How Not To Talk About Domestic Violence

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31 Responses to How Not To Talk About Domestic Violence

  1. 1
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Either way, by taking him back, she won’t get an ounce of sympathy from the public the next time he puts her into the hospital.

    I think an important feature of this is that it has raised serious, real discussion about “taking him back”. An important reminder that, while many (most?) women stay because they _have_ to, even in the case where a woman had more ability to leave than any other battered woman in the world… she chose to take him back. She has no kids, she’s rich, she’s beautiful, she’s an award-winning musician. If there is only one woman in the world that is free to leave their abuser, then it’s her.

  2. 2
    Mandolin says:

    So why doesn’t Rihanna leave, when she can afford to? I have no idea. Maybe Chris Brown is that charming. Maybe she saw what I’m seeing, which is this passively (and actively) taking of his side in celebrity circles, and she realized that her career, which depends on socializing with these people, would suffer. Maybe she thinks he won’t do it again now that he’s been publicly shamed to a degree. Maybe her socialization as a woman has trained her, like most, to feel like she’s got to take the scraps she’s given from men. Probably all of the above. If so, then she’s like most women in her situation, a mixed bag of motivations that are all, because of our sexist society, pointing her in the direction of staying.

    A major reason men beat women is because we ask, “Why doesn’t she leave?” In fact, abusers often taunt their victims with just this question, because they grasp the psychological power of it, the sexism and the self-esteem erosion behind it, and they are happy to use it as a part of their arsenal to demoralize the victim and make her think she doesn’t deserve better. So every time we ask that, we have to ask ourselves why we don’t believe that society coddles batterers, when we are engaging in batterer assistance ourselves.

    One reason that it’s hard for feminists to communicate these ideas is that we can’t express them without giving really specific examples, and to do so is often a violation of someone’s privacy. And because victims of gender hate crimes are shamed by our society—told it’s their fault—they rarely wish to talk about it at all. So we express these trends in vague terms that make it easy to disbelieve, if that’s what you want to do. Jaclyn has a post that gives some examples to that you have something to hang onto, and she links to another. Those are helpful, but I suppose they only go so far in helping people understand this situation.

    I don’t know what’s going on. But I know that if I were Rihanna, and I saw both the active and passive support for Chris Brown, I’d probably have a hard time leaving him, too. I’d fear—for a really good, solid reason—that leaving him and taking on the “victim” label would mean that my phone calls would slowly stop being returned, and that would be it for the career path I had laid out. Now, I’d wonder if I could find a second way to make my career in music, but being 20 and working in a really harsh world, I’d be loathe to give up a good thing in order to pursue something that probably won’t work out. I’d know that there’s 50 young women a lot like me who are dying to take the spot carved out for me in the milieu, and that would make my odds look lower. I’d go through a cycle of feeling like I’d done something to deserve this at times, and flashes of annoyance that I’m the one who is in real danger of seeing it all go away. Flashes that I’d stifle, because I’ve got a good thing going, mostly, and I don’t want to ruin it with my negative energy.

    It could be something else, entirely, of course. Or maybe she’s really got one foot out the door. I hope so, for her sake. I have no idea. But if I were her, this is what I imagine would be bothering me. And doesn’t that seem entirely reasonable and sympathetic? And completely plausible? It’s amazing how clarifying it can be if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who finds herself stuck in an abusive relationship.

    Oh, and btw, SiF. Your comment is really mean and unworthy of you, and I hope you reconsider your position.

  3. 3
    chingona says:

    Either way, by taking him back, she won’t get an ounce of sympathy from the public the next time he puts her into the hospital.

    I haven’t been following this that closely, but it seems she wasn’t getting much sympathy BEFORE she went back, either. She provoked him, it was just a passionate fight, and now she’s an idiot for returning. Well, if it happened because she provoked him, then she can safely go back because she just won’t provoke him again. Right?

    Amanda at Pandagon had a pretty good post on this a week or two ago, about how the reasons people don’t leave are more complicated than finances or children and how feminists don’t talk enough about those because it’s a lot easier to talk about the financial ties someone might have and a lot harder to talk about the social and emotional factors (including the way we, as a society, decry abuse out of one side of our mouths and normalize it out of the other).

    There are two women in my husband’s family who have been in physically abusive relationships. In both cases, they were dating, not living together and had no children, and it still took years to get out. I don’t have anything very intelligent or analytical to say about it, but clearly, there’s a lot that goes on in an abusive relationship besides who has the checkbook.

  4. 4
    chingona says:

    Mandolin beat me to it.

  5. 5
    Silenced is Foo says:

    @Mandolin

    I am _not_ attacking her for going back. I’m saying that
    1) the public is losing sympathy for doing so, and
    2) if any woman is free to leave their abuser, she is. The fact that she doesn’t leave highlights the importance of the emotional reasons for staying, beyond the physical ones that often dominate these discussions.

    The only people forgiving Brown were his in-group of rappers and their fans. The sane half of the world was ostricizing him for the abuser that he is. The problem of course is that the in-group of rappers supporting him are probably a much larger influence on her life than the rest of the media. I hadn’t seen any outrage directed against her (other than misogynist freaks who automatically look for a woman to blame in any domestic problem) right up until she took him back (and, rumour has it, married him).

    I wasn’t trying to attack her. I was just highlighting how she’s lost her public sympathy, and how her case exemplifies how much impact the personal, emotional side of abusive relationships shouldn’t be underestimated.

  6. 6
    PG says:

    The only people forgiving Brown were his in-group of rappers and their fans. The sane half of the world was ostricizing him for the abuser that he is. The problem of course is that the in-group of rappers supporting him are probably a much larger influence on her life than the rest of the media. I hadn’t seen any outrage directed against her (other than misogynist freaks who automatically look for a woman to blame in any domestic problem) right up until she took him back (and, rumour has it, married him).

    Agreed on this — I definitely have seen plenty of condemnation of Chris Brown from the mainstream media and general public. Maybe the particular clique of hip hop artists or big record label musicians has differed on this (I’ve noticed that every example of a famous person supporting Brown, it’s been a youngish black male celebrity — Kanye, Mekhi, Terrance Howard), but look at Brown’s endorsement deals: they’re gone. That indicates that a fairly universal brand like Wrigley’s doesn’t want a domestic abuser as the face of their company, no matter how adorable and beloved by young people that face is.

    Rihanna probably does face a lot of pressure within her particular circle to take him back (and I don’t know to what extent that’s complicated by those people’s emotions toward another black man’s becoming a felon; there’s a kind of “stop snitching” aspect to this domestic abuse, a desire not to have a bunch of non-black people judging and punishing black-on-black crime). But I don’t think it’s fair to indict our entire society with regard to this particular example, when the majority of commentary has been that what he did was wrong and she shouldn’t stay with him. Indeed, some people are even calling her endorsement deals (like Cover Girl) and saying that if Rihanna is staying with Brown, they’re going to boycott those companies for promoting a woman who sets a bad example.

    Can anyone point to an example of one single speaker (as opposed to an amalgamation of multiple speakers) voicing all of these sentiments: “She provoked him, it was just a passionate fight, and now she’s an idiot for returning”? I find it implausible that someone who thinks she’s an idiot for returning also thinks “it was just a passionate fight.” The fact that there are multiple messages out there doesn’t mean that a person who espouses any single one of them also is responsible for the conflicting messages.

  7. 7
    Jake Squid says:

    …she chose to take him back. She has no kids, she’s rich, she’s beautiful, she’s an award-winning musician. If there is only one woman in the world that is free to leave their abuser, then it’s her.

    This shows an astonishing lack of understanding. There are factors other than wealth, kids, beauty and awards in play. There always are.

  8. 8
    chingona says:

    The only people forgiving Brown were his in-group of rappers and their fans. The sane half of the world was ostricizing him for the abuser that he is.

    So, is Nickelodeon part of the sane world or part of Brown’s in-group of rappers and their fans?

    Also, I think you quite correctly note that she’s going to be a lot more influenced by what people in her own circle say about this, including people who may not be her friends or have her interests in mind, but who have a lot of influence in the industry in which she makes her living.

    Can anyone point to an example of one single speaker (as opposed to an amalgamation of multiple speakers) voicing all of these sentiments: “She provoked him, it was just a passionate fight, and now she’s an idiot for returning”?

    Why does it have to be one single speaker?

  9. 9
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Of course there are. That’s kind of my point. On the face of it, she should have no issues with money, self-esteem, breaking up a family, or any of the other issues that are usually pointed to as the reasons people don’t leave their abusers. Compared to other abused women, she is in the perfect position to leave, but she chooses not to.

    I’m not blaming her for her decisions. There are things we don’t know, and I’m sure she has her reasons. Anybody getting angry at her for this decision needs a serious attitude adjustment. My point is just that she’s in a unique position that says something about the nature of abuse, and how victims are attached to their abusers even without the economic or practical bonds.

    I just can’t figure out what exactly it is.

  10. 10
    chingona says:

    I just can’t figure out what exactly it is.

    When you have time, I’d recommend you read Amanda’s post and the comments thread. A number of women there – feminist-identified women – talk about why they went back to abusers.

  11. 11
    PG says:

    Why does it have to be one single speaker?

    Because it doesn’t make sense to criticize the messages for being contradictory if they’re coming from different people. If Kanye says it was just a passionate fight and that it’s fine she’s going back to him, he’s not being contradictory. If I saw it was a brutal, criminal assault and she should never see him again, I’m not being contradictory either. Neither of us is logically inconsistent; it only appears that way if you mix our messages together.

    Well, if it happened because she provoked him, then she can safely go back because she just won’t provoke him again.

    That may be the Kanye view, which is why I assume he wouldn’t criticize her decision to go back to him. But there’s no point in imputing that view to people who are criticizing the decision.

    Nickelodeon wasn’t endorsing Brown; they kept him on a ballot to which he had been duly nominated. Unless they routinely remove people from the Kids’ Choice Awards when those people become involved in other kinds of scandals, I don’t see how the failure to remove Brown can be seen as some sort of endorsement of Brown’s actions.

  12. 12
    RonF says:

    A passionate fight?

    I can understand words of passion, people saying things they don’t really mean that are hurtful. But I must say that I have to draw a line at physical fighting. I don’t understand how passion or anger can be used to justify actually hitting someone you supposedly love.

  13. 13
    chingona says:

    I don’t see how the failure to remove Brown can be seen as some sort of endorsement of Brown’s actions.

    If photos of him taking big bong hits were all over the Internet, do you really think they would have kept him just because he was “duly nominated”?

    And this isn’t some sort of legal process. It’s not like he’s running for Congress, and we can’t get him off the ballot because he wasn’t convicted. It’s an awards show put on by a cable network for kids.

    As for your larger argument, I think you think I’m attacking SiF for being contradictory or a hypocrite. I was responding to his comment and his comment bothered me, the way it bothered several other people, but I’m not attacking him as an individual for giving her mixed messages. I’m saying that it’s easy to look at this and think that it would be easy for her to leave, but she’s getting a lot of mixed messages. I think if you go back and read what I said about talking out of both sides of our mouths, you’ll see I was trying to summarize Amanda’s argument, which you can read in its entirety if you want (or not).

  14. 14
    Mandolin says:

    SiF,

    Thanks for your clarification. That makes a lot more sense now.

    I thought what you said was out of character for you. ;) Glad to know it was my interpretation-0-meter being faulty.

    Best,
    M

  15. 15
    PG says:

    I read the pandagon post that was quoted by Mandolin, and followed the links as well, but I thought Amanda’s ultimate point (notwithstanding her discussion of the pressures within Rihanna’s particular circle) had more to do with the importance of focusing on why abusers abuse instead of why their victims stay, and the links (especially the one to coolbeans) seemed to discuss how the abusers themselves send mixed messages of love, anger, domination, helplessness, contempt, need.

    But if the mixing of messages from society as a whole comes only when you take one person’s message and mix it with another’s message — if each individual’s message is internally consistent — then it seems like it would be possible to decide which person has the right idea, rather than assuming that somehow both are right despite the incompatibility. In deciding whether to make any major decision, there will be arguments on both sides, but making a grab-bag of justifications from both doesn’t seem to work as well as deciding which side has values and interests in accordance with one’s own.

    I’m not going to judge Rihanna as being somehow stupid/ unfeminist/ whatever for her decision. I made decisions in my romantic life when I was even older than she is now, that both in my friends’ eyes at the time, and in my own eyes in retrospect, were incredibly bad decisions that are only explainable because I was naive, emotionally dependent and unwilling to act in my long term interests. But I don’t think she is excused from responsibility for her decisions simply because there are conflicting messages about what she should do.

  16. 16
    Decnavda says:

    In partial defense of Nickelodeon, the article quoted by Feministe at the post that chingona links to refers to the online petition with over 2,000 signatures, “asking Nickelodeon to remove Brown and Rihanna as nominees.”

    The message sent by Nickelodeon in not removing Brown is “We’re not getting involved.” Whatever you think of that message, it is a lot better than, “We condemn both the abuser and the victim equally.”

  17. 17
    Schala says:

    Nickelodeon wasn’t endorsing Brown; they kept him on a ballot to which he had been duly nominated. Unless they routinely remove people from the Kids’ Choice Awards when those people become involved in other kinds of scandals

    Speaking of this, a Quebec artist’s nomination for children’s shows (to some provincial gala) was removed because he was accused of possession of child porn. As in, he never went to trial yet, he’s not convicted, but already he’s got extremely bad press. I’m not sure how common it is for TV companies to remove nominations like that, but TVA had no qualms doing it to this guy.

  18. 18
    Elusis says:

    SiF – I’d also encourage reading “Love and violence: Gender paradoxes in volatile attachments” by Virginia Goldner. I won’t link because it’ll hold my comment up in the spam file, but you can find it via Google Scholar.

    The article looks at the many complex social and emotional reasons women, even very smart and very resourceful women, stay with abusers. In particular it looks at the powerful ways gender socialization encourages women to blame themselves for relationship troubles (“this wouldn’t happen if I just hadn’t provoked him, if we were getting along better), and the high value women place on close relationships, not just with a partner but with the whole network of family and friends in which they’re embedded.

    Let’s also remember that we still live in a world that subtly tells women “if you want to succeed, you need to be more like a man – independent, strong, outgoing, etc.” So it’s no surprise that many very successful women consider an episode of abuse and conclude “I can handle it.” And we are also gender-trained to put empathy for others above concern for ourselves, so feeling like “I can understand why that happened; I know him well enough to know that’s not really what he’s like; etc.” is not terribly surprising.

  19. 19
    Jake Squid says:

    Sorry, SiF, I think I misread your initial comment. That’s been happening to me a lot lately.

  20. 20
    Schala says:

    Let’s also remember that we still live in a world that subtly tells women “if you want to succeed, you need to be more like a man – independent, strong, outgoing, etc.” So it’s no surprise that many very successful women consider an episode of abuse and conclude “I can handle it.”

    This should be telling you how hard it would be for a man to even come forward about being abused, if he’s been trained all his life to deny the mere possibility. If “being like a man” is so bad about recognizing abuse on yourself, being expected to be one since birth for genital reasons ought to be similar. But yes the gender training is confining and damaging to most people in many different ways.

    I can just be glad Asperger Syndrome has been making me “miss” many (not all) of those gendered messages, I either found them unconvincing, or simply did not agree with them (those that I rejected, obviously) or was even totally oblivious to them (didn’t consciously reject it, it didn’t even register), may the world have disagreed with me (and it has) that it wouldn’t matter.

    That might be why I felt I had no culture to call my own in that other thread, well, no widely-known one anyways, as I also rejected much of it.

  21. 21
    Elusis says:

    Schala, please don’t derail this thread into talking about men and you and your gender identity.

  22. 22
    Schala says:

    Isn’t DV in itself a topic that affects all?

    It also has nothing at all to do with my being intersex or trans, since I don’t have experience of DV (or of relationships). AS is what made me miss or oppose gendered messages differently, not any gender issues.

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    Schala, long experience has taught feminist bloggers that it’s a mistake to allow “but men have it even worse” messages, or messages that can be interpreted that way, such as “This should be telling you how hard it would be for a man to even come forward about being abused.”

    There used to be a major problem with threads about rape and intimate violence against women very frequently being derailed by men’s rights activists, and the only solution that seems to work is a zero tolerance approach.

    I certainly agree that abused men face real problems, and it is hard for men to come forward. Services for abused men are lacking. If you’d like to discuss these matters further, please revive a prior “Alas” thread specifically discussing the problems faced by abused men, or use an open thread.

    Thanks in advance for cooperating.

  24. 24
    Schala says:

    I didn’t mean they had it worse though. I honestly can’t know either, since I’m not drawing from experience and this is plainly subjective.

    My point was just that the argument I quoted, which was saying that women being encouraged to be more like men, made it harder for them to come out of an abusive relationship. That such logic also applied to men, but not in a quantitatively or qualitatively better or worse fashion.

    I won’t discuss that line further though, well not on this here thread.

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  26. 25
    chingona says:

    PG, re: pandagon

    A lot of the comments thread on that post (which Amanda participates in pretty heavily) dealt with whether our culture’s overall message (made up of lots and lots of individual speakers and individual actors, some of whose actions contradict their words) is one that condemns domestic violence or one that claims to condemn it while actually blaming the victim and justifying the violence.

    I think we’re not talking about the same thing. If we are, I’m not sure why we’re disagreeing. Sure, it would be better to break out individual messages and decide which ones accord with our values, but that’s a process that takes time and often is incomplete. A lot of us come into adulthood with a grab-bag of justifications from different sources that aren’t compatible – that’s how socialization works – and then spend some significant amount of time deciding what to keep and what to toss.

    With Rihanna, particularly because her continued financial success depends on how she is viewed by both industry people and “the public,” which contains many individuals with many different views, it’s going to be harder to sort out who she should listen to.

    I’m not saying she had no choice but to go back to him or that she couldn’t have made a different decision. I didn’t say anything like that. I’m saying that someone looking at her situation and seeing no constraints that might make staying seem like a better option, is not seeing the whole picture.

  27. 26
    PG says:

    I’m saying that someone looking at her situation and seeing no constraints that might make staying seem like a better option, is not seeing the whole picture.

    But the constraints being discussed by Amanda (at least in the post; I generally don’t read comments on a blog where I don’t participate in the comments) don’t make staying seem like a better option to those of us who are not in love with/ emotionally dependent upon Chris Brown. Amanda didn’t describe anything that objectively balanced out getting beaten the way Rihanna was beaten and taking the risk that it would happen again (much less the risks Rihanna is taking with her wider, mainstream image by staying with an abuser). Subjectively, Rihanna may not be able to leave Brown yet because he has too much psychological control over her — but that would be true regardless of whether she needs people in the music world to socialize with her.

  28. 27
    chingona says:

    I generally don’t read comments on a blog where I don’t participate in the comments

    That’s understandable. I did want to explain, though, that my reading comprehension isn’t that bad. I was summing up an entire discussion that I followed as it happened.

    Amanda didn’t describe anything that objectively balanced out getting beaten the way Rihanna was beaten and taking the risk that it would happen again (much less the risks Rihanna is taking with her wider, mainstream image by staying with an abuser).

    Presumably, Rihanna believes Chris Brown was sincere in his apology and hopes he won’t beat her anymore.

    But of course it doesn’t objectively balance out. That would be saying she ought to stay or did the right thing by staying. But there’s enough benefit to staying that if you’re inclined to rationalize it, you can rationalize it.

    As Amanda wrote:

    But I know that if I were Rihanna, and I saw both the active and passive support for Chris Brown, I’d probably have a hard time leaving him, too. I’d fear—for a really good, solid reason—that leaving him and taking on the “victim” label would mean that my phone calls would slowly stop being returned, and that would be it for the career path I had laid out. Now, I’d wonder if I could find a second way to make my career in music, but being 20 and working in a really harsh world, I’d be loathe to give up a good thing in order to pursue something that probably won’t work out.

    That she’s inclined to rationalize it at all comes back to her emotional and psychological attachment to him, and I don’t think I ever suggested that wasn’t an important factor here.

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  30. 28
    Kate says:

    I read a book about domestic violence and the evils that come out of an abuser. They are very much in control and have indicators that can help women/men know that they are headed into a potentially abusive situation based on those indicators. I’d agree that most often you can tell when someone has abusive characteristics be women make the choice to overlook them for one reason or another. This truly wasn’t the first woman to meet the real Chris or Juelz for that matter. I’d recommend checking out the Indicators of An Abuser and see what they are. The horrifying memoir by Marala Scott, In Our House, Perception vs. Reality brings to life the emotional rollercoaster of taking the reader through an abusers evil rage. This memoir can help save lives. Look at the Indicators of an Abuser and see if the man your interested in, dating, or married to has any of the warning signs. Then do something about it!

  31. 29
    steve says:

    It is sometimes hard to understand the powerful draw an abusive man can have on the victim. Most people are not aware of the phenomenon of “traumatic bonding” whereby the alternating abuse followed by super romatic and “nice” behavior creates an intense emotional reinforcement that is incredibly hard for victims to overcome. This sometimes happens to kidnap victims (think Patty Hurst if you’re old enough to remember that one) and is sometimes known as “Stockholm Syndrome” after the first kidnapping where it was observed.

    Add that to the isolation abusers help create and the shame our society places on being an abuse victim, and leaving is a lot harder than it sounds to those of us who haven’t been there.