Notes on a Scandal: Robin Givens

by:   |   Nov 11 2014


After writing about Tonya Harding and the controversy around her, I’ve been inspired to Google the hell out of other famous women who’ve been involved in major scandals. It’s not uncommon for a lady to be branded by the public’s hatred; after all, America loves nothing more than to knock a bitch down a peg.

That’s what brought me back to Robin Givens. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but she’s a smarty pants, too. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 1984, Givens landed her first acting gig a year later. She appeared on the Cosby Show and Different Strokes before landing a breakthrough role on ABC’s Head of the Class. She’s been working pretty steadily ever since, starring in countless TV shows and movies: her résumé includes trashy gems like Beverly Hills Madame alongside Faye Dunaway (one of my personal faves), as well as Boomerang, Fresh Prince, Moesha, Sparks, Everybody Hates Chris, and a ton of others.


But what really pushed Givens into the media spotlight was her very public marriage and divorce from heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. Their divorce was scandalous on multiple levels, including Tyson’s alleged abuse and allegations that Givens was only using the boxer for his ample bank account. The public’s interest in the couple heated up after their notorious 1988 Barbara Walters interview. During this tense exchange, Givens comes clean, with Tyson by her side, about her husband’s anger issues and physical abuse. Tyson sits next to her timidly as Givens gets into some real talk about the dark side of their relationship. And it is uncomfortable to watch.



But despite being a victim of abuse, Givens was still demonized; in 1990, Ebony declared her “the most hated woman in America.” Here she was, making it clear that she was being beaten by her husband, and yet nobody seemed able to drum up any empathy. Why did the country hate her so much? Well, keep in mind that this was way before Tyson started to publicly unravel. Back then, he was still the golden boy of boxing: no rape charges or facial tattoos had occurred yet. Many believed that Givens had “betrayed” him by telling the truth about their fucked-up marriage and casting a pall on his career. A woman once approached Givens on the street and said, “He should have kicked your ass. I wish he would have killed you.”


And Givens could never shake the “gold digger” label. I guess it was hard for the American public to understand why a well-educated, well-spoken, and beautiful woman would be interested in a uneducated blockhead boxer like Tyson. But let’s just assume that Givens WAS after Tyson’s money. So fucking what? Is it the most honorable way to approach matrimony? Definitely not, but it’s pretty standard procedure, and we aren’t nearly as furious at most “gold diggers” as America was at Givens back then.


I think if we dig a little deeper, the public’s anger centered on the fact that a direct, intelligent black woman was openly shaming one of America’s favorite athletes. She was airing the couple’s dirty laundry, and people did not want to smell it. Proof that sometimes being a grown-ass ladyand speaking the truthis the hardest thing you can do.


After her divorce, Givens briefly dated Brad Pitt and then gave marriage another shot with a short-lived union to her then tennis instructor. In 1990, she became a single mother when she adopted her first son. Seven years later, at age 32, she gave birth to her second son with her now-ex Murphy Jensen.


Aside from her acting career, Givens has often served as a talking head on issues of domestic violence (she was recently interviewed in the wake of the Ray Rice abuse video leaking). I’d like to think that if the Givens/Tyson divorce and scandal were to happen today, there’d be a different reaction than there was nearly 25 years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t say that with any confidence, since no-nonsense, direct women are still tagged as “ruthless bitches.” And that’s especially shameful considering that Givens was trying to reach out to us and be honest, but instead of hearing her, the public slammed the door in her face. It’s a cruel world out there! Stay strong, all you grown-ass ladies.

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