Friday, July 25, 2014

Chivalry, Feminism, and Ray Rice Beating His Fiancee Unconscious

If you follow sports at all, you know that this week the NFL handed down the punishment for Ray Rice, who was caught on camera dragging his then-fiancee/now-wife's unconscious body out of an elevator after he had beaten her unconscious. The punishment was a suspension of two games. To put this is in perspective, Browns WR Josh Gordon is suspended the entire season for testing positive for marijuana use a second time. To put it really into perspective, the punishment for a first failed test for marijuana is 4 games. Or to put it into sickening perspective, the NFL believes that the recreational use of marijuana is at least twice as bad as beating your wife unconscious.

As a feminist I'm obviously pretty opposed to beating a woman into unconsciousness (though to be fair, as a bleeding-heart hippie I'm opposed to beating anyone into unconsciousness). But I'm also uncomfortable with a lot of the sports world reaction that views this as bad because the victim was a woman. Never hit a woman for any reason I've seen about a million times. If it was "never hit anyone for any reason," I'd be fine with it, but it's not. Instead, so many are denouncing one sexist act with a different (albeit more of an opposite side of the coin type of thing) sexist worldview, one in which women are tiny, delicate flowers unable to fend for themselves and must be protected by big, strong men.

As you can tell from my disdainful tone, I obviously don't buy that line of logic, albeit obviously agreeing with those folks that Rice never should have done this. But it's not because she's a woman, it's for two reasons -- 1) she was his intimate partner, and 2) there's an amazing difference in physical size between the two.

On the first point, while all violence is bad, intimate partner violence is especially pernicious for many reasons. Obviously there are the physical effects, but also the psychological effects of someone you believe to love you and have your best interests at heart treating you in such a manner. And of course, we know this was not an isolated incident. Sure, I don't know either of these people, but I do know about intimate partner violence, as one of my close colleagues is among the leading experts in North America on the subject. And what we've learned from the scientific study of intimate partner violence is that it does not come out of nowhere and is never a single, isolated incident. By the time it gets to the point where you think nothing of beating your partner unconscious, you've already hit them multiple times. So to put Rice's slap on the wrist into even more context, this was the punishment meted out to someone we have every reason to believe (and no reason not to believe) is a repeat abuser.

But the second point is really where I diverge from the "don't hit girls" (these folks almost always use the term "girls" instead of "women," which I think speaks volumes about how they view the situation). And not disagree in the incredibly disgraceful way ESPN commentators have in which they keep raising the issue that maybe she was asking for it. Because some troglodytes defending Rice have suggested that maybe she hit him first, apparently justifying him beating her unconscious. But look at any picture of the two and you'll notice something obvious: Rice, the professional football player, is a big, muscular dude (5'9", 195 lbs, to be exact). His wife, on the other hand, is normal human size. This is why it goes from simple assault to a much more pernicious problem; if his partner was someone who could actually kick his ass, like say Ronda Rousey, and she was punching him, then sure it makes sense for him to defend himself physically. But the sheer size difference between Rice and his partner is what makes it so horrible, the gender doesn't really matter. It would be just as shockingly horrible had Rice beaten a man (or anyone of any gender) that much smaller than him.

tl;dr: It's not horrible just because he hit a woman. It's horrible because he beat his partner who was much physically smaller than him. We can condemn his violence without having to imply (or explicitly state, as many have) that women are incapable of defending themselves and need to be protected by men at all times.

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