Janay Palmer and Ray Rice at a press conference after footage of him beating her went public.
Image via FeministCurrent
It sickens me to hear about several incidents of domestic violence making headlines lately, from MMA fighter Jonathan Koppenhaver beating his ex girlfriend within inches of her life to Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend to death to Ray Rice punching his fiancee in the head ’til she went unconscious and then dragging her out of an elevator. These acts of violence are brutal, and sadly, they’re a kind of aggression that women face exceedingly more often than men. Dating violence is a complicated topic that’s very near to my heart. But a specific element of spousal abuse I want to discuss is the repulsive defense of the abusers.
NO ONE asks to get attempted raped, 18 broken bones, her teeth knocked out, and stabbed (like Koppenhaver’s ex girlfriend, Christy Mack), shot three times while locked in the bathroom (like Pistorius’ girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp), or punched in the head until unconscious and then dragged like a dead body through a public space (like Rice’s now wife, Janay Palmer). Let that sink in. NO ONE WANTS TO BE ABUSED. Nobody. Nowhere. Ever.
But what is everyone doing? Victim-blaming. Each one of these violent men use their own behavior-their own choices made and executed by their own consciousness and willpower-to take the blame off of themselves (when they themselves are the only ones responsible for the violence occurring), and try to paint it as a natural response to the bad devil woman’s wicked ways. Koppenhaver says he attacked Mack because he found another man in her house (even though Mack and Koppenhaver hadn’t been a relationship together for months, he still saw her as his property, and that’s why he almost killed her). He and his lawyer tried to gain the public’s sympathy by alleging that he just wanted to propose to her. What this says is that she’s the bad, evil woman for rejecting him (since he clearly just loved her so much), she shouldn’t have sought the company of another man (even though she was no longer dating Koppenhaver–freed from his possession, so to speak), and that she got what she deserved. I encourage everyone to see the stupidity and lack of empathy and justice in this way of thinking.
I work in the food industry (famous for being a “boys’ club”), and this week, some coworkers were discussing the footage of Miss Palmer’s horrific abuse, and instead of showing her any sympathy (for, you know, getting assaulted), one of the men said “I wonder what she did to set him off like that.” It’s so natural, offhanded for people to take the blame off the man committing the crime and place it onto the woman, because all of us are deeply ingrained from birth to be believe the bullshit excuse that men are simply more aggressive and that women should walk on eggshells all the time to not provoke them. When eruptions occur, the man can never “help it” and it’s always the woman’s fault. But I want to strongly reiterate that no one wants to be beaten, raped, or killed, and that the ONLY one responsible is the one committing the violence.
But there’s insult to injury. Women who have experienced any form of abuse (rape, battery, or emotional manipulation and dehumanization from a lover) already feel confused, isolated, helpless, betrayed, unsure, scared, etc. But instead of anyone extending a patient, kind hand to the victims of these traumatic experiences, the media (and often the public) chooses to further humiliate them by siding with the abuser. “War Machine” Koppenhaver, who has beaten a woman bartender before, was defended by his lawyer who insisted that he is “a good guy” despite knowing that he has attacked at least two women. Pistorius will face 15 years maximum in prison for the “culpable homicide” of Miss Steenkamp–the judge decided that the murder was an accident. Pistorius claims he thought there was an intruder in the home, which is bullshit because if he just called out and said “who’s in there?” he would’ve heard his girlfriend’s voice and, you know, not tried to kill her. Feminist Current has a great article further explaining why this excuse is flimsy and that Pistorius deliberately, knowingly, chose to murder her. But right now he is walking free on bail and will probably never see the full 15 years behind bars (which is already weak compared to the 25 minimum he would’ve faced if convicted of homicide). When the footage of Rice beating Palmer appeared in May, the football team only suspended him for two games, a slap on the wrist, something the Ravens did only because they knew the outcry would be annoying and inconvenient if they didn’t do something. So they did the most minor thing, even though young men watch sports like football, often looking up to the stars. And when incidents like this occur, and the repercussions are trivial, it further reinforces the attitude that beating women is ok and don’t feel bad guys, it isn’t really your fault. Rice has since been let got from the Ravens, but only because that pesky public outcry happened anyway, despite their best efforts to placate us uppity feminists. Pfft.
I remember instances in the news where some young men gang raped a female student at their high school, and I was supposed to feel bad because these poor boys won’t be able to go on to college and be football players! Bullshit. What about the young woman who’s trust in men, personal space, and sense of privacy and comfort in the world has been utterly shattered? Nope, no sympathy for her from the culture. She was portrayed as just another harpy out ruining men’s lives. Or what about the man who shot four or five people in recent years because a girl rejected him? The wave of support he received from other men was nauseating and made me despair at existing in this world, where the attitudes towards my gender are those of hatred, violence, dehumanization, and possession. And this is what the media does, it reduces all women to their “rightful place” as things for men, rewarding us when we “do well” by being small, meek, complacent, attractive, submissive, and punishing us when we “act out,” by voicing our opinions, asking for help, disobeying, or in any other way making the male who “owns” us–our lover–look bad. This punishment comes in the form of ridicule and isolation at best and death at worst.
And just in case you think I’m tripping, recall the instance where Solange Knowles attacked Jay-Z in an elevator (location sound familiar?). The cultural response was very different than the one Miss Palmer received. Why? Because it serves the male agenda. When Miss Knowles attacked Jay-Z, the same old “crazy, emotional woman” card got played. Everyone looked to Beyonce to defend her man, not her sister. This instance worked to further the notion that women are unstable, overcome with emotion and need a man to control them and keep them down.
So as women, let’s continue to extend our compassion to these women, and the others who have faced violence (physical, sexual, emotional, mental) from their partners. It’s all too common amongst us. And I strongly encourage all heterosexual men to ask themselves, “would I do that to my girlfriend?” If not, and if you really mean it, then join us in our opposition of domestic violence. Speak out, use your male privilege as a platform to help your lover, your sister, your mother, and all women from experiencing this toxic cultural attitude and the terrifying violence it takes out on us. If you want to love, date, or be intimate with women, be an ally to all of us, not just the one you put your penis into whenever it’s convenient. Take a stand, and no longer support men who see their girlfriends as objects, no longer take their side when acts of violence like these occur, no longer ask “what did she do to provoke him?”
Because she didn’t do a goddamn thing to provoke him.
If you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence, visit online resources such as Love Is Not Abuse or RAINN. And if you just need someone to talk to, I’m always here, 24/7, with an open heart and mind. Take care of yourselves lovelies, and stray strong. medianet_width=’600′; medianet_height= ‘250’; medianet_crid=’228266391′;