There's a new wedding trend that has been emerging the last few years, often referred to as "Trash the Dress". I'm not quit sure what to make of it. A quick google search of the trend yields a few different opinions on how the fad got started, with some consensus that it took off after wedding photographer John Michael Cooper promoted it. Regardless, the trend consists of the bride, and sometimes the groom, meeting with the wedding photographer the day after the wedding to take artsy pictures, usually involving destroying the wedding gown by submerging it in water, mud, or ripping it.
My initial distaste for this new fad is that it reeks of conspicuous consumption. According to Knot.com, the average price for a wedding dress is about $1,100. This expense is for a dress worn once. ONCE! And, now it's becoming popular to just destroy the expensive dress. I concede some of the popularity of this trend is to get more for your buck- brides don't just wear the dress once and put it in a box in the closet, but put it on again the next day to at least get some artsy photographs out of it. Wikipedia echos this rational and offers that couples use it as a pronouncement that the wedding is over and the dress will never be worn again. (Although, aren't couples now paying the wedding photographer more for their time and printing of the photos?) Good Morning America on ABC suggests that "....some brides are celebrating the end of their wedding (and the stress associated with it) by mutilating and trashing their dresses after the ceremony". I have to wonder if maybe a better solution would be to question why the wedding ceremony was so stressful in the first place (planning it alone, pressure to be perfect, consumerist nature, etc.).
Also, this fad screams of Facebook-esq documentation. As if the wedding ceremony were not already objectifing of the bride, now women are pressured to produce artsy photos the day after the wedding as well. Must everything be documented these days? I also wonder how much of this new trend is part of the current social practice of appearing to not be a "bridezilla", showcasing how much you can be NOT into having everything perfect (see my previous post on Bridezilla's here). And, is it just me, or does the thought of spending the day after your wedding with your wedding photographer, rather than romantically with your partner, sound both a little tasteless and vain? In fairness, some brides are taking up Trash the Dress events as a fun thing to do with their new spouse as a celebration of the previous day and as a fun event to do together.
However, some of these photo shoots take a turn from the fun and artsy to the dark and creepy. Who wants a framed photo hanging in their hallway of themselves with dead looking feet sticking out a trunk of a car? What about posing next to bullet holes? This is not "new", "artsy", "interesting" or "original" art; it's simply romanticizing violence against women. Nothing says "I Do" quite like it!
Check out the video below for some "real time" images of a Trash the Dress photo-shoot. And, take a look at this website for more images of Trash the Dress photography and come back here to let me know what you think of this new fad.
I have already written here about Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend and then taking his own life. Much has been reported in the media about trying to make sense of this tragedy; well, everything except calling it domestic violence and providing information about patterns of abuse. One thing that has repeatedly been offered is that Belcher may have been suffering from a brain injury from his time in the NFL. I am extremely hesitant to absolve all notions of wrong-doing based on a biological condition, especially given all we know about men's violence against women in intimate partner relationships. It's extremely unlikely that the murder was a random incident, taking place outside the context of any other issues of power and control within their relationship. However, it would be irresponsible of us to not consider the role that biological conditions may have played in leading up to this tragedy.
This week, another study was published adding weight to the theory that head injuries leads to permanent brain injury (See this NPR blog for an overview). One of the implications, is that people whose brains show the impact of severe or repeated hits to the head can experience mild symptoms like headaches and trouble with attention as well as more severe symptoms such as depression, dementia, and aggression. The study reports that they found evidence of these effects in athletes and military personnel.
While I certainly do not deny the scientific evidence regarding an association between brain injuries and behavior (that sounds common sense to me), I do wonder what it means in terms of implications for our understanding of domestic violence. Generally, domestic violence (DV) activists have explained DV in cultural terms: patriarchy, entitlement, power, exploitation. I've been right there in challenging biological explanations such as bipolar disease or "boys will be boys" to explain away men's responsibility in ending domestic violence (we don't see a lot of women with bipolar disease murdering their male partners in mass numbers).
That said, I do think the implications of this line of research can not be ignored. If we're serious about wanting to end intimate partner violence, and broadly men's violence against women, it's imperative to consider all potential explanations of violence when targeting interventions. If treatment of and more humanly, prevention of, traumatic brain injuries can decrease the amount of violence perpetrated by military personal and athletes, it is definitely not worth clinging to our standpoint of cultural explanations in responding to domestic violence.
And, taking on a slightly philosophical viewpoint momentarily, can we accept that it is both? Can we fully embrace biological and genetic theories in understanding domestic violence AND still attribute issues of patriarchy, power, control, and exploitation to the overwhelming trend of male violence against women? Rigid masculine culture and denigration of women is prominent in the military and professional athletic culture and most definitely needs to be addressed in order to decrease the frequency of intimate partner violence. Addressing biological causes such as traumatic brain injuries, depression, and post traumatic stress syndrome may also provide valuable pathways to mitigating violence. We of course run the risk of this complexity being boiled down to simple messaging and co-option of messaging that could be detrimental to actually addressing the problem (i.e. a return to "boys will be boys"). In the past, it was beneficial to reject biological causes because it seemingly undermined our ability to hold abusers accountable. Yet, I don't think these things have to necessarily be mutually exclusive. In fact, taking a nature and nurture approach to our understanding of the causes of DV, can provide more accountability- to individuals to seek help, to institutions (NFL, military, etc.), to communities, and to governments.
Amended: Reports are coming out documenting Belcher had a history of control issues in his relationships, long before the concussion that the media have speculated may have played a role is his killing of his girlfriend. This fits in line with what we know about domestic violence and what we are learning about their relationship towards the end contain many predictable warning signs of intimate partner violence. See this article for some more information.
Belcher aside, I think it is interesting to take a look at what additional information we could learn from brain injuries. Whether research shows it's simply another risk factor (like the abusive person losing a job, pregnancy, or leaving the relationship) or rather an association independent of the typical abusive relationship would be interesting.
I just read this article titled the "Dark Side of Love in NFL" about Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, while their 3 month old baby was in the next room. While we all attempt to make meaning of murder and tragedy, Dr. Terrill offers yet another explanation to this event, suggesting that the hardships of relationships in the NFL can offer us some insight into this tragedy.
Lots of theories have already been passed around in the media today to make meaning of this murder-suicide: he had a concussion, maybe he was on steroids, he snapped, we're waiting for the toxicology report, the stress of a career and having a newborn, and now, relationships in the NFL are "hard." Yet, none of these explanations seek to understand the likely explanation of what we know about patterns of domestic violence. What if we ask the unspeakable and ponder if it really was about power and control? What does that challenge in us as sports fans, as community members, as a society, that we don't even want to consider the possibility? As this story unfolds, we will likely learn more about their relationship leading up to this murder-suicide (BTW, a plausible outcome to an escalating abusive relationship: One report found that in 29% of domestic violence homicides, the abuser then committed suicide).
While, I found Dr. Terrill's report lacking (as well as most coverage thus far of this tragedy) the initial comments in response to the article were surprisingly heartening, containing many statements of abuser accountability and rejecting her thesis:
"There shouldn't have been a Chiefs game on Saturday. That poor young woman was just murdered in cold blood. Did noone [sic] take that into account in the Cheif's camp? Headlines all day were "Belcher commits suicide" - and in an afterthought, "after killing his girlfriend. I hope you're not raising your children to put sports above goodness, morals, integrity, honor and humanity." Rogie The Geech; Seattle
"Last I checked super heros [sic] don't murder their girlfriends and orphan their children." psychonurse68; Seattle
"The guy was a murderer. You don't see that in headlines. He was a cold blooded murdered." Florence Skaponi; Seattle, Washington
I do wonder if the dismissal of her argument has more to do with the classist tone of the article than the insight into the dynamics of domestic violence:
"Well cry me a multi-million dollar river! Why doesn't this author spend her time telling us why an abnormal percentage of NFL players past and present have criminal records? or histories of substance abuse? or spousal abuse? or socialization problems?" adeuxian1; Elisabethville, WA
"I have to be careful not to pass judgement, however to me, this is a cop out. Many people, myself included have high pressure jobs, travel even more than NFL players, away from our family... All the above. But most of us are not killing our spouses and orphaning children. As sad as the story is, hard to justify what happened. We all face challenges in life. Man up to it" FootLongDawg; Sammamish
Overall, the mainstream media has been quick to obscure the limelight cast on domestic violence and instead continue to report that Belcher was a "great guy", they fixated on whether the team would play a game the next day and if they would win, and offered ill-informed theories about how this might have happened. The media as a whole could take some pointers from this well written article by Jemele Hill situating the fatalities within the context of the larger societal epidemic of intimate partner violence. It's refreshing to read a story by someone who clearly did research before reporting on an event, rather than interviewing shocked and grieving by-standards.