I have been working on my Celebrity and Sports Figures DV paper and I have already run into the complications of semantics when writing about domestic violence. For instance, when explaining my sample of couples, do I say "couples who've experienced domestic violence?" Or, would a better phrase be "couples who've committed domestic violence?" When using the word experience, it seems like I'm implying that the abuse just happened to the couple, like experiencing a car crash or a flood. Yet, committed feels like I'm implying that both partners had equal agency in the act of domestic violence.
Also, I have a challenge of fact and scope. Can I say they are in a domestically violent relationship based on only what I know from news stories? Do I have to say allegedly or reportedly if the criminal charges were dropped? Stating that the couples have been "in the news because of domestic violence" doesn't exactly capture what I'm trying to say. This doesn't even begin to get into the complications ahead of me when I begin having to describe who is primarily surviving versus primarily perpetrating abuse in the relationship. While I do not have my couples identified yet, I can't imagine I will be very far into it when I believe the abuser is the person the news media has identified as the victim. I am certainly going to have to establish clear language use (probably borrowing from the NWNetwork's fantastic framework) distinguishing between criminal language and advocacy language.
Even more, I have a challenge with scope of time. For instance, am I talking about single incidents or an event? Or, when writing about these couples, can I assume what is likely true in that the abuse occurs over the course of their relationship? News reports generally only focus on a specific moment in time and provide little context into the relationship as a whole, let alone examples of emotional abuse.
Oh, semantics......why is it always so complicated to talk about domestic violence?
There have been a number of excellent news articles analyzing the coverage of the Petraeus infidelity scandal:
1. Blame Affairs on the evolution of Sex Roles An excellent article by one of my favorite historians, Stephanie Coontz (well known for her book The Way We Never Were).
2. The Frump Factor and Holly Petraeus A great piece examining how fashion and the portrayal of women's bodies are subtly objectified in the coverage of affairs.
3. In Petraeus sex scandal and others, a double standard A take on the stereotyped roles that the media has cast each of the individuals involved: the seductress, flattered General, cat-fights, etc.
4. The media’s woman blaming A short piece about how women generally get the blame when male politicians are caught being unfaithful.
Many of you have heard the news that Jerramy Stevens, former Seattle Seahawks football player was arrested this week for assaulting his fiance, USA soccer player Hope Solo. When the news broke, the coverage included multiple red flags of a domestic violence incident/relationship: dating for only 2 months before engaged, Stevens was hiding from police when they arrived at the scene (with blood on him), Solo had a cut on her arm, Stevens had a history of encounters with law enforcement (including a prior arrest for sexual assault), Solo was vague about the incident and appeared to be protecting Stevens (very common in domestic violence incidents). To be fair, a couple of things in the story add confusion to what happened: reports that it was a party (DV usually happens when no one else is around), Solo's brother reporting that he used a stun-gun on someone, another woman at the residence who suffered a hip injury, and another man with bruises and scrapes.
Before the end of the week, Stevens and Solo decided to go ahead with their wedding and married shortly after Stevens was released from jail. Immediately victim-blaming headlines emerged such as, "Hope Solo Marries Jerramy Stevens One Day After His Arrest for Assault". The headline squarely puts the responsibility for this decision on Solo, rather as a decision by the couple.
Yet, what I found most interesting was this tweet by one of Solo's friends and soccer teammate, "Happy to witness such an amazing celebration of real love #selflesslove #fewandfarbetween." I've struggled with how to frame this because the last thing I want is to inadvertently participate in victim-blaming. So, with caution, I will attempt to unpack this tweet. My reaction to this tweet was complex in that I was annoyed, thankful, and then irritated again. Let me explain.
First, the annoyed. My first reaction was of annoyance with Solo's friend that she was expressing her unconditional support of Solo and Steven's marriage, despite the many warning signs of toxicity apparent in her friend's relationship. Wouldn't a true friend have an honest conversation with you about how marrying someone right after he gets released from jail for allegedly physically harming you might not be the best idea?
Next, the gratitude. Domestic violence survivors often faced increased isolation from friends and family because of their relationship. If abusers aren't outright attempting to separate their partners from their emotional resources, many friends and family simply walk away in frustration when their loved one continues to stay (or leave and go back) in an unhealthy situation. So, for Solo to have a friend to stand by her, that's a big deal. More survivors would be so lucky.
Is there a way to reconcile these two things? Can you be both honest with your friend about your concerns and stand by them regardless of their decision. What does labeling this relationship "real love", selflesslove" and "fewandfarbetween" mean in terms of honest and supportive friendship? Can you express your reservations without blaming your friend for her choices or do you have to sweep it all under the rug to show your alliance? Can we as a community challenge labeling a marriage right after a physical domestic violence incident "self-less love" and "few and far between" without implying that we blaming Solo for whatever negative things might happen next in her marriage? And, purely speculatively, what were Stevens friends saying to him? Were they in full support? Did they challenge him to seek some expert advice before committing to a lifetime with someone? I'm wondering what an intermediary friendship response might look like, not blaming the victim for the choices she's making, but also not making invisible very real signs that something might not be okay.
And, finally, the irritation. When we label relationships with external signs of domestic abuse "real love", "self-less love" and "few and far between" what kinds of message are we sending to each other? What does this say to same-sex couples who are told they can't get married? There's something wrong in this world when relationships likely involving domestic violence are held up as an ideal when it's entered into by heterosexual couples but that other relationships are seen as deviant and illegal, whether or not they are loving and supportive, simply because of the sex of the two people in involved.
Who wears the pants in the relationship? A metaphor that I, for one, could totally do without. But, no one asked me and this week Eonline and Taylor Swift used this tired metaphor to talk about Swift's dominance as a business woman but her desire to be equal in a relationship: "Taylor Swift may wear the pants in the music industry, but when it comes to relationships, the superstar doesn't like to take control."
While stating equality values is good, I'm not sure why it's a "confession" that she would like an equal in her relationship. It seems to me that most girls and women might say something to that affect these days, even if the reality is less than equal once they are actually partnered.
What seemed more confusing was Taylor's insistence that while she may be all powerful in her business, she certainly doesn't want to transfer that to her relationship. Why not? It's a great thing to not control your partner, but an equal partnership doesn't involve "handing over the reins."
"It's wonderful to hand over the reins to your boyfriend when you control so much of these big, high-pressure decisions, you know? That is a huge defining factor in who you choose to be with."
It is interesting to note that she feels like she has the power to hand something over in the first place. I guess that's a change. But, is it real, or is that an illusion?
And, what is it with the pants? Eonline quoted Taylor as stating, "If I feel too much like I'm wearing the pants, I start to feel uncomfortable and then we break up....relationships are the ultimate collaboration." What does that mean these days, to wear the pants? Rather than outdated metaphors, I'd be much more interested in hearing what Taylor thinks is an equal partnership. That would be a powerful message to send to her young fans. Instead, they're getting the advice that it's okay to be powerful and successful in business, but just make sure you're not too powerful in your relationship.
On the Ellen Degeneres show yesterday, Miley Cyrus chatted with Ellen about her upcoming wedding. While I found her quite personable and actually very well-spoken, her comments regarding her wedding were incredibly complex and intriguing. For those who don't know, Miley's engagement has been much hyped in the media (I think both because of her popularity and also because she is a young 19 years old.).
Interestingly, she started out by distinguishing herself as a bride not obsessed with the details ("Like, I don't care what color the napkins are, to be honest,"). I always think it's interesting when women feel the need to assert themselves as NOT a bridezilla. Jessica Biel was also similarly quoted in describing herself as relatively low-key when talking about marrying Justin Timberlake. I'm curious how this is a reaction to, or in judgement of, the popular television show Bridezilla, now in it's 9th season. However, despite this assertion she seems to contradict herself in her low-keyness later in the interview by stating, "This is the one day that it's what I choose and every detail is things that I love." And, it's hard to blame her for wanting to pay attention to every detail given the enormous pressure brides are under these days to treat the wedding as a statement about their identity, let alone adding the pressure of being a celebrity.
Then, Miley goes on to talk about "that look" as what she's looking forward to during the wedding, "What I'm most excited for, is that look when, you know, who you're marrying, you see, the first time you're seeing the dress and everything that you've planned for months and months, like, coming together, and that you did it together." It is sweet that she's emphasizing planning the wedding together and capturing the moment when you both realize it's actually happening. Talking about jointly planning a wedding is unusual in cultural representations of the engagement process.
Yet, the more she kept talking about it, the more she seemed focused on HER look, and being an object for her fiance's affection. And, she reiterates the cultural obsession of creating a "perfect" day stating, "That's my day", a day for the bride (not necessarily the couple). In fact, she even references that she's focused on "the first moment he sees me in my dress" and that it's a time when "the movie crap, that romance" is actually supposed to be real.
Maybe I'm being too cynical and she's actually trying to express what Jane described in the movie 27 Dresses:
"You know how the bride makes her entrance and everybody turns to look at her? That's when I look at the groom. Cause his face says it all you know? The pure love there."
I still have mixed feelings about the clip. On the one hand, she seems to be demonstrating an awareness and rejection of the images of romantic relationships in movies and culture. She even at times is having to resist the cultural stereotypes being layered on her as wanting a big and over the top wedding. Yet, she subtly repackages much of the same societal messages (Bride's day, about the dress, perfect day) while trying to appear to rebuff the stereotyped image.
What was unequivocally fantastic about the interview however, was the normalization brought to same-sex weddings. Miley not only nonchalantly referenced Ellen's wedding to Portia, but held it up as a standard and ideal. Maybe we have come a long way after all.