Several high profile rape cases in the United States and India have increased our willingness to talk about violence against women. Much of the discussion has involved head scratching and puzzlement. What can we do? Why do men think they can behave this way? Do our laws protect the injured?
Violence against women is a men’s issue. Not in the way the “Every Religion Protects Women” campaign intends. The idea that women need protection by men from other men kicks the can down the road. What happens that afternoon you’re walking home and there is no one to protect you?
The message of this video is that good men come from all religions. This is an important message, given the current rise in Hindu conservatism (think the Christian right in the U.S.) in India.
Yet the idea that women need protecting from evil male intentions is predicated on patriarchy. Only a good man can beat a bad man; not a woman who speaks for herself or reminds men what is permissible in public.
The recent suspension of star Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, has caused a furor both on and off the Internet. Rice was suspended for 2 games before a video was made public by none other than the gossip outlet TMZ. I watched the video. I have skipped over the ISIS beheading ones, not wanting to give an audience to terror. Domestic violence, however is closer to home. After seeing for myself an intimate fight between a husband and wife, I was shocked that the video was still allowed online, and chagrined I had participated in a voyeurism. His wife, Janay Palmer has since spoken to the media, defending her husband and a private moment. There’s much we could say, and has been said, about the abused protecting her abuser. At the very least we have empathy for a wife trying to save her husband’s career.
Ray Rice isn’t the only man in America – or the world for that matter – who could knock his partner out during an argument. Like Rihanna’s infamous fight with Chris Brown, during which he bruised the pop star, the fight is one part of the puzzle. What happens after the fight and our reaction to it are others.
Take for example my friend from high school. In a close knit Indian community she couldn’t come forward about the dangers in her home. When she was persuaded to go to the adults, on more than one occasion she was told that the problem was culture.
Indian men beat Indian women was the message she received from her Caucasian teachers.
“I believe her father is abusing her,” a chemistry teacher said.
No one, even we, her friends, did anything. We pretended that she was like the rest of us.
My friend suffered in silence, partly to save her mother (and the rest of the family, including herself) the humiliation the Rices are undergoing in the international media.
She pretended because that’s what everyone needed her to do. Because blaming culture or overlooking abuse was easier for everyone than confronting the deep sadness and possibility of mental illness that drove her father into a blinding rage.
Easier on everyone except for her.
I’m sad for the Rices but also for the rest of us that we continue to pretend that this type of behavior is rare or surprising. Or that we think shame is the solution.
A great idea I discovered this week: men of various ages and races, in communities around the world, gathering together to “walk a mile in her shoes.” These men are walking to raise awareness (and money) to fight domestic violence as well as sexual assault against women. I love this idea because violence against women affects men AND women. Once we mobilize the good guys, as well as gals, we’re using both sides of the equation.