Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Chris Brown. Darren Sharper. Sean Penn. Charlie Sheen. Chad Johnson. Rasheed Wallace.
I should have been happy when I learned that the Ravens terminated Ray Rice after the video of him knocking his then-fiancé Janay Palmer unconscious surfaced. I should have been satisfied because the NFL suspended him indefinitely. These things were all supposed to mean something. They were all supposed to send some sort of message of punishment and intolerance for domestic violence. But, I want more. Call me greedy, but I want more. I demand more. Because, these actions only scratched the surface, a mere dent in America’s history of slapping abusive men on the wrist and carrying on with business as usual.
I struggled with today’s piece because so many of my pieces about the tough subjects come from a deeply personal place that guides me. This piece does not, at least not in a way I am comfortable sharing. So, I worried I would be a fraud or that I would not do this justice. I worried that I might say something that would offend someone who has experienced domestic violence, that I might not hold this very fragile topic carefully enough. But, in these critical moments, we are called to do the revolutionary writing. These are the moments when we do the real work. These are the moments when we better lift every voice and sing. These are the moments when we are required to move beyond the listicles, beyond the whims of that day, beyond the inconsequential bits we have imbibed, in favor of writing the posts that matter. I have been called to seize that moment.
I could tell you the numbers. I could tell you that 1 in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. I could you tell an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of a physical assault by an intimate partner every year. I could tell you sexual assault occurs in 40-45% of battering relationships. I could spit off statistic after statistic and yet, as relevant as they are, there will be another Ray Rice. There will be another Floyd Mayweather, Jr. There will be another Joe Asshole Schmoe. There will be more. Despite a Baltimore Sun blogger writing, “Ray could get blackballed. We may have seen the last of him. He’s essentially radioactive at this point,” our society has shown it has selective memory when it comes to abusive men.
Every man whose name contributed to my opening paragraph is a man who has been able to have a lucrative and successful career in spite of his transgressions. You may ask me if I believe in second chances and the answer is that I do. But, I do not believe in rewarding shit and scum with success. I do not attend that church and I do not pray at that altar.
Because society may fire these men from jobs and release them from contracts, but it fails to see those forms of discipline as palliative at best. It fails to see that the root of this problem is tangled. It is deep. It is so buried beneath the surface of our psyches and paradigms, so entrenched in the ways of our society, that we have to do more. We have to demand more. We have to rule with an iron fist. We can’t equate forgiveness and second chances with holding these men high on pedestals that are constructed by the bricks of misogyny and put together by the cement of senseless, shameless and spine-chilling violence. But, chances are, we still will. Come take a look at this new American dream, born from the nightmares of so many women.
When current events like the one I’m discussing surface, social media begins moving at a kinetic and unnerving sort of pace. You hold your breath knowing that someone you know will eventually say something that stings you or someone you know will eventually retweet a stranger who triggers you. On days like these, someone is bound to fuck it up. Yesterday wasn’t different. Take this tweet I saw: “Some [women] deserve to be in abusive relationships.” According to the name and photo on the account, a woman wrote that. About another woman. This is our world.
But, even if you move beyond social media, traditional media is spewing insanity. Take a Fox & Friends anchor who made light of the incident by first saying how “Rihanna went back to Chris Brown and people thought that was a terrible message”, then referencing the greatest non-sequitur of all time by bringing up the Beyoncé/Solange/Jay-Z elevator incident and closing his crock of shit by saying, “The message here is to take the stairs.” Does he get fired? Does he get terminated? Oh, wait, I forgot. It’s Fox. This is our world.
The venom in the aforementioned comments is a byproduct of the world we live in–a world that blames its victims instead of punishing its victimizers. A world of hegemonic masculinity (a term my friend educated me on–y’all know I don’t throw around that vernacular every day) where men hold dominant positions of social power and relationships are not horizontal. A world that puts power in the hands of men figuratively and a world where some of those men seize that power literally. A world where hashtags like #WhyIStayed are born because of how much we wrongly assume and mischaracterize the women on the receiving end of the abuse.
I am not worried about Ray Rice. The world has shown me time and time again, Ray Rice will be more than fine. The world has shown me it may rip the contracts away, but it will still subtly endorse the behavior. Ray Rice is not radioactive; he will reappear. Of this I am sure. So, instead, I am worried about Janay Palmer, about the irreparable damage that has been done to her insides, about the ruins in which her world has been left. I am worried about her core that has been shaken, her heart that has been broken, her roots that have been torn apart. I am worried about Janay Palmer coming out on the other side. I am worried about her life, an existence that could hang in the balance if a breakthrough is not near. I am worried about Janay Palmer, my fellow woman, my fellow sister.
Until the world stops endorsing abusive men, I will always, always, always stand for those who are abused. I did not always say that. I did not always think that. I, too, was previously quick to make a lot of assumptions about the mental capacity, intelligence and strength of women who were abused. But, life has humbled me enough to know it is easy to say what you could or would or should do. But, then you are there. Then you are brought to your deepest pits, to your lowest valleys, to the corners of your life you wouldn’t dare let others see. Once you are there, then tell me what you would do. Once you are on your knees praying to a God you worry doesn’t exist, tell me what you would do. Once you are that 1 in every four women, tell me what you should do. Maybe then your could, your would, your should does not look quite the same.