On one hand I’m amazed that this is the question and on the other I’m not all surprised at the compulsion to blame victims. I’m talking about the Ray Rice video which shows the NFL player knocking his then fiancee out cold on an elevator. What happens next ought to be surprising also. Several adult men standing around while the traumatized and now waking up woman sits dazed on the ground after being dragged unconscious out of the elevator. It goes on for minute after painful minute until finally someone emerges who helps her to her wobbly feet. All of this is documented on tape and the question asked is, “Why does she stay?” Really? We don’t want to ask why a professional athlete known for strength and speed knocks out his girlfriend and disrespectfully drags her limp body out of the elevator? We don’t want to ask why a group of men stood around watching this woman try to regain consciousness without lending a hand? Why don’t we want to ask those questions?
I’m thinking if we don’t ask what’s wrong with Rice and those who just stood around then we don’t have to take on the age old question of male entitlement. It’s easier to blame women. We’re good at taking it and even inflicting it on other women. If we make it the victim’s problem then nothing has to change. Change is hard. Many people would rather die than change. Many do.
Still, why Rice’s fiancee stayed and why so many women stay out of the one in four who are abused in their lifetimes by a man does not have easy answers and involves societal questions which would demand change. Why were these women financially dependent on their abusers? Another question might be why women believe men who tell them they are useless and need to be controlled? Why do women fear being “alone” so much that they will allow themselves to be abused? The answers have long stories and patterns in nearly every culture on Earth. Perhaps we’re ready to look at them but it cannot be done in a vacuum. We have to look at the men who act out in violence toward the women they claim to love.
There seems to be a thread in the nasty affliction of entitlement I brought up earlier. We’re seeing it in the Rice story and also as a theme in recent public, mass shootings. These men seem to feel as if it’s their right to do as they wish with women and if they are not allowed then it’s their right to strike out violently. Painful conflict comes about when there is a change and that change is not wanted by one side or the other. If a woman decides to empower herself and say no or strike back at her abuser as you see Rice’s fiancee attempt to do in the video then she will be controlled violently and painfully. The problem here is that these men believe that is an appropriate way to end the conflict.
We have to question the underlying belief these men have that they have a right to control women and how they came to this conclusion. Why do men feel entitled to have their way in relationships with women? Why, if they don’t get their way, do they feel violence is an option available to them? What messages are we sending men that reenforces this idea? I would have to say they are numerous and often.
I think it’s clear what both men and women are hearing and seeing. Women are objectified countless thousands of times per day in images and slogans and in fact. Objects don’t have any real rights or ability to enforce their own sovereignty. Women are valued at how good they are at being objects for men. If you’ve ever heard a rap song or even a country ballad you would know that’s true. If you’ve watched a beer commercial or a football game with the cheerleaders on the sidelines you know it’s true.
Women are less than men in everything that we see. We are paid less for the same job, the fields which are dominated by women are lower income, women’s rights are being stripped and eroded by legislative bodies across the country and if women speak out we will be talked about and even called a “whore”, the oldest insult in the book which itself is absurd. No one could be a whore without customers. Why wouldn’t buying sex be the more shameful thing? Whatever is done by a woman is more shame inducing than that done by a man. There is no equality in any playing field.
Then when a woman is publicly beaten we actually ask why she stays when the answer is so clear and prevalent that we all know it’s not a real question. It shifts the blame and eases the tension which might come of asking a real question like why do we treat women so badly? Why after all this time are women still lacking rights to basic things like health care and equal pay? Why do artists and those in the board rooms who control the work of musicians and film makers support work which marginalizes an entire category of person?
#WhydidIstay? Because there was nowhere to go, because I believed I was nothing, because I thought love looked like control. Why does he abuse a woman he claims to love? Because he thinks it’s okay, because he can, because he thinks love looks like control.
Women cannot solve the problem alone but men could. Men could start asking why men feel entitled to control instead of why women stay and that would make all the difference.