We live in a society that doesn’t just cultivate misogyny and sexism, we reward it. We find it entertaining. So no one should be surprised when a man beats his fiancée and he isn’t swiftly and harshly punished.
I was driving my partner to the train station when I first heard the news about the newly released video of Ray Rice. The show “Ebro in the Morning” was playing in my car on Hot 97, a hip-hop station based in New York. It took only a few minutes for me to get angry. Really angry.
The commentary from the show’s host (and VH1’s newest reality star), Ebro Darden, went as expected. While admitting that Rice’s brutal attack on his fiancée was wrong, Darden couldn’t help but point out that his fiancée had decided to stay with him despite the attack. He said it wasn’t really his place to judge a man who beat his fiancée so badly that she lost consciousness and left her mostly uncovered on the cold ground. Darden said that people’s relationships are all different. That women hit men all the time. And, of course, that he was shocked.
Because he hadn’t been at all appalled by the video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator and dropping her face-down on the floor?
I don’t know how he didn’t exhaust himself while uttering those same tired lines. Since hip-hop has long been an unapologetic safe haven for misogyny and violence toward women, there will probably be no fall-out for Darden’s remarks.
And, likewise, since football—and sports in general—has shown less tolerance for violence against dogs than attacks on women, I shouldn’t be surprised that there had been no major consequence for Rice’s actions until yesterday.
Just look around. The much-adored Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a rapist who attacked women with the help of his teammates. Kobe Bryant had the blood of his alleged rape victim on his T-shirt, and we talk about him like he’s a national icon. Former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito threatened to rape his teammate’s sister. As a joke. Two years ago, an NFL player killed his girlfriend and mother of their 2-month-old infant, before killing himself. And high-schoolers in Steubenville are learning that even a criminal conviction for sexual assault can’t keep a star football player out of uniform.
I’m sick of people acting surprised about violence toward women.
We live in a society that doesn’t just cultivate misogyny and sexism, we reward it. We commend it. We find it entertaining and manly. We marvel at Rice’s clear physical prowess even as we feel compelled to shake our heads at his violent act. Because being a man is about power, dominance, and brute strength. One of the most cherished pastimes in American sports is entirely devoted to putting scantily clad women and girls literally in the margins of a man’s game as a source of entertainment.
That’s our society.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to suspend Rice for only two games after the assault, he knew what he was doing. When ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said that women shouldn’t provoke men when discussing Rice, he meant what he was saying. So do all of those people who argue the solution for military sexual assaults is to remove women from combat.
And this applies to everyone else whose first response is to defend a man whenever there’s an accusation of rape or intimate partner violence. On a small-talk, PTA-meeting, grabbing coffee with a friend, and chatting at the park level of mundanity, people are willfully defending and upholding a system that condones violence against women.
These cycles of violence and feigned surprise are an almost self-satirizing facet of our everyday lives. We have built a society so sick that we have to make it a special point to tell boys that rape is not an appropriate response to dealing with a girl who has lost consciousness. It’s a lesson that even a high-profile music star has recently shown to not have learned.
The question is not why men like Rice hurt their partners, but what we’re doing to stop it. Rice graduated from the school where I teach. I will carry this knowledge into the classroom I enter today. Everything in our society has to be rethought when it comes to stopping violence against women and girls. There are plenty of ways to make it happen. But the first step has to be that we all stop pretending to be shocked, and start admitting that we’re all a part of the reason this keeps happening.
Khadijah Costley White is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.