Lessons on Accepting and Tolerating Domestic Violence Start Early for Little Girls

By now you’ve seen the Ray Rice video where the Ravens running back gets into an elevator with his fiancé, punches her unconscious and then drags her out of the elevator like trash. They have since tied the knot/jumped de broom/ whatever you want to call the fiasco when a woman marries her abuser.

rayIt’s easy to point fingers at Janay Palmer and ask yourself what on earth would possess her to legally bind herself to a man who has proven he is prone to violence and clearly lacks self-control. What further would compel her to join him on stage during a press conference and “admit” that she had some part to play in her own beating? Philosophers like DL Hughley might rationalize that it is because Ms. Palmer is a “thirsty bitch” who doesn’t want to mess up her money. The only person who can provide reasons why she is still with Ray Rice is Janay Palmer, and like many victims of domestic violence, those reasons become murkier with time.

“I don’t know why I stayed,” is the refrain you often hear from women who have escaped violent relationships. This will often be followed with a litany of justifications that include:

Love

Loyalty

The kids

 

As always, I never want to give the illusion that I am sitting in judgment of another woman in circumstances such as these. While I have never been in a physically abusive relationship, I was a willing participant in an emotional (and well documented) one for a year with Douche Bag. I even confessed to the MOM Squad to wanting to marry him at some point. I was enamored with his ‘potential’. If he just applied himself he could really BE something, I thought. But the man is an outright lost case… as his fiancé (with no engagement ring, and now, no wedding date) has come to discover. I wonder how long she’s going to let him live in her expansive house, rent free with access to as much free food and sex as his little heart desires? That will be for her to decide. Every woman has her line and her limits.

But what makes women so tolerant of abuse? The figures on domestic violence are murky, but it’s estimated that between 25-33% of all women will find themselves a victim of domestic abuse in some form. The abuse can take the form of psychosocial or emotional trauma, to routine beating and in some cases death.

It is my contention that people who abuse women –even female ones – seek out certain types of women. They look for women who are sweet, or have moderate-low self-esteem, or fiercely dependent, or confess to undying loyalty. A woman like that is easier to trap and control than your garden variety self-obsessed, highly ambitious gargoyle who would sooner burn their assailant alive than to let him/her touch her in a violent way. That’s not to say a person with an abusive personality wouldn’t try it; but the point of abuse is to establish control and women who are not easily controlled do not make convenient victims.

These ‘feminine’ qualities – the self-sacrificing and nurturing archetypes that women are raised to aspire to – are a hotbed for the virus that is an abusive personality. If not presented with a strong sense of balance, they do more to enable the abuser than to deter his or her behavior. It’s important that we talk about woman on woman abuse when we speak about domestic violence, because the face of lesbian domestic violence is often veiled. I have had two very good friends share with me the horror of having their partner stomp them in a parking lot or assault them at home. Whether it’s a man beating up a woman or same gendered abuse, the goal is the same: to assert dominance and to make your victim feel weak, afraid, and hopefully, too scared to leave.

These are emotions I will never tolerate as they relate to my girls.

My parents never talked to me about the intricacies of domestic violence. We never talked about the mechanics or the intention behind it. There was always a sense that they would “take care” of anybody that hurt us, but even in that messaging I found myself feeling more afraid and compassionate for the potential recipient of my parent’s wrath than I did for myself. I did and could not fathom that anyone would hurt me so severely that it would warrant such intense retaliation!

There are many conversations I will have to have with my girls including dating, choosing colleges, which market to buy their first home, why they should never accidentally put diesel in their engine that only takes unleaded…but I confess I never put domestic violence on the list. It’s scary to imagine, let alone discuss. Fortunately, a cartoon gave me the perfect segue to the topic.

jemI recently introduced the girls to JEM and they have been devouring the episodes like a pair of piranha. Like many other American girls, I loved the cartoon in the 80’s, memorized the theme song and wished I could be a star, just like Jem and the Holograms. I vaguely remember her having a boyfriend named Rio, but now that I am watching the cartoon as an adult, I am horrified! Rio as I have rediscovered, is in a 3-way relationship with Jem and Jerrica Benton (who are the same person). In one episode we all watched, Jerrica was on the verge of revealing to Rio that Jem was her secret identity. The burden was too much for her to bear, and Rio was screwing with her head, confessing to loving Jem AND Jerrica on separate occasions. Before she could confess, there was an altercation with some other people in the house and she changes her mind.

Furious because she won’t be forthcoming with him, Rio then storms off screaming at Jerrica and then KICKIN OVER HER FICUS before essentially telling her to screw herself. The girl just stood there and cried. I was beside myself with rage, because one day the dude is kicking down your plants, the next he’s kicking in your teeth…

“Girls!” I squawked. “Don’t you EVER let some dude come over to your house and kick your plants over. You hear me? That ain’t his house. That’s YOUR house. And you better not let me hear about you crying over it neither!”

This was followed by a chorus of “Yes, Mommy” accompanied with neck rolls and declarations of woe to befall any boy foolish enough to pull such a stunt. It was a start.

But now I know I have to have more meaningful discussions with my girls about relationships and abuse. With our children being sexualized through all forms of print and electronic media, I know it’s my duty as a mother to control or contribute as much as I can to that messaging. Not doing so would be irresponsible – like letting their little hands go and allowing them to wonder on that dark path I’ve traveled on myself, or to unconsciousness on an elevator floor.