Ray Rice and the Culture of Abuse

Lots of folks have weighed in on how the NFL has responded to Ray Rice’s elevator K-O of his then-fiancee, now wife. At the end of the day, I don’t care all that much about how the NFL responds. I mean, I’d like them to be consistent (if Michael Vick gets banned for dog fighting then they’ve set a precedent regarding morality, so they probably should also ban abusers of women and children), but on the other hand, this had nothing to do with football and his job. There are abusers all over the United States who go to work every day and then go home and beat their wives and children. They don’t usually lose their jobs for it. Sometimes they’re family court judges and they still don’t lose their jobs for it. I’m only mildly conceded with how the NFL responds.

No, the thing that disturbs me most is that the woman Ray Rice beat to unconsciousness in an elevator was his fiancee. And now she’s his wife. She married him ANYWAY. That disturbs me. That disturbs me A LOT.

Please don’t think I’m blaming Ray Rice’s wife here in any way. I’m not. She is the victim in this – in every way. Even in marrying her abuser – she is the victim. But this culture that we’ve created, the culture that teaches women that this is somehow normal – that there is anything at all acceptable about a man who does this – this has to stop.

You should know this about me. I’ve had many foster children in and out of my house, and some of them have been abused. At least one of those children is now living with an abusive boyfriend in another state. She had a childhood full of abuse, and this seemed normal to her. When I explained that my husband and I loved each other and that he never not even once hit me, she just looked at me blankly. It didn’t register. This man loved her, she assured me.

When abuse is normalized – in ad campaigns, on t.v., in movies, when abuse is tolerated by the criminal justice system, when police ask women what they did to provoke the men, then women start to believe that this is really how it’s supposed to be. We hear Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man” and instead of thinking critically, instead of saying “that song is horrible – what the hell!” we start to think, “Oh, that’s just so true! What a great song!”  But it isn’t! It’s a terrible song!

“Stand By Your Man” came out in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978, Gloria Gaynor released “I Will Survive” an empowering women’s anthem that tells the man exactly where he can go. Both songs still get played, but which one are we living?

Abuse isn’t something that’s only perpetrated by men against women, but it’s mostly men against women. We need to stop normalizing this behavior. We need to stop pretending that it’s normal for men to beat people up.

When I had  a problem with a former boyfriend (that is, when he came over, uninvited to my apartment, proceeded to trash my apartment, and then after hitting me, forced his way back into my apartment and hit me again) and I called the police, the police officer who came to my apartment asked me what I’d done to provoke him. I recognize that I’m a lot more…assertive…than many people. I asked him for his badge number. But many other people – men and women – would not have done that. He was telling me that I was wrong. He was telling me that I deserved to be hit.

We need to stop telling women that they deserve to be hit. Women don’t deserve to be hit. Ray Rice’s wife didn’t deserve to be hit. I don’t care if she’d just told him she’d been sleeping with his best friend and emptied his bank account. She didn’t deserve to be hit. And if we didn’t have a culture that normalized the behavior, perhaps she would believe it as well. If we had a culture in which everyone would look upon that act with horror and revulsion, then Ray Rice would be in prison and his wife would now be his ex-fiancee.

This isn’t her fault. This is his fault. And the fault of a society that thinks men can do what they want and women ought to know their place. Well, I’m taking my place. I’m taking my place on this soapbox. I’m speaking for the women who don’t know how worthwhile they are. I’m speaking for the women who think no one is listening. We need to be listening. We need to end the cycle. We need to normalize a different kind of behavior. The kind of behavior where we don’t hit each other – with fists or with words.

Oh, and did I mention the children? Because so many of the men who beat women were abused as children. The NFL doesn’t have a great record there, either. We can end the cycle of abuse, but we have to speak up.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

For a more eloquent statement on why some abused women stay with their abusers, read what this abused spouse has to say: http://www.thefrisky.com/2014-09-09/why-i-married-my-abuser/


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