On finding out his 18-year-old daughter had joined the platform, Sheen immediately blamed his ex-wife
Realising that your kids are doing something you don’t want them to is a nightmare for any parent.
So, when it comes to Charlie Sheen finding out that his 18-year-old daughter, Sam “Sami” Sheen, has joined OnlyFans – a platform known for hosting sexually explicit content – I can well imagine his horror (though I know there will be those who disagree with me; who believe OnlyFans is empowering for women, that it’s “just a job” like any other. We should listen to those women and fight to keep them safe – even if we don’t personally agree with the argument).
I can speak only of my reaction as a mother. I have a 10-year-old daughter who’s growing up fast (so fast!) yet still sleeps with her favourite doll. She’s aware of sex, of periods, of LGBT+ relationships, of racism, of sexism, of politics, of the refugee crisis – of lots of social issues I believe she needs to know about to continue to develop into the rounded and tolerant young woman she’s already becoming.
I’ve talked to her about porn and have tried to warn her about staying safe online – have explained to her the insidious influences she can’t possibly grasp properly yet (she doesn’t even have her own phone): the intolerable pressure that is placed on girls not much older than her to share nudes, to be skinny, to take part in endlessly competitive selfie wars on platforms like Instagram.
She’s banned from using YouTube and I don’t let her watch programmes like Love Island, either, because I want to try to avoid the message that you have to be a stick-thin and beautiful to be loved.
So yes, I have some sympathy with Sheen – who has reacted with notable anger and dismay after finding out that his daughter had set up an OnlyFans account on Monday (13 June), after she shared a photo of herself in a swimsuit on Instagram with the words: “Click the link in my bio if u wanna see more.”
If I found out that my little girl (and let’s face it, Sami might be 18, but she’s still Sheen’s “little girl”) had done similar, I would have hit the roof, just like he did. To a point.
The problem, you see, is that while we might understand his shock and upset, Sheen, who’s 56, then did something (to my mind) unforgivable – he blamed his ex-wife.
Sami has been living with her mother, Denise Richards, he said. The Two and a Half Men actor told Page Six: “She is 18 years old now and living with her mother. This did not occur under my roof.”
He added: “I do not condone this, but since I’m unable to prevent it, I urged her to keep it classy, creative and not sacrifice her integrity.”
Richards, who has two daughters with the actor – Sami and Lola Rose, 17 – meanwhile told the publication: “Sami is 18, and this decision wasn’t based on whose house she lives in. All I can do as a parent is guide her and trust her judgement, but she makes her own choices.”
Hear, hear: I’d be as shocked as anyone if my daughter joined a pay-to-view site known for porn, but Richards is right – we can’t control our kids.
All we can do is furnish an open and loving relationship in which they feel able to ask questions and tell us what they’re doing without secrecy and shame. We can hope that by encouraging frank communication, without judgement or punishment, we might help them see how many options they have.
We can encourage them to act in ways that reflect their incredible value; to place self-worth and self-respect at the very top of their agenda. To think about the future.
If, in doing all that, they still choose to join OnlyFans? So be it. I’m with Richards – we are here to guide them, not control them. To let them know we are here to pick up the pieces, and trust that we’ve given them the tools to make good choices.
But in doing what Sheen did, in blaming her mother – and in so doing, placing the full weight of moral guardianship and emotional caretaking at her feet – Sheen has, in my opinion, proved himself part of the problem.
“Under my roof” – has there ever been a more singular source of blame and shame directed at (no surprises here) a woman? What about his fatherly responsibility? Does that end at the driveway, when his daughters go to sleep at their mother’s house? The fact his daughters don’t live 24/7 with him is arguably irrelevant. He can still visit, pick up the phone and immerse himself in their lives – and their life choices.
Moral influences and talking to your kids frankly about sex and online harm, helping them to build self-esteem and self-respect (and pointing out issues of personal safety) – that responsibility lies with both parents, whether you live with your kids or not.
Instead, Sheen seems to be implying that those vital parenting skills should be left to women, which is a tale as old as time. Just this morning, a school friend sent a tweet to our WhatsApp group which read: “Men outsourcing mundane decision making to women and causing ‘decision fatigue’ – meanwhile they get to preserve their brains for work.” Alongside the tweet, my friend had written: “Does anyone else get this?” And the rest of us responded: “So much!”
Sheen’s reaction also reminds me of my favourite feminist comic strip – “The Gender Wars of Household Chores” – which exposes the very real issue most women will understand: of being left to do the majority of the “emotional labour” in a (predominantly heterosexual) relationship or domestic situation.
French comic artist Emma illustrates the concept of this type of “mental load” (when a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, because he views her as the manager of household chores) to a tee.
Sheen is entitled to be upset. But he should be encouraged to talk to his daughter about it, too – to explain why he’s worried about her, to show care and concern. He shouldn’t use her decision as an excuse to blame women, and expect them to do the bulk of the parenting.