Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Susie Banikarim (00:00):

Hey everyone. This is part two of our episode about Robin Givens. If you haven’t listened to part one yet, I recommend starting there. Just a note that we discuss sexual and domestic violence in this episode. It’s September 30th, 1988, and Robin Givens, a well-known actress, is revealing on a national television interview …

Robin Givens (00:20):

He’s got a side to him that’s scary.

Susie Banikarim (00:23):

… that she is tormented by her husband’s physical abuse.

Robin Givens (00:26):

And just recently I’ve become afraid. I mean, very, very much afraid.

Susie Banikarim (00:31):

Her husband, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Mike Tyson is sitting beside her quietly.

Barbara Walters (00:37):

Why are you doing this interview? What did you want people to know?

Robin Givens (00:40):

I don’t want him to seem like a bad guy.

Susie Banikarim (00:42):

The couple is speaking to Barbara Walters to tackle a swirl of rumors around their marriage. But Robin’s honesty in this moment is going to backfire, and the public reaction to her intimate revelation will change the course of her life. I am Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:01):

And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (01:02):

And this is In Retrospect where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett (01:08):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim (01:10):

Today we’re talking about the vilification of Robin Givens, a talented actress who in the 1980s became known for her violent marriage to Mike Tyson. But we’re also talking about the way she was treated by the press, what it teaches us about domestic violence and the role race played in all of it. This is part two.

Jessica Bennett (01:31):

So Susie, we’re talking about this remarkable interview, which has now just aired. How does Robin feel about it after they finished taping?

Susie Banikarim (01:39):

So initially, Mike and Robin and the people around them view the interview as a success. Robin writes in her memoir, which is called Grace Will Lead Me Home, that afterwards they all went out and celebrated and were really happy with the result.

Jessica Bennett (01:52):

But then what was the public reaction to the interview?

Susie Banikarim (01:55):

So the reaction is wild, even in the run-up to when they air it on September 30th, there’s a few days usually between an interview and when it actually gets edited together and put on television, during that period, ABC News leaks parts of the interview. I mean, I assume it was ABC News. I guess someone else could have done it, but-

Jessica Bennett (02:13):

Like purposely, it’s not nefarious.

Susie Banikarim (02:14):

Purposely, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (02:14):

Got it.

Susie Banikarim (02:14):

And that’s for standard practice in television, right? You’re going to-

Jessica Bennett (02:18):

Pre-internet, yeah, they’re releasing parts of it.

Susie Banikarim (02:21):

Yeah, or they’re not releasing the actual video of it, but they’re letting people know that this is going to be a big interview worth watching. So they’re leaking little pieces of what was covered. And the tabloids go crazy. They’re already following every twist and turn in this relationship, but at this point, they’re even more aggressively invested in what comes next.


And there’s a lot of speculation. And I think the thing that becomes clear here is that the public opinion is really turning on her. There was already this idea that she was going to take all the spark out of Mike Tyson or whatever the hell.

Jessica Bennett (02:56):

Right. She was just in it for his money.

Susie Banikarim (02:57):

Yeah. There was already these sorts of spurious rumors about her. At this point, there is this sense that she’s humiliated him with this interview. That by her saying that he’s abusive while he’s sitting there watching that, that’s a humiliation that’s undeserved somehow. I mean, it’s hard for me now looking back on it to understand this public sentiment.

Jessica Bennett (03:19):

I mean, I keep asking you like, wait, what do you mean they think she’s humiliated? It is so crazy to watch this now and think to yourself, oh God, she’s really humiliated him. I mean, what you see here is an extremely raw description of a woman describing abuse, and it’s really wild that that was the public reaction to it.


It says so much about the time. And so actually, I wanted to ask you, can you give us a little bit of context about our understanding of domestic violence at the time, because it was not what it is today?

Susie Banikarim (03:54):

Yeah, it’s an interesting thing because a lot of the way we understand domestic violence now really started with stuff that happened in the 1980s around this timeframe. I mean, obviously, wife beating, as it was described, was formally illegal in the United States by 1920. But arrests remained very rare. And it wasn’t until the 1970s where feminists started to really recast domestic violence as a major issue.

Jessica Bennett (04:21):

Actually, this was when Ms. Magazine, which was run by Gloria Steinem, put domestic violence on its cover. It was the first magazine to do that. I randomly know a lot of this history, and it was an image, a full bleed image of a woman’s face with a black eye.


She was a famous model, and so she was recognizable, and the headline was Battered Wives. And so this was exactly what you’re saying, this was when the idea of abuse and domestic abuse was really starting to trickle out into the mainstream.

Susie Banikarim (04:50):

That cover really demonstrates this moment where a shift is occurring almost in real time, where women are starting to say, these are real issues. There needs to be real legal repercussions for this.

Jessica Bennett (05:02):

And language for it.

Susie Banikarim (05:03):

Language for it. But look, we’re in ’88 when we’re talking about this. The Violence Against Women Act isn’t even passed until 1994, and that is sort of the first act that acknowledges domestic violence and sexual assault as a crime and enshrines protection.


So we’re really at a very early understanding. And what you see is that Robin doesn’t really benefit from that. It’s not like we see all these feminists come forward to defend her.

Jessica Bennett (05:33):

Right, in support of her.

Susie Banikarim (05:34):

So I wanted to get the perspective of somebody who could put this into historical context for us, but also who lived through it. So I called up Salamishah Tillet, she’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and a professor at Rutgers. She also grew up watching Robin Givens like I did on Head of the Class. Here’s what she had to say.

Salamishah Tillet (05:53):

What’s interesting about Robin Givens is that her public disclosure not only predates me too as a global movement, but it predates other people coming forward with allegations against Mike Tyson like Desiree Washington or other mainstream allegations of violence against women that we see later on in 1991, the same year Desiree Washington comes forward with allegations of sexual assault with Mike Tyson.


In the fall of that year, Anita Hill comes forward, allegations of sexual harassment, Clarence Thomas. So Robin Givens is in a way, an island unto herself, but also she’s like a canary in the coal mine.


It’s just really important for us to go back and understand what was the discourse around violence against women, violence against black women in the ’80s and early ’90s? And then how did that language that the public narratives impact little girls like me and you who are watching it?

Susie Banikarim (06:54):

For those of you who don’t know the story about Desiree Washington, we’ll talk more about that later. But Salamishah is making such an important larger point here because what happens between Robin and Mike Tyson tells us a lot about how violence against women is seen in this era. And it tells us a lot about how racism is part of that conversation.

Jessica Bennett (07:12):

Right. And not only in how Robin was treated, but in that whole Beauty and the Beast portrayal of the two of them, right?

Susie Banikarim (07:22):

Yeah. And actually, Salamishah talked about that.

Salamishah Tillet (07:22):

Mike Tyson was to call him beast to the beauty. He’s already castigated as someone who is not fully human. So there’s a racist element to how he was perceived, how people talked about his boxing, how people talked about his childhood, and how people saw him in American society. But I also think there’s racism towards Robin Givens where black women are not seen as victims of violence, right?

Susie Banikarim (07:50):

Salamishah also said that these historic biases, these myths are part of the reason Robin wasn’t believed.

Salamishah Tillet (07:56):

The same myth of black men being hyper violent, that comes from slavery, also, there are myths of black women being jezebels or whores that legitimated the violence against them during slavery as well. And so you have these two myths that are just circulating in national imagination.


And you have Mike Tyson, who is physically much stronger than Robin Givens, and you have her saying publicly that he’s abused her and he doesn’t refute it. So all of that is true, and yet people still didn’t believe her. So there’s a lot of mental gymnastics that one has to do when even the person who’s being accused of the violence doesn’t say it didn’t happen.


It just speaks to one, how little we actually value the truth of violence against women, particularly violence against women in homes and in marriages. But then two, the layer of him being an African-American man and her being an African-American woman, I think adds a kind of confusion, I think, on the part of how the media is going to deal with it.


Black women aren’t seen as people who are potential victims. They’re not delicate, they’re not fragile. We’re superhuman in a different way. And so when we say that someone’s attacked us, we’re actually seen as people who are unattackable and therefore unbelievable.


It wasn’t just Mike Tyson, I think being a victim of racism, and therefore he’s seen as hyper violent but Robin Givens probably was never going to be seen as someone who could have been a victim given this history of race and gender in America.

Jessica Bennett (09:37):

So Susie, I know we’ll hear more from Salamishah later, but I want to take us back to the timeline. So the interview airs and the public reaction is not good. And then if I’m remembering correctly, Mike Tyson begins to completely unravel.

Susie Banikarim (09:51):

So once the interview airs and the reaction is that it’s like a humiliation for him, he completely loses his shit. A couple of days later he has such an intense meltdown that the police are called to their New Jersey mansion. He’s literally throwing furniture through the windows. I mean, the marriage at this point is essentially over.


And Robin has told this story about kind of the moment where she realizes she can’t stay in the marriage anymore. He’s having this extremely violent sort of rage that’s going on for hours, and she and her mother and her sister and some other staff are hiding in a closet off the kitchen desperately trying to keep themselves safe from him.


She looks down at her sister, and her sister is just weeping. And in that moment, she says she realized that she’s not just putting herself through this, but that she’s putting her family through this, and she decides that they have to leave and they flee to California.


Within a week, Robin files for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and spousal abuse. In that divorce petition, she really does not hold back. She asks for a restraining order. She says, my husband has throughout our marriage, been violent, physically abusive, prone to unprovoked rages of violence and destruction.


She describes this incident in the house, the most recent incident in which I was physically terrorized occurred on October 2nd. I was awakened by Michael hitting about my body and my head with his closed fist and open hand. And I think it’s worth remembering the disparity in their sizes here.

Jessica Bennett (11:30):

Exactly. All spousal abuse is terrible, but this is the literal heavyweight champion of the world, and she’s talking about his closed fist, that is his punching hand.

Susie Banikarim (11:43):

She literally says, “It’s the latest in a continuous horror story for me. He has repeatedly hit me, thrown things at me, threatened to kill me, and threatened to kill my sister, my mom, and employees.”

Jessica Bennett (11:54):

Wow. It turns so quickly. It’s like they’re on that show to supposedly rehabilitate or show that they love each other-

Susie Banikarim (12:03):

And that he’s still a good guy, they’re-

Jessica Bennett (12:05):

… and then just within a week-

Susie Banikarim (12:05):

… really leaning into that. And then she’s like, you know what? No, this is not a good guy.

Jessica Bennett (12:09):

Well, it just explodes.

Susie Banikarim (12:10):

He’s violent. And actually, interestingly, even as she’s filing this petition, her attorney still says to the press, she loves Mike Tyson, but there is continued violence and she fears for her safety.

Jessica Bennett (12:22):

I mean, I think that’s always been clear. That shouldn’t be surprising. It is possible to love someone and for them to be a terrible, horrible abuser.

Susie Banikarim (12:31):

Right. Well, I think it’s actually common. Most people do love their abusers. That’s why they put up, or it’s like a twisted form of love, or they believe it’s love. That’s what your abuser is using against you often is sort of that knowledge that you don’t want to leave, but that they’re going to push you and push you and push you until maybe you don’t feel like you have a choice.


And that seems like is what happened here. And at this point, Mike reacts by waging open war on her. So she unleashes this anger in him that he now begins to feel comfortable taking out publicly. We know he’s been taking out this anger on her privately-

Jessica Bennett (13:09):

Oh. So he’s now just like [inaudible 00:13:11].

Susie Banikarim (13:10):

… but now he’s just talking so much shit about her in the press. He counter sues her.

Jessica Bennett (13:16):

Oh, he counter sues her.

Susie Banikarim (13:17):

Yeah. He files for an annulment in New Jersey, which unlike California, doesn’t have a 50/50 split. So he’s basically implying that she filed in California for the money. He charges that she tricked him into the marriage, and that she waged a campaign to publicly humiliate him, strip him of his manhood and his dignity, and to destroy his credibility as a public figure.


I mean, he has now decided that she is the enemy, and he is someone who, when he decides that you’re the enemy, really leans into that in an extremely aggressive way. So initially she says, I’m going to walk away from this marriage. I don’t want anything. But he is so mean-

Jessica Bennett (14:02):


Susie Banikarim (14:03):

… about her and relentless in the press, he says that her miscarriage was false. He claims she was never pregnant, even though she says he had seen ultrasounds. He says about her and her mother, and this one I think is the most shocking, they don’t like black people in an interview with the Sun-Times, Chicago Sun-Times, they use them, but they don’t like or respect black people. They want to be white so bad. The way they talk about black people you think you were living with the Ku Klux Klan?

Jessica Bennett (14:30):


Susie Banikarim (14:31):

And so I think there’s also this thing that he is tapping into, which is in the black community, he is a real hero. So she is seen as betraying her own-

Jessica Bennett (14:42):

Yeah, she’s abandoned.

Susie Banikarim (14:42):

… people to some degree, and he is really giving a dog whistle to that by claiming that she’s essentially a white supremacist. I mean-

Jessica Bennett (14:51):

It’s so interesting because it reminds me of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill and the way that he used the language about a very public lynching.

Susie Banikarim (15:00):


Jessica Bennett (15:00):

And that was just a few years later. It’s almost as if this sort of not, I don’t know what the right terminology is, but there is some reflection of this in that.

Susie Banikarim (15:09):

You see echoes of the same kind of thing, which is there is this struggle in the black community where even with Bill Cosby, I think there was initially a lot of pushback when people came forward because the idea was like, we don’t have that many heroes. You shouldn’t denigrate them even when they’ve done something that deserves to be called out.

Salamishah Tillet (15:30):

Mike Tyson was a rare African-American man who had reached kind of the apex of his profession.

Susie Banikarim (15:36):

That’s Salamishah Tillet again.

Salamishah Tillet (15:37):

And so that need, that desire, that hope to protect his status, I think comes at the expense of someone like Robin Givens. So you have two African-Americans, arguably both at the peak of their professions and then these accusations of violence. So because America has this long history of lynching and attacking African-American men who are in high profile positions, there is a sense that we have to protect this person at any cost.


The other part of that, of course, is there’s an African-American woman here who is also a victim of racism, a victim of sexism and when she speaks out about violence against her by this man, she suddenly doesn’t have a racial identity. She’s no longer seen as a victim. She’s seen as someone who’s in cahoots with American racism to take him down. And so that’s the tragedy of the Robin Givens, Mike Tyson situation.

Jessica Bennett (16:37):

It really must have felt so dehumanizing for Robin to just be stripped of her identity in that way.

Susie Banikarim (16:43):

And the crazy thing is he just continues to give these interviews. He calls her slime of the slime. He says she tried to kill him with the drugs. At which point he’s talking about lithium. So she’s obviously not trying to kill him with the drugs. She eventually gets so frustrated, she sues him for defamation, and she’s like, he’s accusing me of trying to steal his money. That’s not true.


So she’s trying to fight that, and then eventually she just is like, I can’t do this with you. She just drops the suit and their divorce is finalized, ironically, on Valentine’s Day of 1989, almost exactly a year after they were married.

Jessica Bennett (17:19):

Wow. So the divorce is finalized. Hopefully she gets a moment to take a breath. This sounds absolutely awful, but the public sentiment doesn’t really change. To me, it’s like there’s no doubt in my mind that she was abused. But do people believe that or did they still after all of this are like, no, she’s just going after his reputation?

Susie Banikarim (17:55):

People seem not to believe that. And what’s crazy about that is that he does actually admit it. So he has for many years denied it. He denied it at the time. He denies it for many years afterwards.

Jessica Bennett (18:07):

He didn’t admit it in the Barbara Walter’s interview, right even though she’s sitting there next to him describing it.

Susie Banikarim (18:12):

Yeah. He doesn’t admit it. And to be clear, when you listen to the tape, which we played at the top of episode one, she doesn’t exactly admit it either. That’s why her divorce filing is seen as such a big step because she’s sort of dancing around it too. He shakes, he this, he that. But she stopped short of quite saying that he hits, and I think that is what he leans into.


Although there is this one thing that comes out that’s so interesting. So while they were married, this friend of his, this fellow boxing champion, Jose Torres, is working on a biography of him, and he’s interviewing him for months. So he’s just a friend who’s turned into an author, and they’re just doing these series of interviews.


And I think Mike is used to just cutting it up with his friends. He doesn’t really think about what’s going to be in this book. When the book is released just a few months after their divorce is finalized, it includes a passage where Mike very clearly admits to hitting Robin.

Jessica Bennett (19:15):

Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim (19:16):

And it’s something Mike said when they were still together, and this sort of press storm hadn’t started yet. So he probably didn’t realize it was Torres.

Jessica Bennett (19:26):

Oh. Okay. It was before he would’ve caught himself.

Susie Banikarim (19:28):

And he probably doesn’t think that Torres is going to put it in a book. I mean, this is a friend, and this is the passage. Torres asks him about the best punch he’d ever thrown, presumably thinking he’s going to refer to a punch in the ring,

Jessica Bennett (19:43):


Susie Banikarim (19:43):

And Mike smiles and tells him, “I’ll never forget that punch. It was when I fought with Robin in Steve’s apartment, she really offended me. And I went, bam.”

Jessica Bennett (19:54):


Susie Banikarim (19:54):

And wait, let me finish the passage because doesn’t get better. “And she flew backward hitting every fucking wall in the apartment. That was the best punch I’ve ever thrown in my fucking life.”

Jessica Bennett (20:07):

Wow. Oh my God.

Susie Banikarim (20:08):

So you would think-

Jessica Bennett (20:09):

That’s horrifying.

Susie Banikarim (20:10):

Yeah, it’s absolutely horrifying. And you would think that when this book comes out, suddenly the public turns on him and rallies around her.

Jessica Bennett (20:19):

Was that line pulled out and covered the way that it would be now.

Susie Banikarim (20:23):

I don’t know if it’s in the way that it would be now in that it was pulled out and covered, but it was just drowned out by all the other noise.

Jessica Bennett (20:29):

Right. Well, that’s the thing too. It’s like so much has happened now they’re divorced. How many people who believe that she’s an evil witch actually read this line or are reading the next bit of tabloid coverage?

Susie Banikarim (20:40):

Sure. And I think Jose Torres doesn’t have a lot of incentive to really do a big push on this particular part of the book, because again, it’s meant to be a friendly book. This is his friend who’s given him all this access. So whereas now if you were marketing a book, you would make sure to pull that out and make sure that was in every interview. I think that’s not really what happens.

Jessica Bennett (21:02):

Well, that’s sort of fascinating too, it’s like that they didn’t think that that was such a big deal.

Susie Banikarim (21:08):

It just seems wild. And there’s other things in the book that are also really disturbing. There’s a passage where he says, “I like to hurt women when I make love to them. I like to hear them scream with pain, to see them bleed. It gives me pleasure.” This is what he is willing to admit to someone.

Jessica Bennett (21:25):

Was there any way that Robin could take that and use it in her defamation suit?

Susie Banikarim (21:30):

At this point, she’s dropped all that.

Jessica Bennett (21:32):

I guess the divorce had already gone through.

Susie Banikarim (21:34):

Right. She’s dropped the defamation suit.

Jessica Bennett (21:37):

And it’s like this guy should have been a witness in the divorce proceeding.

Susie Banikarim (21:42):

Yeah, totally. I mean, she couldn’t in the end. The book didn’t come out until all that stuff was over, but it would’ve been helpful.

Jessica Bennett (21:49):

So Susie, let me just take us back for a moment. We started this episode by saying that at some point, Robin becomes known as the most hated woman in America, but we haven’t exactly talked about how that happened.

Susie Banikarim (22:03):

So that particular title, which is very specific obviously comes about through a couple of things. There’s the original Barbara Walters interview, which obviously we’ve gone through all the backlash to it. Then the day she files for divorce, CNN’s News Night, and I think this really reveals how the story is starting to crossover from tabloid to mainstream press runs two polls. On October 7th, they ask, who’s at fault in the marriage breakup, Mike Tyson or Robin Givens, which again, let’s just take a moment to-

Jessica Bennett (22:35):

They’re asking this on TV?

Susie Banikarim (22:36):

Yeah. On CNN, to just take a moment to how crazy that is. And 93% of the callers say it is Robin.

Jessica Bennett (22:44):

Oh, so people actually call in to answer?

Susie Banikarim (22:46):


Jessica Bennett (22:47):

It’s so retro.

Susie Banikarim (22:48):

And 7% say it’s Mike. So just to give you an idea of how much public sentiment is against her. And then I guess because of the success of that poll, on October 10th, they run another poll. Should Mike Tyson be granted an annulment? Because at this point, he’s counter-sued her to annul the marriage, and 92% of people say yes, which also makes no sense.


I mean, there’s no grounds for an annulment. And there’s also some poll that USA Today’s television show, I guess they had a television show at the time, should she get any of his money? 96% of people say she doesn’t. So these polls are cited in a lot of the media coverage that comes after it.


And then Robin actually sits down with Barbara Walters again. So this time by herself after the divorce has been announced, and in the introduction to her, Barbara Walters informs her at this point that she could perhaps qualify as the most hated woman in America.

Jessica Bennett (23:43):

Oh, wow. So she says that line.

Susie Banikarim (23:48):

It’s still qualified, right? You could perhaps be the most hated woman in America. And then I think this is what really solidifies it. Right after that, there is this Chicago Tribune piece.

Jessica Bennett (24:00):

This is all within a month?

Susie Banikarim (24:02):

All in October.

Jessica Bennett (24:03):

Wow. Barbara Walters interview happens. She files for a divorce. The divorce doesn’t go through. She then goes back on Barbara Walters. Then the Chicago Tribune piece comes out. All these polls are happening in the background.

Susie Banikarim (24:13):

In the background. Right. And what happens here is that the Chicago Tribune is syndicated by a lot of other papers. So a lot of people see this column. And this article has the headline, Most Hated Title to Robin Givens.

Jessica Bennett (24:29):

And side note, when an article is syndicated, that means the reporters of the Chicago Tribune wrote it and then it gets published in every newspaper across America.

Susie Banikarim (24:38):

Yeah. This is a very widely read article. It’s just FYI written by a woman, which I feel the need to tell you for obvious reasons. And this includes the CNN polls as the initial evidence for why she’s the most hated. But then it has this line, “In spite of giving up any claims on Mike Tyson’s money, the soon to be X Mrs. World heavyweight champion is the unequivocal holder of the most hated woman in America title.”


So I think this is the line that kind of solidifies this idea. And then she goes on to sort of interview all these famous, or somehow she finds relevant people about why they dislike her so much. And there’s this quote from the woman who wrote, Dear Abby, which is perhaps the most famous-

Jessica Bennett (25:25):

Oh yeah, the most famous advice-

Susie Banikarim (25:26):

… advice column in America.

Jessica Bennett (25:27):

… columnist in America.

Susie Banikarim (25:28):

And this is what she says. “I see this big strong muscular guy who’s really a marshmallow inside. It seems like he’s the one who’s been abused. I’d say he’s been had, and that’s why he’s getting all the sympathy. For all of his world championships, I think he was naive.”


Does that not just blow your mind that someone who could have watched that same interview that we watched would think that he was just this sweet marshmallow? It’s just really hard to wrap your head around. And then the reporter talks to this divorce attorney, and this is what he says. “Mike Tyson has one of the most prestigious titles in the world, and the way she talked about him in that interview with Barbara Walters turned my stomach.


It was the most incredible put down, and I see put downs every day. And the way he put up with that mother, that’s another reason why people side with him. These people just manipulated a poor, ignorant guy. They obviously used him for his money. Here she is this beautiful college graduate. The guy is less than intelligent and less than attractive,” which is also just gross.


To begin with, why is he insulting Mike Tyson while he’s defending him? It feels like racist that he’s talking about how stupid and unattractive Mike Tyson is. There’s nothing in this that doesn’t actually turn my stomach, but this is how people felt about it at the time. This is a reflection of the public sentiment. And there’s one other detail in this column, which I think is much more common now, but was relatively unusual then, which is people have started wearing free Mike Tyson T-shirts.

Jessica Bennett (27:00):

Oh, wow. Okay. Yes.

Susie Banikarim (27:03):

So, I guess he needs free from a woman who’s filed for divorce against him. I don’t even understand that.

Jessica Bennett (27:07):

The other thing that is so wild is the headlines from this time. So you had pulled all of these headlines, our researcher had pulled all these headlines together, and I was just skimming over them and thinking to myself, oh my God, it’s like they’ve taken the boxing terminology and they’ve also taken the terminology of domestic violence, and they’ve made pun out of it.


So let me just make you a couple of these. The Philadelphia Daily News, a lot of this is coming right in October and November of 1988 when all of this is blowing up, the headline is Taking a Few Swings at Robin. Then there’s another one from a small town paper that says, Knocking Robin, another one from Fort Myers News, Blow by Blow; Robin and Mike’s Year. Really?

Susie Banikarim (27:52):

It’s so gross. And also you can just see how clever that these headline writers must think they’re being. It reveals sort of just this cavalier kind of jokey way in which this was discussed when-

Jessica Bennett (28:05):

And then the other thing too is that all of these articles begin by repeating what you have just described to us that most hated women in America line. So they will say things like, well, headlines proclaim her the most hated woman in America. And it’s like, well, you are the headline.

Susie Banikarim (28:19):

Yeah, you are the one proclaiming her. Yes.

Jessica Bennett (28:21):

And actually this whole description you’ve now taken us through is such a crystallized version of how narratives take hold. It’s so fascinating from a narrative media perspective because it’s like, yeah, one person says one thing and then a newspaper picks it up and then it gets syndicated, and then every other article just keeps repeating it and regurgitating it until it sticks.


And so ultimately, there’s this People Magazine cover with a photo of Robin, and the headline is, Why Does Everyone Hate Me? And it’s like, well, because we’ve literally been saying that everyone hates you.

Susie Banikarim (28:55):

Right. It has a real impact, right?

Jessica Bennett (28:58):

A real world impact.

Susie Banikarim (28:59):

A real world impact. At one point, Robin tells Essence Magazine that during this time, a woman walked up to her on the street and yelled, “He should have kicked your. I wish he would’ve killed you.”

Jessica Bennett (29:10):

Wow. So that’s the pre-internet version of all of the hate sent women who speak up on Twitter, except that you actually have to walk up to the person and say it to their face.

Susie Banikarim (29:20):

And I think also it really speaks to this idea that now people complain about being canceled and getting a little bit of shit online. I mean, the things that Robin went through, she is literally ostracized for just having been honest about her life.

Jessica Bennett (29:35):

And she’s branded with that title.

Susie Banikarim (29:37):

It follows her for a really long time.

Jessica Bennett (29:44):

Suffice to say, I assume she regrets having done that original Barbara Walters interview.

Susie Banikarim (29:49):

She does regret it. I mean, I don’t know how anybody couldn’t looking back on what happened as a result. But she did say that to Oprah in 2004 when she released her book, she went on Oprah to promote it, and Oprah asked her specifically if she regretted it. And she said that she did. She was in no state to really sit and do anything at that time.


And that part of it is she was precocious and she felt like she could handle it, and I can go talk to the doctor and I’m going to save him. But obviously it was more than she could handle. And Oprah says to her, you were pretty vilified at the time, but even in 2004, she’s still being vilified.


And then in sort of a wild follow-up, Mike Tyson does an interview with Oprah in 2009, just five years after Oprah has had this conversation with Robin Givens, and he jokes about hitting Robin during his marriage. And it’s really shocking. You have to hear it and you have to hear the audience’s reaction.

Oprah (30:49):

Were you surprised that she was saying those things?

Mike Tyson (30:52):

Yeah, I truly wanted to sock her. At that particular moment, I truly wanted to sock her.

Jessica Bennett (30:59):

I mean, the laughter from the audience, I can’t get over it.

Susie Banikarim (31:04):

Yeah. It’s really, every time I hear it still is so jarring to me.

Jessica Bennett (31:09):

And you know what it reminds me of is when the audience laughed at Trump joking about sexual assault only recently, it’s so disturbing and it’s so baked in, and this is 20 years after the actual event that they’re talking about.

Susie Banikarim (31:24):

It kind of reminds me of the Brett Kavanaugh hearing too. Do you remember when Christine Blasey Ford says she remembers the laughter? It’s like that scene, kind of uncomfortable laughter that people sort of lean into in these moments where they’re uncomfortable, but also they’re trying to dismiss the seriousness of something.

Jessica Bennett (31:42):

And maybe not laughing about domestic violence accusations is just a good rule.

Susie Banikarim (31:48):

Just a rule of thumb.

Jessica Bennett (31:50):

Domestic or sexual violence.

Susie Banikarim (31:51):

And to be clear, Robin is really upset by this interview that Mike Tyson does with Oprah. At this point, she’s the spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and she writes Oprah a letter saying she was hurt that Oprah didn’t say anything or ask the audience to stop laughing when it happened.


She says, “I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say there wasn’t a part of me that wanted you to say that’s not right when there is this laughter. If you were in that situation out there, it kind of lightens it for all the women that are experiencing this.”


And that’s a good point. A lot of people who are watching the Oprah Show might be going through something like this and seeing the audience laugh at Mike Tyson talking about socking her probably doesn’t make them feel empowered to find a way out of that situation.

Jessica Bennett (32:34):

Or to speak about it.

Susie Banikarim (32:36):

And ultimately, Oprah does apologize.

Jessica Bennett (32:39):

Oh, that’s interesting. I can’t imagine that happens very often.

Susie Banikarim (32:41):

I mean, I assume it’s pretty rare. Do you remember when you first encountered her in the zeitgeist?

Salamishah Tillet (32:52):

Yeah, I remember watching Robin Givens on the television show, Head of the class.

Susie Banikarim (32:59):

We’ve talked a lot about the societal impact, and Salamishah has weighed in on the racial aspects, which has been really helpful. But I also just wanted to hear how this felt for Salamishah on a personal level. And she was 13 years old when this interview aired and a fan of Robin’s from those Head of the Class years.

Salamishah Tillet (33:16):

Robin Givens stood out to me partly because of her voice and her voice and my voice aren’t that dissimilar. I used to be called a valley girl a lot. So I was a black girl who had a particular kind of speech pattern and accent, and she was a glamorous black girl who was also a nerd.

Susie Banikarim (33:33):

And she was kind of sharp tongued and sassy in a way that I feel like I really related to. I don’t know if you felt that as well.

Salamishah Tillet (33:40):

Yeah, she had a wit to her, and I was a black girl at an independent school in New Jersey who wasn’t fashionable or glamorous and was athletic, but was nerdy too. And so I think she represented someone I could aspire to be because she was so pretty, so smart, so witty. And she was also so above the fray.

Susie Banikarim (34:03):

What’s your memory of that infamous interview with Barbara Walters?

Salamishah Tillet (34:07):

It was just so shocking because I didn’t one, understand what he was talking about, but two, I actually did feel like I grew up in … My stepfather was physically violent with my mother, so I was familiar with domestic violence. And so her testimony really resonated with me, and I felt deep compassion for her.


And it was also just kind of odd and jarring to have them sitting next to each other in this interview with this disclosure of domestic violence. It was something that I didn’t really know what to do with, but it really stood out to me because it was such a public disclosure of a woman who was trapped in a marriage in which she felt like she couldn’t really leave, and yet she was doing it on national television.

Susie Banikarim (34:50):

When did you realize that the reaction to it was so different from your own, that the general public’s reaction was an outpouring of sympathy for him and a lack of empathy for her?

Salamishah Tillet (35:00):

Well, I think almost immediately there was a kind of public backlash against Robin Givens because she went from being someone who is so appreciated for her beauty and appreciated for her charm and her wit, to someone who’s seen suddenly as just being with Mike Tyson for his fame and his fortune.


So whatever status she had that attracted him to her was suddenly non-existent. She was a woman who’s just with him as an accessory, as part of his rise to fame. And then once she disclosed that she was being physically abused in that relationship, she just went not from being a victim of abuse, but she suddenly slid quite easily into the kind of gold digger stereotype.

Susie Banikarim (35:40):

And do you feel like that shaped sort of how you saw the way black women were treated when they came forward with something that was so personal?

Salamishah Tillet (35:48):

I knew that it was possible that a black woman could be victimized by someone she was in an intimate relationship with, and yet it seemed impossible based on the media responses that seemed like the rhetoric and the knee-jerk community responses that, no, this stuff doesn’t really happen. So that’s kind of how I had to coexist with these two truths.

Susie Banikarim (36:11):

We’ve had these sorts of revisiting of all these women, and that’s become almost like a cottage industry. Why do you think she’s never gotten that reexamination in that larger way?

Salamishah Tillet (36:21):

You have to actually understand the complexity of black women in terms of class and race and gender and performance to appreciate Robin Givens because I think a lot of the recuperation projects that we’ve seen have been primarily not exclusively, because there’s been stuff on Janet Jackson have been on white women. And so where does Robin Givens fit in to that because she’s a black woman who was also rendered a gold digger and not seen as black, but was black.


She’s a rich figure. And sometimes I think people who have that level of complexity just get written out of history constantly over and over again.

Jessica Bennett (37:16):

It was so great to hear from Salamishah on this, and also so interesting what she said about feeling like it was impossible for people to believe that a black woman had actually been a victim of violence. And that reminds me of cases that we’re even seeing in the present day.


It almost reminds me of Me Too in some sense. We know that racial bias comes into play when we think about how we believe black women, whether it’s sexual assault, domestic violence, even in cases like maternal mortality-

Susie Banikarim (37:47):

We just tend to dismiss the pain of black women. There’s sort of this trope of strong black women and they should be able to withstand anything. It doesn’t feel like things are all that different today, not entirely. When you think about the case with Megan Thee Stallion, she was shot by someone. She was having some kind of relationship with, Tori Lanes in 2020, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison this year. But people still taunt her online. She’s gotten so much-

Jessica Bennett (38:18):

There’s a huge campaign against her.

Susie Banikarim (38:19):

His team has maligned her in the press so much, and he still denies it. So it feels like there are a lot of parallels between what happened to Megan and what happened to Robin, and-

Jessica Bennett (38:30):

Well, also the accusation of clout chasing versus gold digger, they’re really similar.

Susie Banikarim (38:35):

Similar, yeah. It’s like the sort of modern day gold digging. And then also we just see these other examples. There’s the Rihanna case with Chris Brown. And in that case, I feel like it was impossible to deny that Rihanna had been physically assaulted.

Jessica Bennett (38:50):

Right. There was photograph evidence.

Susie Banikarim (38:51):

The photographs, and do you remember how awful those photographs were?

Jessica Bennett (38:54):


Susie Banikarim (38:54):

They were so intense.

Jessica Bennett (38:55):

But that was so interesting too because it almost worked in her favor because you could not deny that this had occurred. There was photographic evidence.

Susie Banikarim (39:03):

You couldn’t deny it but then when she talks about it, she says that having those pictures released was one of the most humiliating things in her life. So it’s this sort of thing that we expect like we have to get a pound of flesh before we even begin to believe women.


Even then, Chris Brown’s career has not taken the hit you would expect. It’s not been completely what it might’ve been otherwise. But Chloe Bailey just announced she’s doing a single with him, and that feels really odd with what we know about Chris Brown, just like Mike Tyson, he has been involved in a number of other assault incidents with women.

Jessica Bennett (39:39):

It reminds me a bit too of R. Kelly and how it took, I mean, how long, over a decade I think, or was it multiple decades for the women who initially spoke out against him, the black women to be believed.

Susie Banikarim (39:52):

Yeah. We just really require so much evidence in these cases when the man is sort of a beloved figure. And when you think about Mike Tyson, what’s fascinating is that he’s become an even broader sort of cultural phenomenon since this happened. He’s become sort of this beloved pop culture figure. He was in the Hangover movies. He’s had this bestselling memoir.

Jessica Bennett (40:17):

Beyond Sports.

Susie Banikarim (40:17):

And then he did this one man show on Broadway that became sort of this big deal that Spike Lee directed. It became an HBO special, he’s had a cartoon series, which I mean now we know not only was he very abusive to Robin Givens, he was convicted of raping someone.

Jessica Bennett (40:36):

So you’re talking about Desiree Washington, right?

Susie Banikarim (40:37):


Jessica Bennett (40:38):

Can you give us a little background on that case for those who might not know?

Susie Banikarim (40:42):

Yeah. So in 1992, not long after this interview with Barbara Walters, Tyson is convicted of raping an 18-year-old girl named Desiree Washington. She’s Ms. Black Rhode Island. She’s in Indianapolis for the Ms. Black America Beauty Pageant, and she meets Mike Tyson and agrees to go out with him, and he rapes her in what she describes again as an absolutely harrowing rape where she is sobbing and he is laughing through the experience.


And he received a six-year prison term. I mean, he was released after three years, but he was in prison, and that was very broadly publicized. It was also a huge case, and Larry King went and interviewed him in prison.

Jessica Bennett (41:21):

It’s so easy to forget now in 2023 that he was convicted and served time for rape.

Susie Banikarim (41:29):

But also imagine giving that guy a cartoon series. He had a cartoon series where he solved mysteries Scooby-Doo style for-

Jessica Bennett (41:36):


Susie Banikarim (41:36):

Yeah, in 2014 to 2020, right?

Jessica Bennett (41:36):

Wow. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (41:39):

And that’s also crazy because in 2006 when he was asked about Desire Washington a person he’s been convicted of raping, he said about her, “I really wish I had done it now. Now I really do want to rape her.”

Jessica Bennett (41:52):

What? Who did he say that to?

Susie Banikarim (41:54):

In an interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox. It aired on Fox.

Jessica Bennett (42:00):

Do I remember correctly that he actually appeared on an episode of Law and Order SVU?

Susie Banikarim (42:05):

Yes. It was actually really controversial. He did a guest appearance and people who watched that show were mad. They were like, why are you putting this convicted rapist on television? And it’s just because there has been this incredible whitewashing of his history, which again, this year, another woman came forward and accused him of violently raping her in the 1990s.


So there’s just this ongoing litany of issues around him, and yet somehow he’s just kind of escaped from it all and is considered sweet and funny and is on talk shows all the time. It’s wild.

Jessica Bennett (42:39):

And so Desiree Washington, I mean, I feel like we could devote a whole other episode to her, was the reaction to her similar to the reaction to Robin?

Susie Banikarim (42:48):

Yeah, very similar. She was very much skewered by the press. She did an interview with Barbara Walters.

Jessica Bennett (42:53):

Oh, she also did an interview with Barbara Walters.

Susie Banikarim (42:56):

Yes. Very on top of this beat, Barbara Walters and Barbara Walters asked her this really pointed question about what she thought was going to happen when she went up to the hotel room with him, sort of blaming her.

Jessica Bennett (43:07):

That is actually such a common question asked of victims of assault or sexual assault.

Susie Banikarim (43:14):

Well, it’s like as if just your physical presence is consent. If you deem to be in a room alone with a man that is in and of itself consent, which is just obviously not true, but Desiree really gets the same treatment. She’s called a gold digger, and she has actually really lived a life that completely belies that.


She dropped out of public view after this and has lived a very quiet private life. That’s always one of these tropes that comes up, that these women do it for fame or for money, but for those of us who pay attention to these cases, that’s very rarely what these women want or pursue after this.

Jessica Bennett (43:50):

They’re never getting that as if someone wants that kind of fame.

Susie Banikarim (43:52):

As if that fame is anything other than being treated kind of like you’re radioactive in some way. It takes Robin, for example, forever to really recover her career. She’s luckily gone on to have a real career in acting, and she went back to Head of the Class and put her head down and just did the work, even though the press around her was crazy.


And I think because Eddie Murphy had known her for a long time, he gives her this comeback vehicle. He puts her in the movie Boomerang in the ’90s, and she slowly just worked and worked and found her way back. But that’s not the norm. That’s the exception in a lot of cases with women like this.

Jessica Bennett (44:30):

That’s so interesting that you say she recovered. So yes, she recovered, but that’s very different than thriving, right? I mean, what did that mean for her?

Susie Banikarim (44:38):

Well, I think she would say she’s thriving just based on interviews that she’s given and the way she talks about her life now. She became a mom, and she has said that that’s sort of the thing that saved her and her two sons or the thing that she’s most proud of in her life.


But did she have the movie career that Robin Givens might’ve had, had this not happened to her? I think it’s impossible to know, but it’s very likely no, right? But the fact is is that she has been able to make a living and work as an actress, and recently she’s directed some projects. So it does feel like she was able to salvage her career despite the fact that there was this real concerted effort to destroy her on many levels.

Jessica Bennett (45:20):

And she put her energy toward important causes as well.

Susie Banikarim (45:23):

Yeah, she’s done a lot of advocacy for women who’ve been in violent situations, and I actually found this PSA she did, which I think is worth listening to.

Robin Givens (45:31):

You deserve a wonderful life and you deserve really good love, and you deserve to feel safe at home. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Jessica Bennett (45:54):

It’s actually incredible she’s able to speak and wants to speak so openly about it.

Susie Banikarim (45:58):

And I think for her, that’s a lot of the way in which she recovered. Her memoir really leans into how she found a lot of solace in her religion and how that is also how she was able to kind of forgive a lot of what’s happened to her just generally.


But reading the book was so interesting because I had done almost all the research by the time I sat down to read her book. I feel like what happens with a lot of these stories is that they become kind of flattened by the media narratives.


The story is objectively horrible on many levels, but when you’re reading the book, it’s impossible to sort of escape the human aspects of the story. It is so horrible, the descriptions. There’s a passage which to me reads so clearly as a rape, although she does not herself define it that way.


It is so hard to read sections of this book, and it’s a reminder, at least for me, that even when you’re reading a lot about a story, you don’t necessarily really take in the emotional aspects of it or the humanity of the people involved.


In fact, sometimes the more you read about a story, the less the people involved feel like real people going through real trauma and pain. And I think that’s one of the things that a lot of these stories highlight, which is that once a story sort of takes on a shape of its own in the media, it becomes almost fictionalized for people.


They forget that at the core of the story is a young woman who went through a year of extreme physical violence at the hands of a man she thought was the love of her life.

Jessica Bennett (47:42):

It’s easy to forget just what that must have done to her psychologically and what it would’ve taken to recover on top of what she was already facing in the press and by the public.

Susie Banikarim (47:53):

I mean, I just came away from this with so much admiration for her because I think it would’ve broken a lot of people. And she’s gone on to make this really meaningful life she’s really proud of. She says in the book, “The life that I have now is greater, more full, more rich, more loving than anything I might have dared to dream.”


And that’s just nice to hear, honestly, given what she went through. And she did an interview for an E! News podcast in 2019 where she’s talking to the host about how she looks back on this time in her life.

Robin Givens (48:25):

I think that experience really gave me a sense of compassion for people. It gave me a sense of hoping at least that you can go through difficult times and situations and really try to be better for it.

Jessica Bennett (48:41):

It’s so nice hearing her voice, sounding so confident and full of strength.

Susie Banikarim (48:46):

It’s really lovely, and I think that feels like a good place to end it. This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (49:27):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (49:37):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (49:46):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (49:58):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (50:16):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.