behavior is somehow humorous. Yet what this does is legitimize violence and abuse of women," she says.
"Conversely, when women stars struggle with addiction and the destructive behaviors that ensue, the story is framed as a voyeuristic decline for viewers to generate entertainment value from, rather than addressing a society where women in the spotlight experience much more pressure than men to have perfect bodies, relationships, and behavior," she says, and adds, "Such coverage further exacerbates the problem."
Dr. John Sharp is a Harvard psychiatrist and Executive Medical Director at Bridges to Recovery in Los Angeles and the author of The Emotional Calendar. He emphasizes that has not treated Sheen, Lohan or Spears but offers this:
"I do have that sense that guys can get away with this more -- especially in terms of work. Charlie Sheen is showing up," he says, "and he seems to handle his PR a little better. He hasn't been an angel by any means but when asked about it he has an answer and a shrug."
Lindsay Lohan, on the other hand, "Has coming of age star struggles... and while Charlie has had his share of legal troubles Lindsay has had difficulty trying to face up to her legal problems, when she defies judges orders people react differently."
Dr. Sharp points to an extra edge to Sheen's popular notoriety. "His combination of alcohol, sex, drugs and porn is, in a way, consistent with a certain sub cultural idolatry."
Everyone I spoke to offered real sympathy and compassion for the difficult combinations of addictions and celebrity.
"It's like watching a train wreck, like Anna Nicole Smith," says Dr. Carole, "What's so sad about Charlie Sheen besides the fact he has these very strong addictions is that he's such a successful actor but really so miserable inside. For all his money and all the esteem he is held in he can't form fulfilling relationships, he picks these women who are Barbie dolls. There is a lot of comedy in Two and Half Men but even on the show he's wistful about wanting a relationship and not being able to have one. In real life it's not as funny."
And Dr. Sharp points to the near-crippling levels of enabling that go on in Hollywood. "One of the big problems with celebrity is you think you live in a consequence free environment with people who yes you and want a piece of you. It's easy to lose touch with reality."
Equal rights demons for the wealthy, hot and famous but it still seems like the guys get more of a free pass.