Category Archives: Domestic Violence

You want us to buy what?: Reflections on Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and The Expectation of Female Consumerism

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This is a guest post from Dinah Douglas: Dinah Douglas works in non-profit communications by day and watches TV by night. Follow Dinah on Twitter: @dinahjd. 

Every fall, if you put your ear to any AstroTurf in America, you can actually hear a faint,

repetitive moan of fooootbaaaallll… foooottbbaaaaalll. Like a tell-tale heartbeat, but more

ominous.

We didn’t realize it, but that is why the NFL got everything to do with Ray Rice so wrong. That

is why the NFL is still talking around women, about women, down to women, at women… but

not to or with women. The past few months in sportsland have been a giant reminder that the

NFL pretty much just cares about women where its image and our money are involved.

I’m writing this while I watch the Baltimore Ravens the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Thursday

night football game. Ostensibly because I am a Ravens fan. It became harder to say that after

America’s new moral compass (TMZ) released a video of Ravens player Ray Rice dragging

his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator back in February. Then, one of my Facebook friends

just said, “Time to burn the jersey.” Seemed about right. My friends and I agreed then that the

Ravens had to drop Rice immediately. But my friends and I live in a bubble where domestic

violence is inexcusable, so it was easy to say.

We all know what happened next. In July, the two game suspension decision came down from

His Holiness, NFL Commissioner Most High, Roger Goodell. The outrage was palpable and

Goodell later said he “didn’t get it right”  So the NFL changed their domestic violence policy – six games out for the first offense, a lifetime ban for the next.

Come September, a new video landed. The video we didn’t need to see, but was still the first

thing many people clicked on this past Monday. No amount of media desensitization to violence

kept me from feeling nauseated when I saw her head hit the railing in the elevator.

It only took a few hours for the Ravens to terminate Ray Rice’s contract. I say hours, but truly,

it took them months. Months during which they totally knew what had happened, because Ray

Rice told them.

A day after this Ray Rice thing blew up for real this time, Victoria’s Secret sent out an email

selling people on their PINK brand NFL “gear.” If there ever were a time to display your loyalty to an industry that could really do a better job showing how it values women, it is apparently right now. The email, nay, the industry, screams, Women! Buy the gear, lest you prove Chris Brown right!

This week, I was discussing it all with a co-worker. We work at an organization where domestic

violence prevention is a big part of what we do, and we were shaking our heads at how during

October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the players, cheerleaders and fans will be

wearing their team’s gear – but tinted pink, because October is also Breast Cancer Awareness

Month. Because the NFL cares about women, and their money. Because breast cancer has

become more comfy to talk about than domestic violence, clearly.

Save the ta-tas!

We care about you, women.

We need you to be fans, because as fans, you buy things.

Like underwear and fitted tees.

This isn’t about making two things that have been categorized as “women’s issues” compete for

attention, but it does point out a pretty gross priority for the league. (Merchandizing, in case that

wasn’t clear.)

Lady people, never you mind that smoking pot or taking steroids so far seems to be a

more serious offense in the view of the NFL than hitting a woman. Pay no attention to that man hitting a woman behind the curtain. Pay no attention to Ray McDonald  or Greg Hardy. Pay no attention to the 21 of 32 NFL teams who just in 2013 had a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge against

them.

Domestic violence isn’t a new problem – either in athletics, pop culture or the real world. But

handling it doesn’t have to be so tone deaf. The decision makers in the NFL and affiliated brands

could achieve sentience and use their position like CBS commentator James Brown did when he

said some good things before Thursday night’s game:

“…It starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy

says, ‘you throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘you’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues

women and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion. Women have been at the forefront

in the domestic violence awareness and prevention arena. And whether Janay Rice considers

herself a victim or not, millions of women in this country are.

Consider this: According to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners. That means that since the night of February 15th in Atlantic City more than 600 women have died.”

I don’t know many female football fans who want to stop being fans. I do know many female

football fans who would love if it were easier to be a fan, if it felt better to support an institution,

and spend money doing so, because you knew that institution really didn’t think domestic

violence was excusable. And showed it.

Oh, one last thing. I’m not much for sports gear, but when the Ravens played in the Super Bowl,

I did try. I bought a men’s Ravens shirt because it was cheaper than all the options labeled for

“ladies.”

Written by Dinah Douglas

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Our Blindspot on Dating Abuse

Vegetable gunWhen we hear stories or statistics about dating abuse, we start to form an image in our mind about what it typically looks like, the typical abuser or the typical victim. We might even get better at recognizing a common case and maybe even doing something about it. However, the downside is that any dating abuse that does not fit this description is even less likely to be recognized or addressed.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that domestic abuse does not have to be physical and that emotional and psychological abuse are just as valid and just as damaging. Here, I want to introduce what I think is another overlooked and delicate topic.

Women can be abusers too, they are not always the victim. It sounds obvious. Even though, statistically, the vast majority (92%) of domestic abusers are male and the victims are female, occasionally it does happen the other way around (this differs in same-sex relationships). Still, I would argue because it is far less common, often looks different, and goes against most of our gender stereotypes we are less able to see it for what it is.

Stereotypes associated with women such as weak, passive and nurturing are nearly the complete opposite of those that we associate with somebody who is abusive (e.g. controlling, aggressive, angry). Acknowledging and/or rejecting stereotypes about women does not, unfortunately, mean we are not affected by them. So my point is that abusive behavior by a woman is in direct conflict how they are viewed by other people, and even how they view themselves.

Gender stereotypes in relation to domestic abuse are harmful for both men and women. When women are viewed as weak and passive, it appears more “natural” for them to be the victim and easier for all parties to justify the abuse. Yet, women who abuse will never have to be justified because it sounds like too much of an oxymoron to be taken seriously. For that reason, men who are being abused by women are just as likely to be disregarded.

For men there is so much shame around reporting abuse that a large number of cases likely go unreported. “We tell boys to “man up” and be strong, and this means that they should not have emotions, never feel weak, etc. and continues a vicious cycle of men feeling unable to express themselves about hurtful experiences,” which clashes strongly with the image of a victim.

I was surprised to see how much the statistics evened out in younger groups. One study found that in dating abuse with teen couples girls were more likely to report both being a victim (41%) and a perpetrator (35%), which was surprisingly close to boys reporting victimization (37%) and perpetration (29%). This “leveling-off” was thought to due to recognizing more female abusers, rather than an actual rise.

Emotional abuse, by either gender, is now listed as a common form of abuse, but was under the radar for a long time. Belittling a partner or criticizing them in front of others can be written off as a joke. Having to “get permission” to do something might be seen as acceptable. The silent treatment or emotional isolation might just be their way of handling things. And it’s expected that your significant other should be a priority over all others or else it means that you “don’t love them,” right?!

If it’s harder to see women as abusers and to recognize emotional abuse, in combination it would probably be very easy to overlook. What makes this even more complicated to address is that oftentimes the person does not realize that what they are doing is considered emotional abuse. A whole range exists from mild to severe, and probably fluctuates over time.

What I do feel is a very important distinction between being assertive and being abusive. I’m a huge advocate of people (especially women) being able to communicate their needs and expectations in a relationship and not backing down just to avoid a conflict. Given that, there is a difference between expecting honesty and invading the other persons privacy. In the same way that wanting to be the center of their world and isolating them to make that happen.

As an advocate for awareness of domestic abuse (and dating abuse in younger groups) especially in diverse populations, I still have a hard time getting past the stereotypical case. The man as the abuser, the woman as the victim, physically violent, and blatantly obvious. We need to push ourselves to recognize all forms of abuse and that everyone, ourselves included have the potential to fall into either role.

Missing pieceWhether it’s mild or severe, your best friend or an acquaintance you should consider doing something about it. Don’t give up on a who seems to have isolated themselves. Talk to a friends if you suspect they could be abusive. Monitor how you treat you own partner. Still, remember that not usually straightforward or clean cut so use discretion 😉

Disclaimer:  I am aware that this post is heterosexist in that it uses a heterosexual relationship as the standard and does not address these issues in the context of same-sex relationships. I wanted to specifically address the assumption that women do not abuse men and the consequences of that.

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Reflections on Violence Against Women in Guatemala

I have a lot more reading and writing to do on the subject of violence against women in Guatemala, but for starters, I can say: 1) that the state of fear women here face is historically rooted (thank you, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism, for the destruction of a people and continued institutional corruption and violence) and 2) that the collective embracing of individual sexual liberation – of women, especially – can help dismantle the culture of fear (alongside policy change, of course, such as better sexual education and more transparent spending on public services and infrastructure).

A kiss on a cheek is a typical greeting here in Guatemala. A kiss on the edge of the mouth is not, yet I’ve gotten several of those. I’ve received lingering handshakes with a squeeze at the end, vivid stares, and pushy requests for my phone number. These experiences are not Guatemala-exclusive, though they have been happening to me more often and more audibly here. And while it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between cultural norms and abuse, there have been moments of obvious harassment. Whose business is it if I have a boyfriend? What do you care if I’m traveling alone? Why am I expected to respond to a ts ts ts from across the street? As a friend of mine and fellow Latin@ poet said, “words and actions can both be sexual violence.”

I typically move on from these uncomfortable experiences without much thought. However, a friend here described a recent and nasty verbal attack. She mentioned her resulting fears about where the line between words and actions is drawn. I reassessed my own emotions after certain experiences on the street, and decided that I, too, have been pushed to places of fear, tension, and distrust. Some of my experiences may be unique, being a foreigner, but I can confidently say that living in a constant state of fear is a very real oppression faced by all women here.

Many Guatemalans I’ve met have described Guatemala as having a culture of fear or a culture of silence. Anthropologists have used the phrases “death as a way of life” and “fear as a way of life” to describe Guatemalan existence. In her book Fear As a Way of Life: Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala, Linda Green quotes Cynthia Enloe: “Wars don’t simply end / And wars don’t end simply.” While Guatemala’s Civil War ended over two decades ago, death and violence persist. According to the World Health Organization, 10 or more murders a day per 100,000 people is classified as an epidemic. Guatemala qualifies, along with 10 other Latin American countries. Violence has been normalized, as a legacy of ingrained intimidation, residue of the war, stubbornly persists.

What is the connection between a history of violence, current violence, and mindsets of fear? To be always afraid is to be truly oppressed. Seeing the fear that my dad manifests often evokes anger for me – I find his distrust unreasonable. But I must remind myself that he lived through a war. For him, distrust meant survival.

I hope that, through education, we can little by little dismantle the fear in which we live, replacing it with strong community ties and respect for women. Projects such as Colectiva Siluetas’ show AFUERA, about being a lesbian in Guatemala, and Rebecca Lane’s music (like this song about liberation and self love) are great first steps. Also check out this documentary about sex workers in Guatemala who started a soccer team and joined a league in order to call attention to the violence and abuse they faced. My friend also told me about a radio show on which Guatemalan women described their experiences masturbating. Revolutionary! Maybe we can even get a good burlesque class going here so women can go straight to positive pride in sexuality and self-confidence.

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Rewriting our Story: Unspeakable Truths

To have a friend is to share truths,
but what if yours are unspeakable truths?

To have a friend means you cannot spread lies,
but what if your life is tangled in lies?

To have a friend means you cannot have secrets,
but what if you have horrible secrets?

To have a friend means you need to get close,
but what if you, your mind and heart are isolated?

To have a friend means a new concept of space,
but what if you have no room?

I lost my friends because of you.
Or was it because I was so consumed in our relationship?

I lost my worldview because of you.
Or was it because of all the lies I had to tell?

I lost my sense in self because of you,
or was it because I held both your and my secrets so tight.

I have many unspeakable truths and they begin long ago,

but the hardest truth is learning to commit to the most important person, myself.

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3 Songs About Domestic Violence You Should Know

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It is no longer Domestic Violence Awareness Month but we need to still be just as aware.

My ITunes was playing in the background the other day when Luka by Suzanne Vega began to play. Although I have always loved it, not until I was older did I truly listen to the lyrics of this piece. In its peppy and beautiful demeanor it tells the heart-wrenching story of a woman who is in an abusive relationship. The story reflects the reality of many individuals facing abuse in their physical or emotional home, the reality of living in a “fish bowl” as Lexis Manzara put it; the reality of creating a new identity to diminish the pain one is facing. I want to see a world free of this pain; that is my dream.

Vega’s piece inspired me to reflect on other songs that tell the stories of domestic violence. Check out the songs below by Suzzane Vega, Eve and Dessa.  I am sure there are more to add, please share them in the comment section and please continue to tell the stories of those who have experienced abuse.

By keeping things “private” we only continue to silence and normalize these stories. Violence is not and should never be normal. And with all that said, survivors must tell these stories in a way comfortable and empowering to them.

Luka- Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega tells the story of a woman who tirelessly works to cover up the abuse she is experiencing. “Luka”, the narrator, shares her story in a form of conversation.

Love Is Blind-Eve

By discussing how feelings of love and loyalty can freeze individuals, Eve tells the story of her friend whom an abuser murdered. Abuse is manipulative and can be seen in so many layers.

Alibi-Dessa

Artful and poetic as she always writes, Dessa tells the story of an individual in an abusive and controlling situation without ever explicitly discussing violence. She tells the story from the perspective of a friend and place of support for the individual.

 

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Domestic Abuse in a Fish Bowl

ImageDomestic abuse is like dirty water in the fish bowl analogy. In the fish bowl analogy, the fish doesn’t recognize that it’s underwater because it has only known the world from that perspective. We can look at the fish and it’s limited reality, yet we don’t recognize that we are in our own fish bowl of our perspective in the context of our lives.
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To extend the analogy, the water in the bowl might get dirtier and dirtier, but the more gradual the change the less difference that the fish will notice. If the water never really gets clean, eventually dirty water will be normal and all that the fish expects.
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Even though I was not the direct victim of domestic abuse, I still didn’t recognize it until I was out of that context. It doesn’t look like the definition I had in my head and it’s so much more complex than I ever though it could be.
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The media gives us an image of what it should look like: physically violent, obvious to both the victim and the abuser, the abuser is a horrible person, the victim is helpless. In reality, it may look nothing like this and it often does not. This discrepancy keeps us from recognizing it for what it really is and doing something about it.
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It was so gradual that nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary. Don’t to that or it causes a fight, don’t bring that up because it’s not worth it. It’s like walking on eggshells to keep the other person calm and content. Slowly more activities and cut out and more habits are changed according to what has been deemed acceptable. Eventually there is a new set of norms and nobody notices until they are already in place.
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The complicated part is that it’s not all bad, especially at the beginning. The abuser probably has some really good qualities; after all, the relationship formed somehow. Maybe they fix things and cook and clean and handle everything that was not being handled before. Maybe they have so much in common with the other, the same difficult past, the same taste in music. And maybe they showed up at just the right moment and said just the right thing.
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At a certain point the dirty water becomes noticeable, no matter how gradually it appeared. By then there are so many obstacles because their lives are entwined. How would I pay for everything? Where would one of us go? What else would I have left? Would I be safe? On top of that, would I even find anybody better?
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Now that I see it, what is there even to do? At one point I would have said “just leave.” But now I know better, there is a lot more to it than that. I feel that all I can do is be understanding, supportive and non-judgmental. It’s possible that it may never end or even greatly improve, but she is smart, and creative and resilient and I know she’s dug herself out of a worse mess than this.
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