“She had it coming to her”: Let’s talk about Domestic Violence

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Ok, I’m about to share a vehemently disliked opinion about the Ray Rice domestic violence issue and the saddest thing about it all is the fact that my opinion is disliked so widely. Ray Rice should not have struck his then-fiancee, even after she laid hands upon him. That’s it. That’s what so many men and women across the country and, likely, across the world would disagree with, even given the newly released tape of the assault. The common refrain goes something like this:

“Look, if a woman is going to take it upon herself to hit a man or pop off at the mouth, then, I’m not going to say she deserves to get hit, but she’s putting herself in that situation.”

This brand of thinking is disturbing. Honestly, I would be frightened if I were a woman and heard that from men. See, what a man is saying, if he uses the above justification for Ray Rice’s devastating punch to his fiancee, is that he, in a similar situation, would throw a punch with just as much intended force as Rice. He might as well place himself in that video. And to be proud of it almost leaves me speechless. See, I’m not here to demonize Ray Rice. People make mistakes and people’s choices are often influenced by the society and environment around them. Rice’s fiancee eventually went on to marry him. I’m not going to address the specifics of their relationship because that doesn’t matter for the sake of this discussion. Rice’s case and his future are his own to deal with but this opens the door for dialogue about the bigger issue which we must all deal with. I believe the most disturbing element of this entire fiasco is not that Ray Rice hit a woman, but that the society and environment around him still, to a non-negligible degree, support and promote his ill-thought out actions.

Notice the doublethink in the above excuse for hitting a woman.

“I’m not going to say she deserves to get hit, but she’s putting herself in that situation.”

We attempt to distance ourselves from actively condoning the violence, but we support it by referring to it as an ambiguous “situation.” This is the type of logic that, if not addressed and curtailed, will lead to greater violence against women. Mind you, I do believe in “equality of the sexes” in the eyes of the law and government. I do believe that a woman assaulting a man is worthy of criminal prosecution. I do believe that women should not hit men, just as men should not hit women. But we cannot use these blanket hypotheticals to run a society in which one-in-four women will be brutalized at some point in their lifetime. We cannot cry “well, they wanted to be equal” as an excuse for the fact that 1.3 million women are victimized each year. We cannot simultaneously espouse the virtues of “manhood” and “masculinity” while also preaching that there is some kind of equivalency between a 218 pound world-class athlete hitting a woman who couldn’t have weighed more than 140 pounds and her hitting him with her fists in anyway. That equivalency just does not exist. I understand that the size differences are not always this drastic. I understand that men can be victims too. I understand that a woman with a weapon has equalized the situation. I understand that a woman may very well be stronger than a man in some situations, but we cannot endorse a discourse in which we act as though greater male physical strength is not the norm. We simply cannot, because it promotes this idea that a woman should remain in her place, lest she “gets what’s coming to her”. It promotes the idea that sharp words from a petite young lady are equivalent to a strike from a fit young man. It promotes the idea that a slap or punch to the face, that may cause damage to no more than a man’s ego is equivalent to a punch or slap from a man who can probably bench press that very same woman.

Now, I’m not going to act as though every situation is the same. Every situation is not. But the way these situations are discussed influences the next person. I saw a video on the Vine app in which a woman called a man a name and, in turn, he delivered an open-handed slap that knocked her out of her chair and into complete submission. There is no equivalency there. Just a few months ago, we all saw R&B artist Solange attack Hip-Hop mogul Jay-Z in an elevator. She threw punches and launched kicks at Jay-Z, yet he never seemed to even show the inclination to strike her. Now I understand that Jay-Z has some history of violence against women (an incident in 1999, to be specific) and I understand that there was a bodyguard in the elevator with him and Solange to help ease the situation. But the fact is that the situation could have ended much worse had he been thinking about the justification referenced at the beginning of this piece.

I write all of this to say that right now, I’m Sway. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to reconcile growing gender equality with the intrinsic differences that come to light during domestic violence incidents. But I do know that justifying the type of violence that has left millions of women’s lives in shambles, haunted the dreams countless sons and daughters, and cost so many young males their freedom is NOT the answer. Being chivalrous (in a more modern context) meant making some sacrifice of energy, time, or money for the sake of our women. Even as women shun some of these ideas in search for gender equality, I see no better way to bolster our manhood than by remaining steadfast to this noble code of honor. Men and women ARE different, even if some men and women argue otherwise. We can’t let fringe cases define how we address a problem that is endemic in our society. Let’s stop encouraging a culture and mentality that produces the Ray Rices and War Machines. Rather than espousing empty hypotheticals, let’s commit to really looking at the numbers and the lives of victims. It really must be terrifying being a woman sometimes. Even if she made the “bad decision” to “pop off at the mouth” or hit her partner, it’s never a reason for her to be leveled and placed in a situation in which she legitimately fears for her life.

This is one reason why I believe that the Ravens do have every moral right to release Rice and the NFL to suspend him. These organizations not only have responsibility to protect their own images as corporations, but they have a social responsibility to as well. Millions of young boys across the nation look to the NFL, the teams, and the players for excitement, encouragement, and hope for their dreams. The NFL and the Ravens are doing their part (albeit slothfully and clearly only after outside pressure). It’s time for us, as men, to step up and refuse to justify this type of violence. Again, this does not mean vilifying Ray Rice. It means understanding that domestic violence is a topic that cannot be treated lightly because it is way more common and damaging than we think. The sad reality is that it often takes someone close to become a victim in order for people to truly look at what they say and how they view scourges such as this. I hope that we can preempt that and encourage a healthier way to view domestic violence, because it is far too often that women end up facing more than they ever should and the response is “she had it coming to her”.

 

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