I’m sure that by now you have all heard about the video, the video that captures Ray Rice, an NFL player horribly abusing his fiancé and now wife on an elevator. When a tragedy like this happens, or rather, when the world finally decides to speak about it, it is important to observe the way people react. The things people say on social media, specifically, represent issues in our society that often go unnoticed. A big revelation for me is always the amount of people I know who perpetuate antifeminism and abuse against women by sharing their ignorance through horrific status updates: “She was being aggressive towards him first, so she must be used to getting her ass beat” “I’m sure she said something to make him so mad” “I’m sure she hits him too.” Men and women alike spread their contagious idiocy and demonstrate that the problem is all around us. The status I want to focus on for this piece, however, is the following: “Ray Rice=Solange Knowles and we should be equally as upset by the violence in both circumstances.”
Well… I disagree and I will give you a few of the reasons why, but let me first acknowledge the similarities: Both instances happened on an elevator, both involved one person hitting another, both came as results of violence and anger, both have details that cannot be seen or completely understood by outsiders to the circumstances. And that’s really where the list ends.
Now for two of the major differences, which fall under the categories of Statistics and Dependence/Choice.
Here are just a few: “Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes [by strangers] combined. Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup. Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Domestic violence victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the US alone—the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs. The costs of intimate partner violence in the US alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.” (Domestic Violence Statistics) If the statistics are not enough for you, or if you aren’t seeing what I’m saying with them, let’s dive a little deeper into a matter of subordination because it is not always just about this gender divide.
In one instance the person being hit has dependence on the person delivering the blows. Whether this is financial dependence, emotional support, or other pressures to stay in a relationship with their aggressor. Can you guess which instance this applies to? I’ll give you a hint - I very much doubt Jay Z depends on Solange in any kind of way. Why does dependence matter? Because it is related to power dynamics and control, control over a person’s actions, decisions, and emotions. It is related to the position more women than men are forced to be in when they do not receive equal pay or opportunities, for example. When dependence and control are being evaluated we must then think of the choice the individuals in each case have to change their situation. Many critics have blamed Janay for staying in her very apparent abusive relationship. But what exactly do you think her choices were in the elevator? And what do you think her choices are now? Don’t forget that she also has a child to think of. Let’s compare the first question to the Jay Z and Solange example where Jay Z has a security guard to protect him where he has the choice to have someone help, where he has the choice to never speak to Solange ever again. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t other options for Janay Palmer nor that there is not hope, but I am highlighting the immense challenges she will face just like other victims of abuse have faced when attempting to change their circumstances (remember the statistics); challenges that Jay Z will never have to even consider. Don’t get me wrong, there are many male victims of domestic abuse who exist in the same kinds of dependent relationships as Janay and who are also limited on options, all I’m saying is that Jay Z is most definitely not one of them.
Now although I have much more to say about Ray Rice I will begin to close with the following story that I believe closely relates to this circumstance. On May 23rd of 2014 Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured thirteen more on a killing spree at UC Santa Barbara. He described the attack as resulting from a desire to punish women for rejecting him. Women and men both died in the shooting, it was a horrible day for the nation and especially fear-inducing for fellow college women like myself. Remember what I said about observing the way those around you perpetuate the problem often through social media when tragedies occur? A Facebook friend of mine posted the following in regards to the shooting: “Not to take away from the Santa Barbara killings or anything but I want to remind everyone that men get killed daily too.” …Are you seeing the similarities? For some reason, it is extremely difficult for people to give female victims the respect and honor they deserve, there is always some unfounded comparison brought up, always questions of their integrity, of their claims, of their suffering rather than an attempt to stop the perpetuations of abuse. And people still wonder why victims cannot escape, run, or fight when confronted. (Actually, this question of integrity and claims is an issue of all minorities in the US, especially black people, but that is for a later post)
To close, in response to the Ray Rice controversy, the White House issued this statement: “Hitting a woman is not what a real man does, and that's true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that's bigger than football - and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it." Well, according to statistics and current constructions of the male gender, hitting women is what a lot of men choose to do, so maybe we should take more steps to redefine what a “real man” is first; or rather, move away from gender and focus on what real humanity can be. But, the White House is right that all of us have a responsibility to stop it and we can all start by educating ourselves, knowing the facts, redefining gender roles, and supporting all victims so that when people say: “Solange Knowles=Ray Rice” we can acknowledge some similarities and then correct them.