Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

Let’s not hit each other, ok?

March 5, 2013

What’s far more troubling than admitting I watched the Vanderpump Rules reunion special yesterday? That the show so quickly glazed over domestic violence. Though in this case, it was female-on-male.

Now, now, now — I’m well aware that 85 percent of domestic violence is perpetrated against women, and oftentimes those violent acts happen in the midst of a relationship. One-third of homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner — that shit isn’t to be taken lightly, and it isn’t to be overshadowed by what I’m about to say.

But, lately I’ve seen a lot of double-standard acceptance of female-on-male violence. In Vanderpump‘s case, Stassi admitted to physically hitting ex-boyfriend Jax during an argument — to the point where she bloodied his nose. If you’ve seen the muscle-bound Jax and the small Stassi, you probably shrugged off her admission as harmless — along with his agreement that he deserved it, a statement far too many women confess sans Jax’s confident, self-assured demeanor.

But I kind of hate that. Self defense aside, I don’t like the public acceptance of this kind of violence. Or maybe I don’t get the public acceptance that a woman isn’t dangerous and can’t inflict actual emotional and physical harm on a man. Or maybe I hate how these interactions trivialize assault and violence — after all, many victims don’t have Jax’s confidence and strength when faced with abuse.

I’ve blogged many a time about male-focused abuse regarding Amber Portwood from Teen Mom and her violent behavior — and yes, once regarding Tool Academy but it’s important to remember. We should label domestic violence as a seriously offensive act, but we can’t be selectively outraged about who the recipient is.

It’s counter productive, even to those who recognize that women are far more disproportionately the victim.

P.S. I still think men should be able to march in Take Back the Night, too.

Manti Te’o’s hoax overshadowing legit deaths of women

January 17, 2013

An important read by one of my favorite writers/bloggers, Irin Carmon, this piece details how the Manti Te’o scandal has overshadowed the death of an actual Notre Dame student — a suicide reportedly tied to intimidation by football players regarding sexual assault allegations.

Media-wise, it’s similar to the recent murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend. Horrific as it was, the way it was spun by many sports outlets was even more horrific — what a terrible tragedy that this football player killed himself, rather than — what a terrible tragedy that this football player murdered his girlfriend and the mother of her child.

And all this Manti Te’o hoopla, mixed with Lance Armstrong nonsense, has likely overshadowed that the autopsy for the Belcher shooting came back a few days ago. His BAC was twice the legal limit, and he had actually been found by police hours earlier sleeping in his idle car. According to Missouri law, they could’ve booked him on driving under the influence. Instead, they let him “go inside a nearby apartment to sleep it off.”

The apartment he wanted to go to was his mistress’s, who he had been with the night before. Instead, he went to a different apartment, slept a few hours, returned home, fought with his girlfriend, and then shot her nine times. Nine.

It’s a terrible disservice to Kasandra Perkins and Lizzy Seeburg that their tragic deaths are overshadowed by a story like this, of an imaginary girlfriend — that they just didn’t have enough shock value to keep people’s attention.

But along the lines of Carmon’s piece — she states “no one should be surprised” by the oversight of Seeburg’s suicide — maybe the saddest part is that these deaths aren’t that shocking considering the circumstances. Football players from a violent game being aggressive and/or violent off the field isn’t much of a stretch. But for some reason, that doesn’t make us any better at predicting the aggressive behavior.

What else can we get better at predicting? Drunk people have poor judgment, so they shouldn’t be let off for drunk driving with just a warning. Offenders will likely offend again, so incidents shouldn’t be quickly dismissed for the sake of a sport. Let’s focus on these cracks in the system — which affect tons of people — instead of one guy’s catfish/ill-fated sob story.

RHOC: The key to winning over someone’s kids

July 16, 2012

There’s an art to stepping into a family — and by that, I mean that dating someone’s parent is dicey. It’s awkward enough when you’re first meeting someone’s family — their parents, their siblings, their relatives — but meeting someone’s kids is a whole different ballgame. And one preconceived notion that I despise, as the child of divorced parents, is that all kids will automatically dislike their parents’ significant others.

I do think it’s easier for people who meet the kids when they’re young — the older that the kids are, the more attached they probably are to the idea of their parents as a solid couple. You don’t want to be seen as the wrench in the relationship, but, on the other hand, young adults can probably perceive problems in their parents’ relationship and wouldn’t necessary jump to blaming the newbie.

Anyway, this is all spawned from watching The Real Housewives of Orange County and seeing Vicki try to urge a relationship between Brooks, her boyfriend, and her children Brianna and Michael. The way that Brianna describes Brooks — pompous, intrusive, condescending, evasive — are all the exact qualities you don’t want to portray. If ever there was a harsh critic, it’s someone’s kids — you don’t get brownie points for impressing them with your worldliness.

Because really, kids are just looking for their parents to date people who are friendly, funny, and genuine. I think this is who everyone wants to see their friends and family date, but adults often don’t realize that kids 1.) don’t seek an authority figure and will immediately reject someone who tries to adopt that role, and 2.) aren’t impressed by arrogance. It’s not a job interview where you need to brag about yourself to win the employer over — it’s more about sitting back, listening, observing, and feeling out when the time is right to add your two cents.

That kind of sounded harsh but… it’s true. In my experience, I’ll respond far better to someone who is just friendly and not abrasive — people who want to belittle me, tell me what to do, or make obvious attempts to assert their dominance in the food chain? Yeah… not interested. This is what Brianna was saying — families already have these set traditions and routines, so the best way to get on the kids’ good sides? Act like any guest — don’t try to take control; don’t try to rewrite the traditions.

There’s definitely some finesse to finding those spots — when to speak up, when to ask questions, when to take a backseat. But Brooks being more concerned with flaunting his wealth and ownership of Vicki than really getting to know Brianna and trying to organically find a place in their family? That’s not going to rub any of her kids the right way. Be sincere and genuinely nice; understand that it’s not your job to replace anyone; and don’t act sketchy. Brooks? He won’t tell anyone his job. You only get one first impression, and trying to avoid talking about how you make money is an instant red flag… even outside the OC.

So should kids be blamed for not being welcoming enough to newbies? Is it the children who are being stubborn because they don’t want their moms/dads replaced? I don’t think so. I think this is the misconception, but that reality shows these newbies have trouble establishing a space in an already existing family unit. And I get that it’s a tough thing to navigate. But I can assure you that treating kids with disrespect, attitude, and self-centeredness isn’t the proper path. Maybe they’re just trying to make a splash, but try wading into the waters instead of attempting the cannonball… and then bellyflopping.

Teen Mom 2: Coal mining, child support, and self-doubt

January 20, 2012

Where to begin this week with Teen Mom — coal mining? Child support? Jenelle’s ability to somehow convince everyone in her life that her often delusional perspective makes total sense? Let’s take these topics on, inverted pyramid-style.

Teen pregnancy, class, and coal mining 

I never thought I’d see the day when two of the topics that really interest me — teen pregnancy and coal mining — would intersect, but this episode made subtle mention of them. Leah briefly mentions that her husband, Corey, is taking a coal mining certification test. Later, Corey makes a quick remark about spending his days working in a coal mine.

Leah and Corey live in Elkview, West Virginia, a city surrounded by coal mines that sit just an hour and a half from Raleigh, West Virginia, where the Upper Big Branch mine disaster killed 29 coal miners in 2010. When mining companies are lax about following — or in some cases blatantly ignore — safety regulations because they want to maximize profit, coal miners are put in extreme danger.

The job already puts coal miners at increased risk for health problems such as black lung, not to mention the higher rates of heart, lung, and kidney disease found in those who live in mining communities.

I wonder how much of Corey’s decision was based on his own socioeconomic standing. The Charleston area’s unemployment rate has steadily been decreasing, dropping from 7.6 percent in June 2011 to 6.4 percent in November 2011, but Corey is also limited in his job search because he has a high school education and needs a full-time, decent-paying job because he has a family to support — and coal mining jobs have an average starting salary of $60,000 per year. That’s quite a luring paycheck for someone with a family and no college education.

With 17.8 percent of West Virginians living below the poverty level — higher than the national average of 14.3 percent — residents are already at a disadvantage class-wise. The percentage of people with a high school diploma is 3 percent below the national average, with the percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree 10.4 percent lower than the national average. Born into this socioeconomic scenario, teens like Corey and Leah would have to work harder than many to move above these statistics. Add two children into the mix, and Corey likely sees coal mining as one of his only options — which is an unfortunate predicament considering how dangerous it is.

It’s this cycle that keeps low-income people in coal mines, putting their health and safety at higher risk than higher income people who can afford a college education that won’t leave them in the coal mines (they’ll have equally or more lucrative career options with less danger to their health and safety). I know Leah gets some type of compensation for the show, so I’d be interested to know how that all works and to hear his motivation for choosing this job.

Jo and child support

This argument is a he-said, she-said battle. Kailyn says that Jo isn’t around when Isaac visits him, and that Jo wants to split Isaac’s expenses right down the middle — something she thinks is unfair given their unequal incomes and the fact that Jo still lives at home with his parents. Jo thinks that Kailyn is trying to get Jo to support her — claiming that she wants to live off him and the government, refusing to get a better job because she wants to work with her boyfriend.

I’m not sure what the arrangement was, but Kailyn isn’t in the wrong to formally ask for child support. They’ve had trouble in the past coming to verbal agreements when it comes to custody and had to go to court for that, and Kailyn seems to be struggling even with nonprofit assistance with her housing. Jo isn’t supporting Kailyn, but providing her with money to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide for Isaac — costs they should be splitting down the middle anyway.

And does anyone else take issue with Jo just devolving to call Kailyn a bitch whenever he isn’t getting his way? She’s a bitch, a piece of shit, etc., always being called these things in front of their son — it just makes me cringe.

Jenelle’s running mouth

As an aside, does anyone else notice that Jenelle speaks so assuredly that everyone around her just nods their head, agreeing that her logic makes sense, when really she is just spouting bullshit? I think I’ve heard her say that she needs to “get established” and “establish herself” about 974 times ever since her episode of 16 and Pregnant, and I still have no idea what it means.

It’s very peculiar, literally watching someone deceive themselves on camera — watching a teenager talk pretty maturely as if she knows everything about the world but then lives as that immature, still-learning young person who only seems like she actually knows what she’s talking about. Having the knowledge — yes, I need to go to school and get a job and stay away from my deadbeat boyfriend — to create a formula for success, but completely not listening to her own advice.

I think I find it fascinating because I have a tendency to try and find assurance in my own decisions by talking to other people, explaining my thought process and the reasons why I did something in an effort to really convince myself — rather than them  — that my decisions were the right ones. I think people especially do this when they know deep down they’re making poor decisions, but they want to display a confident exterior so people won’t question or challenge these poor decisions.

Teen Mom: Maturity = talking about sex, not just having it

December 28, 2011

New Year’s resolution: Start blogging again! It’s not January yet, but I did just watch an episode of Teen Mom 2 that caught my attention. Nothing like getting a head-start on my resolution!

So, this week Kailyn decided to get an IUD, an intrauterine device, which is T-shaped and can stay in the uterus for as long as five years. It works to prevent egg fertilization, and it’s something Kailyn decided to try because she had trouble remembering to take her pill every day. Though she is using protection when having sex with her boyfriend, Jordan, she makes the decision to further prevent any possibility of pregnancy with the Mirena IUD.

What gets me is that Jordan was extremely squeamish when Kailyn told him about the IUD. She admitted beforehand that they never really talk about sex — they just have sex — and her prediction that Jordan would be awkward was right. She wanted to let him know about her decision, and he looked uncomfortable, remarked that it was embarrassing, and later apologized for his awkward reaction.

My theory is that if you’re mature enough to have sex, then you need to be mature enough to talk about it. Talking about sex can be awkward, especially when you haven’t brought up the topic with a partner before. But this lack of communication has a significant affect on the lack of contraceptive use, whether it’s people feeling awkward about mentioning using protection during the act or one partner assuming the other has the birth control covered without any verbal confirmation.

So you have to weigh — is this awkward moment more difficult to deal with than an unplanned pregnancy? And if you’re afraid of what your partner will say, is that a red flag regarding your relationship? If you take contraception seriously but you’re afraid your partner won’t agree to use any, is that really something to compromise about? But all these questions assume a certain outcome — you won’t actually know your partner’s response until you talk about it.

According to one study, kids whose parents talked to them about sex as a teenager were more likely to delay sex and practice safe sex than kids whose parents did not talk to them about sex. And it’s important to start those conversations early, for the air of shame and humiliation to be taken away from sex — because yeah, it’s awkward as a parent to talk to your kid about sex. But if you set the example that talking about sex is taboo, then an unhealthy cycle of silence begins — then young people think it’s unacceptable to talk about sex, and they feel uneasy about voicing concerns and asking questions.

It’s obvious I haven’t blogged in a while, as I’m just being long-winded here for the sake of hearing myself type. Anyway, it was an interesting scene — two adults who have no qualms about having sex with each other, having difficulty actually talking about something they do regularly. This communication problem is something adults of all ages experience, and addressing it begins with removing the stigma about admitting out loud that, yes, you’re having sex and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Teen Mom: Only women wear engagement rings

August 22, 2011

On this week’s episode of Teen Mom,  Catelynn and Tyler discussed how things would be different for them now that Tyler has officially graduated high school and will start college classes while Catelynn continues to finish her high school classes. One of Catelynn’s concerns was the ladies who Tyler might meet at college, and she half-joked but half-seriously suggested that he wear an engagement ring to let them know he was taken. His response? He doesn’t have to wear an engagement ring, but Catelynn does because she’s a woman.

Engagements and weddings are littered with patriarchal undertones, and Catelynn was right to question why Tyler didn’t wear an engagement ring. Catelynn wears a ring around her finger 24/7 that lets any passerby know that someone else has staked his claim, yet Tyler isn’t expected to — and doesn’t see a purpose — in doing the same for Catelynn. She is merely asking for equality, but Tyler shuts her down with the old standby of “that’s just tradition.”

Just because something is tradition, though, doesn’t mean it’s logical or the best way to do something. Is the best way to show a mutual commitment to each other that only the woman wears an engagement ring? Not really, especially when the woman is vocal about not wanting to be the only one in the relationship doing so. But Tyler completely disregarded her arguments anyway, unwilling to entertain them because it’s easier to keep with tradition than break the mold.

And it might be easier to keep with tradition than field questions about why he’s wearing an engagement ring even though he’s a dude, but they plan on getting married — shouldn’t he be most concerned with his partner’s feelings as opposed to society’s feelings? It’s times like these when we really need to think critically about our actions. When your response to a question is, “Because that’s just how it’s done,” then you need to step back and ponder, “But why is it always done this way? Is that motivation something I believe in?”

Though Catelynn’s motivation — so that girls will know you’re engaged and won’t talk to you — doesn’t exactly exemplify trustworthiness, the bigger problem in this argument was that Tyler so quickly aimed to end it with, “You’re a woman, so deal with the inequality.” It’s times like these that couples could and should think critically about a solution or compromise that satisfies them both, rather than rely on a tradition that will leave someone — likely the woman if we’re talking heterosexual relationships — feeling unheard and unfulfilled.

Ideal wedding gift: People keeping their two cents?

July 14, 2011

Facebook engagements, wedding invitations, bridesmaid duties — I’ve reached the age where marriage is common and constant. GOOD associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz’s article “I Wish I Wasn’t Married,” however, looks at marriage from a different perspective — one where she discusses getting married to get her boyfriend insurance and all of the social antics that followed.

One of the things that really struck me was the judgment that Willis Aronowitz received from family, friends, and co-workers when she publicized her marriage on Facebook:

Suddenly, I had become a blank slate for others’ fantasies and judgments, an unwitting recipient of advice, wedding proposal stories and even a source of visible jealousy. Now that my relationship was public and state-sactioned, people felt they could freely weigh in on it.  My world was divided by two reactions: “Amazing, you’re married!” and, “Are you serious?” My New York friends and family were just perplexed, remembering my years-long, non-tragic bouts of singlehood. Other friends were surprised I made the move after my outrage only weeks before at California’s upholding of Prop 8.

Those comments were countered by delighted, almost relieved reactions. My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic “congratulations!” were little epiphanies—they’d finally found a way to relate to me.

Relationships generally bring a lot of unsought advice from third parties (as does being single), but marriage seems to attract even more commentary. Sure some of the response to the author’s marriage can be attributed to a shotgun wedding, but friends showing disappointment that you sold out? Co-workers admitting that you weren’t socially approachable as “girlfriend” but now are as “wife”? People getting jealous? These aren’t specific to shotgun weddings, these permeate all types of nuptial talk.

The selling-out accusation really caught my eye, as marriage is a divisive topic among feminists. As a feminist, your viewpoints will likely either cause criticism from non-feminist-minded family and friends who don’t understand why you don’t want to get married, why you don’t want to take your husband’s last name, why your wedding isn’t going to have [insert traditional but patriarchal element here], etc. — or you’ll hear criticism from feminist-minded family and friends who want to criticize you for getting married, taking your husband’s last name, incorporating [traditional but patriarchal element here] in your wedding, etc.

Part of the problem here is people’s natural tendency to be gossipy and critical. Another part though, as Willis Aronowitz suggests at the end of her article, is the narrow definition that exists for marriage. I believe that you can change the institution from within, change the social expectations and implications of marriage by example, and the same with choosing not to get married. So though I understand the motivation for calling people out, it also just reinforces the traditional, rigid view of marriage and prevents it from evolving (in a social context — laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman obviously are the major legal roadblock to redefining “traditional” marriage).

And this judgmental attitude spans beyond feminists to pretty much everyone — I do not envy people who are engaged or married and constantly fielding unsolicited advice about how their wedding should be, what they’re doing wrong, why they shouldn’t get married, why their potential spouse is a dud, etc. Generally, we should be glad when our family and friends have found happiness and want to share it with us in whatever way is most comfortable for them, but instead we often bludgeon them over the head with our opinion of what would really make them happy and what they should be doing.

The lesson? Before interjecting your two cents, try to respect the people and the relationship you want to criticize, and consider that them doing things differently than you would doesn’t mean they’re doing them wrong. And if there is a ceremony, you can hope the officiant will ask if anyone objects and then you can go to town.

P.S. I hear it only gets worse when it comes to parenting.

Attention cheating men: Nature didn’t cause your infidelity

June 28, 2011

I feel so bad for men and their instinctual inability not to cheat on their significant others:

When a girl is literally unzipping your pants, men can’t say no. We’re not built that way.

This is a quote from a recent article in Marie Claire about bachelor parties and what really happens at them. The man quoted above used this line as an excuse for why it was OK for him to cheat on his wife at a bachelor party — because when a woman propositions to hook up, a man’s unstoppable instinct is to oblige. In fact, Dilbert creator Scott Adams recently went so far as to group “tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive” as examples of bad behavior that really are “natural instincts of men [that] are shameful and criminal” according to society.

This is a tired and untrue claim made by men who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions — that their sexual desires and urges are so powerful that if a woman is naked in front of them, they are helpless to overcome their instinct to get laid. What this really speaks to isn’t a natural instinct, but a lack of willpower, self-control, and forethought. If a woman comes on to you and you are in a relationship where hooking up with other people is considered cheating, then you have the agency to decline, push her away, walk away, etc. If you literally can’t fight these temptations and they overwhelm your life, you likely need to seek professional help for a sex addiction.

Hugo Schwyzer at the Good Men Project says that this type of bachelor party behavior isn’t natural male instinct, but a social response from peers to prove one’s masculinity and maintain male camaraderie by hooking up with women:

What’s curiously absent in the Marie Claire article (and in the research on male homosociality and heterosexual behavior) is lust. Most of us were raised to believe that young men are in a state of near-constant arousal, with sex first and foremost on their minds. The reality […] is that orgasm is secondary in importance to homosocial validation.

I’ve seen this kind of male peer pressure countless times — the most recent, documented example is from The Real World when Leroy harasses Dustin to kiss Cooke. Dustin seemed to relent only because of Leroy’s goading, and I’m sure proving his heterosexuality to male roommates after his gay-porn-star past was revealed also factored into that decision. But what he lost in making his on-and-off roommate girlfriend Heather mad, he gained in respect and validation from Leroy.

The mantra that men can’t fight their sexual temptations (see also this video which begs women to dress modestly because men can’t fight their lustful and sinful temptations) ignores that people come equipped with reason and logic. And I know that many men don’t employ the sex-crazed mantra, and many men wouldn’t encourage their buddies at bachelor parties to cheat on their significant others, but this excuse is thrown around so much in regard to sexual behavior generally that it’s unsettling. And it becomes most unsettling when used as Adams does, to excuse rape as a natural male instinct because men can’t control their sexual urges.

Or as Dan Rottenberg wants to excuse rape, as the quintessential “drama” that men — the “human animal” — naturally crave:

Conquering an unwilling sex partner is about as much drama as a man can find without shooting a gun— and, of course, guns haven’t disappeared either.

This is an example of rape apologism that I haven’t heard before — that forcing a woman against her will to have sex with you is a real thrill that men naturally seek — but follows the same rhetoric of excusing behavior because it’s deemed natural for men to do. Considering that we’re a species that prides itself on its intelligence, it’s merely a matter of convenience to revert to the “it’s just uncontrollable instinct” defense to escape accountability for “bad” behavior.

So instead of, “We’re not built to stay faithful to our significant others,” maybe cheating men should try being more honest with themselves. Some possible truths include, “I’m not really committed to my current partner,” “I’m caving to peer pressure,” or “I’m a douchebag who simply hopes to cheat on his partner, lie about it, and get away with it just because I can.”

Sexual histories: Is it lying if you don’t talk about them?

June 16, 2011

Unless you haven’t dated or ever been physical with anyone before, you undoubtedly enter new relationships with a history. Past flings, past relationships, past experiences — everyone’s history is different, from the number of people in your relation Rolodex to the extent of your relationships with those past people. But if you don’t share this history with your partner(s), are you lying to them?

That was the claim made on the reunion special of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Here’s the rundown: Alexis and Jim have been married for seven years, and Alexis and Peggy have been friends for four years. About 15 or so years ago, Jim and Peggy “hung out” (Peggy’s euphemism) but then decided they’d be better off as friends. When Peggy asked Jim if Alexis knew about their past, he said Alexis didn’t know and “would never know.” A few months ago, Alexis found out about Jim and Peggy’s fling.

The other housewives said they thought Jim had lied to Alexis, and Tamra was insistent that this constituted Jim keeping secrets from her. But Alexis said they agreed at the beginning of their relationship not to discuss their histories. They were starting a new chapter together, and they weren’t interested in the previous ones.

Rarely do I agree with anything Alexis says, but in this case, she’s right. It’s important for partners to create those boundaries when it comes to discussing their past relations, so that both parties are clear about what they do and don’t want to know. There is value to knowing — and it’s essential to ask about — whether that person is free of sexually transmitted infections in every case; the value of knowing how many partners someone has had and the explicit details of what they’ve done is on a case-by-case basis, depending on the person receiving the info.

So Jim and Alexis decide and agree that they don’t want to know about each other’s past. When Jim doesn’t tell Alexis about his fling with Peggy, that isn’t lying or keeping secrets — it’s simply keeping to the agreement because Alexis doesn’t want to know about Jim’s past. I also agree with Alexis that if Peggy thought it was important to tell, Peggy should’ve mentioned it to Alexis — Jim has no obligation to disclose that information because of the no-info-sharing agreement, but Peggy isn’t under any such contractual constraints.

Sharing info can be a slippery slope. My boyfriend and I have discussed, in relation to Real World‘s Dustin not telling Heather about his porn star past, how the line is blurry when it comes to what you have an obligation to tell your partner. Questions like, “Have you been tested for STIs?” or “How many sexual partners have you had?” or “How many long-term relationships have you had?” are easy to think of and might even come up in casual conversation. “Have you ever done gay porn?” probably isn’t.

But here, the line was drawn firmly in the sand — they don’t want to know anything, so Jim isn’t a liar. This would be much more complicated if there was no agreement in place — should Jim warn Alexis about his fling with Peggy? Is it up to Alexis to ask Jim if he’s slept with every new woman they meet? Is he a liar for not disclosing at all, even if she never asks? “Liar” isn’t accurate unless he denies a fling with Peggy, but withholding information you think your partner should or would want to know is deceptive — not to mention it puts that person in the sucky everyone-knows-about-this-but-you position.

(On a sidenote, hearing Peggy’s side of the story and how determined Jim sounded not to let Alexis find out makes me curious whether they actually did have such an agreement and/or whether he had lied about it to Alexis in the past.)

RHOC: Domestic abuse, unhappy marriages, excessive cattiness

June 1, 2011

While catching up on Real Housewives of Orange County today, I couldn’t help but notice some interesting themes: victim-blaming concerning domestic abuse, independent women and the institution of marriage, and also some of the women’s comments that make me concerned for humanity in general (I’m looking at you, Gretchen and Alexis).

1. I didn’t see any abuse, so you must be lying

Oh Jeana Keough, I loved you on this show when you were a regular cast member. You seemed down to earth, said funny things, and didn’t fit the typical blond-haired, plastic-surgery-filled mold that many cast members do. But your friendship with Tamra’s ex-husband Simon has shown a new side to you, a side that is all too common when it comes to allegations of domestic abuse: X is my friend, and I haven’t seen him act abusive toward you, so I think you’re lying.

This sentiment rings far too often when it comes to allegations of abuse. Admittedly I started watching halfway into Jeana’s sit-down talk with Tamra so I didn’t see the entire conversation, but they were discussing Tamra’s calling the police and Simon being arrested on a domestic violence charge last September. According to Radar Online, Tamra and Simon shared custody of their dog, and Simon was at the house they shared and when Tamra arrived home, Simon threw a retractable dog leash at her head.

Tamra described it to Jeana a little differently and implied that Simon was in her house, not their house, so the details there are a little hazy (maybe they were better explained in the minutes before I tuned in). But Jeana’s defense of Simon’s actions included the following:

  • Jeana said she hung out with Simon and Tamra a lot when they were married and it didn’t seem like an abusive relationship, so she doubted Simon was actually abusive;
  • Jeana doubted that Tamra actually felt threatened by Simon being in her house;
  • Jeana implied that because Tamra waited until after Simon left to call the police, this somehow makes her story less plausible;
  • Jeana noted that people often throw things to a person and the object isn’t caught, so it’s likely that he simply was tossing the dog leash to her and she didn’t catch it; and
  • Jeana thinks Tamra’s calling the police is a calculated attempt to ruin Simon’s life.

Let me address these things in order. Firstly, not seeing someone physically abuse their partner is not concrete evidence that abuse doesn’t happen. It’s difficult to consider that your friends might have sides to themselves that they don’t show to you, but you can’t assume an accuser is lying simply because you personally didn’t see abuse happen. Abusers — like most criminals — aren’t usually interested in committing their crimes in front of an audience of friends and witnesses.

So when Jeana says she didn’t see it so it didn’t happen, or Bernard-Henri Levy says Dominique Strauss-Kahn is his friend and he doesn’t seem like a rapist, those bits of anecdotal evidence don’t really prove anything except that their respective friends weren’t abusive to them or in front of them. One in four women — 25 percent of women —
experiences domestic violence in her life; I wonder how many of these women’s abusers’ seemed perfectly fine to their friends?

Secondly, Jeana’s idea of abuse follows a stereotypical — and inaccurate — portrayal of how “real abuse” looks. Because Simon didn’t leave a physical mark on her, Jeana assumes that he wasn’t a threat to Tamra. But it’s up to Tamra to determine whether she feels threatened, not Jeana. And does it make more sense to call the police before abuse escalates to the point of serious violent behavior or after? In a perfect scenario, you call the police when a crime happens — when you’re faced with a person who you feel threatened by, you might feel safer waiting (if the person is leaving) so that the phone call doesn’t provoke more violence.

And the most problematic excuse of all? That calling the police can ruin someone’s life. This mentality is one reason a lot of domestic violence goes unreported — you have feelings for the person who is abusive, you care for them, and you don’t want to give them or add to a criminal record. These are often women’s husbands, people they are legally tied to, committed to, living with, the fathers of their children, and having them hauled off in handcuffs and a police car is seen as a very last resort because of these close relationships. Finally calling the cops? That could ruin someone’s life; but then again, so could constant abuse.

Jeana’s defense really pissed me off, because she threw around the classic arguments that merely blame the victims of domestic violence for the abuse they endure. You should’ve called the police sooner, you shouldn’t have acted like everything was fine, XYZ action really isn’t abuse, you’re just trying to tarnish his reputation or ruin his life — all statements commonly thrown at women who accuse men of domestic abuse, and all statements that don’t at all consider the complexity and the danger that comes with abuse.

2. All you women who independent 

Vicki is this show’s independent woman — she is the breadwinner of the family, she works long hours and prides herself on building her own business from the ground up, and she doesn’t rely on her husband Donn for anything. But this independent exterior broke into pieces as she confessed to Tamra that she was convinced she should stay in a loveless, passionless marriage with Donn.

“I believe in my commitment to him as a wife,” Vicki told Tamra. It is a bit surprising that she holds traditional values inside the home when it comes to gender roles, considering how outside the home she doesn’t follow these gender roles. She believes in the institution of marriage (though she has been married once before), and she believes as a woman that she should honor the commitment she made to Donn under any and all circumstances.

She goes so far as to acknowledge to Tamra that continuing her marriage would be out of obligation and not desire. “I can exist in this,” she tells Tamra. “If I have to, I will.” This is what I find so remarkable about the idea of marriage as an institution, and the disdain many people have toward divorce. Everyone gets married with the intent to stay together forever, but the reality is that people change and become incompatible. Or the marriage becomes unhealthy. Or both parties are just miserable. Should people be forced to stay legally bound to each other to satisfy some social institution’s expectations?

Personally, I think not. Divorce is very sad and shouldn’t be taken lightly (I don’t think marriage should be taken lightly, either), but people shouldn’t stay in unhealthy marriages simply because they feel obligated by the pressures of society. Vicki feels that her obligation as a wife is to stay committed to Donn even when they are both unhappy, don’t communicate, and don’t even hug each other. Vicki’s views on marriage are also based on her faith, and I can’t really speak to the religious background of how extensively the Bible promotes marriage and/or condemns divorce.

3. Things people say that make me bang my head against my desk 

Gretchen is sometimes annoying, but she really took the cake when she insisted that Vicki’s absence at Alexis’s fashion show was rude. Oh, by the way, Vicki was being rushed to the hospital because she was hemorrhaging out of somewhere in her body (Tamra implied it was her ass?) and bleeding internally, but Gretchen thought it was “ironic” that Vicki was hospitalized at the exact time of Alexis’s photo shoot.

First of all, “ironic” doesn’t mean “suspiciously coincidental” or “weird” so stop repeatedly saying it’s “ironic” because it’s not. Secondly, shit happens. Thirdly, as someone who does start drama at events that are going peacefully, Gretchen should not be making accusations that Vicki and Tamra are always trying to rain on everybody’s parade. Who’s first inclination when someone is claiming they are hemorrhaging is to think that’s just an elaborate excuse??

Fourthly, Alexis, why on earth are you more concerned with how “rude” it is for someone to keep leaving their seat at your faux fashion show to check on a friend who is in the hospital than that person actually being OK? You are promoting a fashion line that isn’t even out yet and is already being criticized by your guests, and Vicki is potentially bleeding to death. If she wanted to skip your event, I think she would’ve just skipped it instead of claiming she was on the operating table. Gretchen and Alexis: currently making me question humanity.