September 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, a U.S. federal law that was created to end violence against women while alleviating laws and social practices that have encouraged and justified the history of violence against women. In the same month, surveillance footage from the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, of Baltimore Ravens’ football player Ray Rice and his then-fiancee Janay, surfaced, bringing discussion of domestic violence to the forefront.
Let’s first go over the video in question.
There is no audio. Ray and Janay walk towards the hotel elevator. She swats at him before walking away and into the elevator. He follows. The footage then shows them inside the elevator. You see Janay pressing the elevator buttons with Ray standing close to her and she swats at him again. He hits her directly in the face. Janay reacts, rushing towards him, and this is when he coldcocks her with a closed fist. She hits her head on the elevator banister and is knocked unconscious. He doesn’t lean over to see if she is okay, doesn’t check to see if she is still breathing. He barely looks concerned that she is unconscious, going so far as to pick her up by her arms while the elevator doors open and then dropping her back on the floor when they close again. When it is their floor, Ray Rice drags her to the door of the elevator and drops her on the ground face first like a side of beef. He doesn’t cover her exposed behind, doesn’t sit her up, or look into her face. He kicks her legs closed as someone approaches.
What Ray Rice did is absolutely abhorrent. The violence in itself is appalling, but what is more shocking is his treatment of her AFTER he punched her unconscious. He dragged her, a woman he claims to love, across the floor and dropped her without concern if she was breathing, without concern if she was suffering or in pain. He treated her with no regard for her dignity, or her safety, or her well-being. It was classless, it was disgusting, and it was utterly violent.
I could comment on the actions of the NFL itself, a multi-million dollar organization that was content with a two-game suspension before the video surfaced, then proceeded to tout its code of conduct in its penalizing Ray Rice indefinitely, an act that shows the NFL only cares about the bottomline much like any other capitalist business. Had the video not been released, Ray Rice would still be the burgeoning football star he had set out to become. I could also talk about Janay Rice, who after the incident, married him, then later critiqued media coverage of the incident. This may be a sign of a history of abuse, that she is a battered woman. I could comment on all of the things we, as morally and emotionally better people, think she “should” do. But to do that places judgment on her and I am in no position to do so.
What followed after the video surfaced was a series of frustrating debates. I’ll refrain from rehashing all of the she-hit-him-first-she-provoked-him arguments, the its-not-about-gender-its-about-respect arguments, the what-about-justice-for-Ray-Rice ludicrous ass arguments, because, to be quite frank, it is exhausting. I do NOT condone violence on either side; no healthy relationship should even involve that kind of utter disrespect. But, I am aware of how normalized violence is, from “forgiving” Chris Brown’s transgressions, to this recent incident, to the everyday its-not-my-business practice when we come face-to-face with someone being abused.
In NO way do I perceive her swatting or nudging him away as her “provoking” him to PUNCH HER IN THE FACE. I do not see what she did as provocation enough to be treated so carelessly and so violently. “Enough.” That word alone is a sign that there is an issue. It implies that if she had done something else, kicked him, thrown a shoe at him, literally slapped him; that those actions would have been enough to warrant a punch in the face. The very language we use in discussing this situation reveals how normalized violence is, how acceptable we find it. There is no “enough” for me. I don’t believe anything justifies what Ray Rice did. This man is physically stronger than she is, is trained daily to be so, and could have easily held her at bay if she did begin to wild out. Instead, he chose to cold cock the woman he loved and to leave her unconscious on the elevator floor with no regard for her well-being at all. I feel THAT is more inexcusable than a swat or a nudge. My question to those who argue the she-provoked-it angle….if her head injury had not allowed her to stand, if she had died from a blood clot in her brain caused by the blow to her head….would you justify it by saying she had provoked him to his “breaking point”?
This idea of a “breaking point” is just another term used to normalize violence when we discuss domestic abuse. “Everybody has a breaking point,” means that if someone provokes you, it is okay and justifiable to attack them. I mean, we’ve all been taught, if someone hits you, hit them back, right? But here’s some food for thought for you to consider. What’s YOUR breaking point? Is it a nudge or a swat like Ray Rice? Is it a punch in the face…a kick in the shin? Would Janay have been justified if she took a bat out on him later that evening for getting KO’ed in the elevator? I mean, after all, HE PUNCHED HER…..HE PROVOKED HER TO HER BREAKING POINT. It goes both ways. That’s what you said, right?
Furthermore, this concept of male “breaking points” merely relegates male behavior to sheer violence at the slightest provocation. Men are NOT animals that cannot control themselves. I REFUSE to believe that shit. If you feel like you can’t control yourself, FUCKING LEARN HOW. Take a lesson from my father; for instance, who I’m told would smash plates on the floor if he felt himself losing his cool with my mother, who in her Aries ram glory can butt heads like a pro. A congero with hands hardened by years of drum playing, who would have rather slapped HIMSELF in the face than slap her. Or my brother, who instead of yoking up his girlfriend at the time for wilding out, chose instead to leave a gaping hole in the wall with his fist and left her standing alone and fuming. They were at THEIR breaking points. They were at the point where they too felt overwhelmed…..and yet…they CHOSE not to inflict any of it on the woman they were dealing with, despite her bullshit. Knowing that you can be violent, that you can overpower her, and choosing NOT to….THAT is manhood. Violence is not a definition of maleness. EVER.
Again, this is not to justify or condone women raising their hands to men in a relationship, though admittedly, a part of me cringed when men debating with me about this situation referred to what Janay did as “abusing” Ray. In no way is my analysis of the situation justifying a female to hit or assault a man. In fact, a female using violence reveals how women’s internalization of this violence has also become normalized. This, of course, deserves ample analysis and discussion, but not in the often-said and unsettling now-she-should-suffer-the-consequences-of-his-breaking-point angle. That only reinforces what we already have ingrained in us. The justification of violence, the tit-for-tat argument is baseless in that it merely justifies the cyclical nature of violent behavior on both sides. We need to come up with a better argument, or better yet, STOP TRYING TO JUSTIFY VIOLENCE IN RELATIONSHIPS.
I haven’t always thought in this way.
Let me paint you a picture.
I am sixteen years old. I am dating a twenty one year old male that I am too ashamed to tell my friends about because he is, essentially, the meanest person I have ever been around. Like a spastic-where-did-that-shit-come-from mean. I am no better. I am in the midst of a grief I am too young to understand, dealing with the death of someone close to me, the separation of my parents and my oldest brother moving out, all of which have shifted my heart in ways I have yet to navigate. I fight with this male every time I see him and nine times out of ten, it ends up with me wilding out, him grabbing me by the arms or the shoulders, me throwing a punch or pushing him, and then him shaking me or throwing me to the ground. I always justify his reactions with “I started it.” I always know he’ll lose his shit. I only know that I won’t be “played” by him. If he puts his hands on me, I’m going crazy. I never realize we both are.
The reason I share this snapshot is to acknowledge how I too, had normalized the violence in my actions and in my justifications of his. How the violence became a cyclical thing. How I had no resources to navigate my own anger much less his. How it never ended. How little he valued me. How little I valued myself. How little we valued each other. I speak from experience when I speak on these things. Me knowing what I know now does not whitewash my own past actions. I reveal this part of myself, because it is something I had to unlearn, that we ALL have to unlearn. The debate over Ray Rice has only allowed me the proof I need to speak.
One of the final and most alarming things about the debates I have had about the Ray Rice situation is the cocksure way that some throw feminism and its concepts into the mix when trying to prove their point. I won’t list the many ridiculous ways that feminism has been used to justify patriarchal bullshit, because let’s face it; it happens ALL THE TIME. It’s exhausting and ludicrous, and in this case, is done to avert our gaze from the dangerous reality of the normalization of violence in relationships. Saying that equal treatment means we are deserving of violence is so beyond stupid and so far from what feminism is that I resent the comments to the fullest. I say this for a very real reason.
Feminism, or at least the brand of feminism I align my thinking with, is not a condoning of violent behavior. On the contrary, feminism implores us to think critically about the way that gendered binaries exist in all areas of our lives, to really look at how pervasive these binaries are for BOTH women and men. The brand of feminism I follow does indeed critique the dominance of heterosexual male ideologies in our society, but it doesn’t excuse or justify how women have internalized that very same dominance. Therefore, to use feminism as a way to justify the normalized behaviors and language that it is designed to analyze and dismantle is itself a form of patriarchy in that it demeans and devalues the true purpose of feminism.
Stop that shit. Don’t step on my feminism, yo.
There are way too many stories of domestic violence that never see the light of day, way too many individuals who are absolutely oblivious to VAWA, let alone its recent 20th anniversary. I do see how the Ray Rice fiasco being made public has brought these issues to the surface. THAT is more important to me. To discuss and to dismantle these behaviors and language that have been ingrained in our psyches is the ultimate goal. The debates I have had over the Rice couple have only shown me how much further we have yet to go.