Much has been written in the last several weeks about men’s physical abuse of women. Former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice’s videotaped knockout of his girlfriend and the initial two-game suspension he received from the NFL prompted both outrage and, of course, an outpouring of fan support for the abuser. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed to realize the gravity of the situation and changed league policy to include harsher sanctions for convicted abusers. Then, when TMZ released footage of the actual knockout punch earlier this week, which the league claims not to have seen, it seemed like even die-hard professional football fans could no longer defend the league for its still weak approach to the serious issue of domestic violence. The Ravens did suspend Rice indefinitely, but at the same time, the situation ignited the victim blamers, who focused on the fact that Rice’s girlfriend, Janay Palmer, stayed with him after the attack and the two have since married. Rather than focusing on why men like Rice abuse the women they proclaim to love, the social media universe was on fire with discussion of “why she stays.”
None of this now ubiquitous dialogue gets at the societal factors that set the stage for domestic violence. As with the abuse, we minimize the daily harassment women endure when some men feel it is their birthright to discipline our bodies while we are in public. From sexual harassment at work and schools to the near routine cat calls women endure when simply walking in public, we are told that our bodies are titillating or inadequate and afforded the approval or disdain of harassers. And, like domestic violence, we are told it is our fault that these men can’t control their need to yell out at us. We are, like the guests and hosts of the new Fox News show Outnumbered explained, supposed to be flattered by the attention and to let “men be men.” As if vocal cord control resides only in women. Of course, also like domestic violence, some women have heard such a steady diet of this mantra that they, too, start to believe they deserve, even enjoy, such attention.
I was recently the unwanted subject of a man’s attention, a man who felt I would somehow appreciate his loud and aggressive calls about my body. I did not. It made me feel sad, angry and dirty. Not least of which is because he had the gall to yell harassing comments while he was with a woman and had a baby strapped to the front of his body. No, Fox News, I don’t think he “meant it in a nice way.” I think he meant it to show his social power and because he believes he has the right to say whatever he wants to a woman. Not that far removed from an abuser if you ask me.
Rather than trying to explain why Janay Rice or countless other victims of domestic violence stay with abusers, perhaps we should start having a far more serious discussion about why some men feel as though they are the police of women’s bodies in the first place. Why does a show like Outnumbered, which is supposed to be focused on women, normalize this kind of sexism? Young men need to be taught how to appreciate and treat women in far healthier ways. I fear that the current focus on victims and whether they “ask for it” continues to minimize the discussion of men, their choices, and societal approval of the degradation of women.