Thursday, September 11, 2014

Real Men Don't Hit Women... What About Real Women?

How massive is the rock you live under if you have not been keeping up with the situation with Ray Rice assaulting his then fiance Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator? It is the video seen around the world, with repercussions reverberating throughout the Rice household and clear into the NFL and the general public. Facebook posts, tweets, Youtube videos, network and cable news, and Internet comment sections have been overwhelmingly critical and have condemned Ray Rice's behavior, as well as that of the NFL for their paltry initial two game suspension. He has since been suspended indefinitely with the emergence of this new video footage, and now there is an investigation into whether or not NFL commish Roger Goodell had the goods the whole time.

But I don't give a shit about any of that because it's not my life and none of my business. I sincerely hope that if his wife is in trouble and he has a problem keeping his temper in check, she gets out safely as spousal abuse is seldom a one time deal. 

No, what I want to focus on is the narrative that has been consistent with the backlash regarding the Ray Rice debacle and the spotlight that it has cast on issues of domestic violence, which is a good damn thing. There are far too many individuals suffering in silence as they are viciously attacked and demeaned until they are reduced to former shells of themselves, all by people who claim to love them. Over the past few days, I've read comments on websites and forums -- namely because if you want various opinions, you read the comments from everyday people -- which have varied from individuals giving their accounts of surviving domestic violence to garden variety trolls saying that black people are violent animals (never get sick of those). But a lot of the comments have had a similar line in them, which up until now, has never bothered me:

*Real men don't hit women*

I would always hear this growing up, and I thought to myself, "Yes, this is something that makes perfect sense. We are stronger and we are supposed to be protectors." But now, approaching 30, this is a message that still resonates in my head because it is one that I agree with: Men don't hit women; they don't hit men, either. They keep their hands to themselves, only whipping those bad boys out to defend themselves or their loved ones if attacked first. However, there's one thing that's starting to bother me: What about the women?

The reason I ponder that complex but simply put question is because the narrative for hitting has for the most part has always been one sided: As a man, you don't hit a woman, end of discussion. And yet, there were never discussions of "As a woman, you don't hit a man" with my sister or any other female around me for that matter. In fact, most of the girls I used to hear around school and the women I would listen to in the store would brag about beating up their man because they thought he was cheating or just because they were mad. But no one told them that their actions were bad; in fact, in some instances, their behavior is celebrated. She can slap someone if they make her mad. She can chase a guy with a bat if he cheats on her. If he calls her a "bitch" or a "c*nt", she can punch him square in his face and break his nose if she wanted, and still feel justified in doing so (at least some of the women I know feel that way). 

We've already seen instance of the double standard with domestic violence. We see a man being physically violent with a woman, it is cause for concern and many of us, including myself, would get involved. However -- and I am guilty of this as well -- if we see the same level of aggression but with the genders reversed, we'd be more reluctant to help; some would even ask what the guy did. What the guy did.Would we care what the woman did in that situation? So why then would it matter with a guy? Could you imagine what would happen if there were #WhatJanaySaidToRayRice hashtags trending? And yet, when you see incidents of females assaulting men, the reactions go from wondering what he did to warrant such an attack to making jokes about it. 

Of course, the answer to that is, "Men are stronger than women. Women cannot do as much damage as men can." On the surface, this is absolutely correct, but 1.) Not all women are docile or light-handed and can seriously pack a punch (Ronda Rousey, much?), and 2.) Being smaller than someone and not doing much damage still does not give someone the right to put their hands on another person; in fact, you'd think being at such a disadvantage would be a deterrent. I don't advocate for men hitting women in any sense of the word, but Whoopi Goldberg summed it up perfectly: If you put your hands on somebody, don't be surprised if they hit you back, man or woman. Whether it's right or wrong is relative; the fact remains, I don't go around hitting people -- and I say people because the narrative doesn't change because there is a different gender involved -- and I expect the rest of the civilized public to respect the boundaries of others, men and women. No woman should ever be assaulted, and no woman should ever assault anyone.

Another is, "Women are the main victims of domestic violence. Men getting beaten by women is a such a small margin, it's not even worth noting." Even though the stats don't lie, it's dismissals like that that start pissing me off, namely because as an atheist, gay, and black man, I am a minority within multiple minorities. Never mind the fact that men are less likely than women to report incidents of domestic violence; even if it were only 5 men or 5 million men, it is still something that needs to be addressed and taken just as seriously as it is when there is a female victim; in fact, they are often ridiculed. Do we sweep our transgender brothers and sisters under the rug because of their small numbers? Yes... yes, we do. And that's a problem that we are now addressing in society, so why not this one? 

Finally, I hear, "He can hold/restrain her. He can walk away from the altercation." Don't get me wrong: I agree wholeheartedly with that. If someone is being aggressive, why stand there and take if you don't have to? Get the hell out of there and don't look back. I have a tiny bit of a problem with this line of rationale, though: is that all? Seriously, is that the only thing that should be addressed here? Whenever the opposite sex acts irrationally, the only line of direction I seem to hear is that it is then on the other person to be rational, while no words are delivered to the other person to carry themselves in a calm manner. We are human beings that should be held to the same standard. If you're going to make the argument that a woman attacking a man is like a child attacking a parent, then you're pretty much conceding that your behavior is on par with a toddler... is that the analogy that really suits your point?

There's a real chance I will come off sounding like I'm defending men hitting on women, but I can't stress enough that there is no excuse for domestic violence, and men like Ray Rice need real consequences for their actions, not slaps on the wrists and shows on FX (ahem, Charlie Sheen). While I don't agree with an indefinite suspension over this matter, I'm not losing sleep over it or the fact that Rice may never play again. I do think that we need to open the dialogue and not just limit the conversation to one person's perspective, and accuse someone who has the opinion that I have of condoning domestic violence. Believe it or not, I can actually support equal rights for both sexes while also demanding women be held to the same standard that men are; is that not the very essence of gender equality? There is no reason that anyone should feel the need to resolve a situation with their fists, hands, feet, or any weapons, and as far as I'm concerned, that is a weak person. On the flip side, though, there needs to be some consistency here. We cannot hold a standard for men that can easily be held for women as well. So, if real men don't put their hands on women, then real women don't put their hands on men. We all -- in our realness --need to keep our hands to ourselves.

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