Posts Tagged ‘intimate partner violence’

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.

RHOBH: I’d often say, ‘Just hit me so we can get this over with.’

January 31, 2012

Reality TV shows are often nothing but a cesspool of one or all of the following: cat-fighting, bickering, hooking up, and has-been celebrities (or celebrities who have never made it above the C-list). The reputation that these shows have — that it’s just mindless entertainment — is something I’ve often disputed, especially when it comes to shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and the Real Housewives series. I think this is especially true in tonight’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion special (part one), during which Taylor Armstrong’s abusive relationship with her late husband Russell was discussed in pretty candid detail.

Yes, these vivid descriptions of emotional and physical abuse — coupled with the psychological trauma they cause — were sandwiched between arguments about Lisa calling Adrienne’s dog “Crackpot” instead of “Jackpot,” and debates about who sells stories to tabloids. But what Taylor shared with the world provides an honest look at domestic violence that people need to know about — it’s not as simple as Russell yelling at her or hitting her, and then her leaving. It’s a continuous cycle that is complicated; that pushes people away; that leaves people feeling empty and lost.

“I would often say, ‘Just hit me so we can get this over with,'” Taylor told host Andy Cohen, concerning Russell’s abuse. She explained that it gets to be routine, that it becomes easier not to fight the inevitable rather than make things worse. That she was at such a loss for how to stop the domestic violence, she invited cameras from BravoTV into her home in hopes that their watchful gaze would reduce Russell’s violent behavior. Adrienne commented that she thinks the cameras saved Taylor’s life — I agree.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one-third of female homicide victims were killed by their partner. In 70 to 80 percent of intimate partner homicide cases, the man had a history of abusing the woman. There are 16,800 domestic partner homicides each year — a number higher than the death rate of HIV, emphysema, or gun-related assaults that ended in death. Russell’s rage was so uncontrollable that, according to Taylor’s new memoir, he once told her that he was afraid he was going to kill her.

In the end, the cameras did put pressure on Russell to shape up, as he lamented Bravo’s painting him as a villain during the show’s first season. He blamed the show for slanderously ruining his life, career, and marriage, but more than anything I think he really blamed the show for putting a spotlight on his abusive ways and for publicizing his abusive actions — something he most certainly wanted to keep private.

Her plan was an interesting twist that showcased both her privilege and vulnerability — few women could end abuse by inviting cameras from a reality show inside their homes, yet her struggle was similar to any woman of any class who is dealing with domestic violence — she was trapped in a state of financial insecurity, destroyed self-confidence, and constant fear.

“Some days I still wake up and think, ‘Am I supposed to be doing this, am I supposed to be doing that?’ because I’m used to someone being there and telling me what I can and can’t do … I’m able to make my own decisions now and it’s hard,” Taylor told Andy. Camille chimed in, citing ex-husband Kelsey Grammar’s emotional abuse and controlling nature, and the complexity of this violence really reared its ugly head. You try to please that person, but nothing is good enough, and eventually your own self-image is tarnished by this abuser ingraining his own ideas in your head — that you’re dumb, worthless, and constantly disappointing.

And even more confusing to the ladies was Taylor’s insistence that, after sharing with them details of Russell’s abuse, they come to be friends with him. “I was very confused by it because one moment she’s telling this story that’s horrific to hear … but on the other end she wants us to like him,” Camille said. Lisa described one of the texts she saw from Russell to Taylor, in which Lisa said that “[Russell] called her an f-ing whore to start off with, he called her a piece of shit.”

It’s a tough road to walk — in trying to piece together her marriage, Taylor really couldn’t undo the months and maybe years of confiding she had done, telling her friends about Russell’s violence. She might’ve thought things would be better if Russell felt more welcome around her friends, that maybe even being around her friends more and at more social events could help reduce the violence — no one knows but Taylor. Some of the women took this as evidence of Taylor’s dishonesty, but really it speaks to her really hoping that starting from scratch would provide a different outcome — that her friends and Russell getting along would ease tension and change the abuse. But it was merely trying to put a band-aid in the wrong place, not an attempt to deceive her friends. Perhaps in convincing her friends it wasn’t that bad, she was hoping to suppress the abuse in her own mind, too.

Something Taylor said at the beginning of the episode was very telling: Russell was extremely narcissistic, often telling Taylor how much everyone loved him. This self-importance and ego perhaps drove him to react violently when questioned, to demand control over every aspect of Taylor’s life, to think that Bravo was the reason that his life was tumbling down — not able to see the wrong in his own actions or take any responsibility for them. When it comes to dating, this extreme narcissism is a definite red flag.

And so I’ve been writing about domestic violence for paragraphs and paragraphs, and I know it might not be as scintillating as the gossip about Adrienne’s chef, Bernie, dissing Lisa. But it’s important that this show, the epitome of glitz and glamour, not shy away from these real life problems that people of all classes face. What am amazing, public platform for raising awareness about domestic violence — its complexity, its heartache, its tragedy.

I don’t care if people are attracted by the drama of it all — I just hope they leave the reunion special with more education on the topic. Yes, it’s ridiculous that one of the housewives’ friends owns a pair of $25,000 sunglasses — but it’s also ridiculous that so many women are assaulted and murdered each year by their partners. And I’m glad this realty show is at least introducing this conversation into the world.

Rihanna is more than a dating violence victim

July 14, 2011

On Twitter, Love Is Respect linked to this Huffington Post piece about Rihanna being a poster woman for domestic violence — the question alongside the link was, “This editorial puts a lot of pressure on Rihanna—how do you feel about it?” Well, here goes nothin’.

I think that expecting someone who goes through trauma to become a spokesperson for that cause is too much pressure. Does Rihanna being a celebrity mean that, if she chose to do public service announcements about dating violence, a wider audience would pay attention and become aware? Of course. Does her celebrity mean that her path to dealing with trauma should be public and/or dictated by the public? Absolutely not.

The article is a response to her latest video for “Man Down.” In the video, a man sexually assaults her and she later kills him. Someone suggested that Rihanna should do a PSA for the end of the video because the video itself sends the wrong message about dealing with assault. Though I think raising awareness about dating violence in the media is important, why are we relying just on Rihanna? And why are we viewing every artistic move she makes in the context of “Rihanna the victim” instead of “Rihanna the musician”?

Her experience with dating violence might filter through to songs. Maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, our initial, default reaction shouldn’t be, “Oh, how do these lyrics relate to when Chris Brown assaulted her?” In the article, author Lois Alter Mark asks, “[W]hy are we still blaming the victim?” in regard to judging Rihanna’s violent music video. I think a better question is, “Why are we only looking at Rihanna as a victim?”

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.

Charlie Sheen’s bosses should’ve stepped in sooner

March 1, 2011

After reading this insightful article about how Charlie Sheen’s public, violent behavior toward women didn’t get him fired but insulting his boss did, I began to wonder about the connection between work productivity and personal problems. Should employers or co-workers get involved in an employee’s personal problems? Sometimes, yes. In the spectrum of personal problems, the problems that can lead to the harm of that co-worker or someone else at the hands of that co-worker do merit intervention.

Sheen’s behavior is a perfect example. Initially, Sheen was still showing up to work on time — but in the midst of that, both Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller accused him of physical and verbal abuse, with Mueller claiming that Sheen put a knife to her throat. That didn’t happen on-set, but it speaks to Sheen’s violent character — someone who could seriously hurt another person, even one of his co-workers (he later allegedly threatened a hired escort, too). But, the violence and negative publicity financially was a win for the network, as ratings for Two and a Half Men went up as a result.

But, eventually, Sheen stopped being a “functioning” addict/abuser. Production was halted because of his absence from work, staff members weren’t getting paid, and the rest of this season’s shows and production schedule were canceled — only after Sheen publicly embarrassed his boss by insulting him. Too bad his boss didn’t see the violent way Sheen acted behind the scenes as equally embarrassing.

Are employers supposed to be watchdogs for any and all personal problems? Of course not. But if they (1) could lead to someone being hurt and/or (2) affect work performance, then an employer shouldn’t hesitate to step in. Some people think the NFL shouldn’t have suspended Ben Roethlisberger at the beginning of last season because the sexual assault allegations against him were dropped, but I didn’t mind — as the ones who pay him lots of money to play football every season, they wanted to send him a message that they weren’t going to tolerate behavior that would negatively affect his work performance. (And in my own wishful thinking, that behavior that would harm women wouldn’t be tolerated, either.)

And there is simple human decency. No one has the right to abuse anyone else — not even if they are married and in their home — and it’s irresponsible for all his bosses to know that several women have accused him of manic, violent episodes, and to then continue to write him checks for $2 million an episode because he shows up to work; in this case, they could have taken preventative actions to help ensure both his well-being and the well-being of the people around him. Instead, they chose to milk his violent outbursts and the attached publicity for all it was worth, until the people getting hurt were the bosses themselves.

Sheen, in an interview with TMZ, said that what someone does on the weekend isn’t the business of his or her employer, and said that if he were in charge of a “star,” he would do whatever made the star happy because Hollywood is a business and the star makes the money. Of course, that’s Sheen’s point of view — that because he brings in the ratings (more so when he makes headlines for attacking women or going on drug benders), people should cater to him. Unfortunately, his employers did that for way too long.

Teen Mom: Self-blaming, the honeymoon stage, selflessness

October 7, 2010

This week on Teen Mom, Maci and Kyle had an awkward break-up (which looked like a board meeting); Farrah continued to reconnect with Derrick’s family and her grief about Derrick’s death; Amber started dating other people (what an awkward first date); and Catelynn and Tyler planned a visit with Carly (which of course pissed off Catelynn’s mom).

1. The self-blaming game

I have to address the pattern of self-blaming that Gary showed this week. True, Amber did say she was sorry for hitting Gary, but then Gary sends her flowers and balloons as a peace offering? It seems bizarre, but Gary’s thoughts and actions are quite typical in an abusive relationship — instead of blaming Amber for abusing him, he blames himself and thinks his behavior gave her reason to abuse him.

“You must’ve done something really bad,” the florist said to Gary as he explained that he wanted a big vase of flowers to send. Precisely the opposite, though — he sent Amber a huge vase of flowers and balloons in hopes they could remain civil. It is not Gary’s responsibility to do this, as he is not the one who has an issue being civil and nonviolent. “She doesn’t care about you … I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to do that just because of what she’s done to you,” his brother’s girlfriend told him.

What Amber and Gary also show is that as hard as it is to get out of an abusive relationship, it’s exponentially more difficult when there are children involved. Gary still has feelings for Amber despite her abusive nature — likely because she has demeaned him to the point where he thinks he cannot do or does not deserve better — and it’s tough to move on when he sees her every time he picks up Leah. This is a problem regardless of a relationship being abusive — when you are separated but have a child, you’ll always have to deal with each other.

2. Hasta luego, honeymoon stage

Maci and Kyle were enamored with each other and in love, and so Maci decided to up and leave Chattanooga, Tenn. so she could move two hours away to Nashville to be closer to Kyle. I’ve discussed earlier that the move was premature because they had not been dating that long and were still under the honeymoon stage spell, and this week the honeymoon ended.

Maci left her family and friends behind to be with Kyle — though she figured out after moving there that Kyle was usually “unavailable” and always working. “Since I moved up here I went down on his priority list,” Maci told her friends. This is a typical problem that not only happens when long-distance relationships cease being long distance, but also when couples start living together.

That time you used to set aside for each other gets lost because you see each other constantly and the need to make time for each other seems irrelevant. In fact, you might see each other so much that one or both people want that time apart, which leaves a couple spending no quality time together, just time spent coexisting in the same square footage of space.

Though they didn’t live together, Kyle definitely felt the strain of suddenly spending so much time together. “It’s a big weight on my shoulders,” Kyle said. “It went from two hours a way to you being in my pocket 24/7.” Maci, however, felt differently — she moved to Nashville to spend more time with him, and instead she spent all day taking care of Bentley and being by herself. “I was hoping I’d be able to do something because I’m sick of sitting at home all the time, but you don’t want to do anything … all my friends are in Chattanooga; you’re all I have,” Maci said.

Maci told her friends that it was weird because, although she spends all day with Bentley, it really does feel like she is alone all day because Bentley can’t talk to her like an adult can. You can read more about being a stay-at-home mom at my friend Erin’s personal blog. This really causes a problem in any relationship in which one person doesn’t have a lot of adult or even human contact all day long and seeks that personal contact from their partner. If the partner doesn’t understand the need for that interaction, then the person just feels more alone.

The important thing to take away from Maci’s and Kyle’s relationship is that making time for each other is critical to a healthy relationship. Sleeping in the same bed or just being in the same house does not count as quality time together — e.g. when Kyle came over and slept in Maci’s bed while she was potty-training Bentley. Quality time together involves interaction, conversation, etc.

3. Moms gotta be selfless, not selfish

Both Catelynn and Farrah had to deal with their moms thinking more about themselves than the feelings of their children. Catelynn’s mom is still upset about Catelynn putting up Carly for adoption, and Farrah’s mom is stuck on her ill feelings toward Farrah’s deceased ex-boyfriend, who is also Sophia’s dad.

Catelynn’s mom is very back and forth about Carly — this week, she came in and gave Catelynn a dress to give to Carly for when her and Tyler see Carly for the first time since she was born. Then Catelynn and her mom started discussing Carly, and her mom told her how she felt out of the loop about the decision, saying, “Well, it hurts my feelings that you gave up my granddaughter without discussing it with me.”

Catelynn told her mom that she herself was unsure of what she was going to do, though Catelynn’s mom seemed most concerned with venting to Catelynn about why she felt so hurt about the adoption and how she felt like a fool for being stringed along during the pregnancy. Then when Catelynn tried to interject about how she was acting, her mom replied, “Don’t tell me how to be a mom when you couldn’t be one.”

Though her mom is upset about the adoption, she rarely ever shows Catelynn any support or understanding that, in fact, it’s exponentially more difficult for Catelynn to deal with. “It’s hard for you? Have some compassion, it’s hard for us, too,” Tyler said when discussing the matter with Catelynn. “I think she’s probably just mad because we’re making better decisions than she ever did,” Catelynn replied. Regardless, her mom doesn’t put Catelynn’s need for understanding and support over her own need to drill into Catelynn how disappointed she is by her decision.

Farrah’s mom has a similar problem when it comes to putting her daughter’s feelings before her own. The rocky relationship between Farrah and her ex-boyfriend Derrick (who died in a car accident while Farrah was pregnant with Sophia) is discussed in vague, general terms as him “being mean” to her, but no one ever gives specifics.

Whatever the “meanness” was, it turned Farrah’s mom off to him and his entire family, with her constantly reminding Farrah that keeping contact with them isn’t a good idea. Most recently, when Farrah eagerly told her mom that Derrick’s sister, Kassy, wanted to see Sophia at least once a month, her mom simply responded, “There’s just not a lot of time right now.” Farrah wants to build a connection between Sophia and her dad’s family, but Farrah’s mom is resistant.

In fact, at dinner with Kassy, Farrah explained how hard it was to even think about dating anyone but Derrick, saying she couldn’t imagine calling someone else her boyfriend. “I don’t ever want to feel like I’m replacing him,” Farrah said, which is an understandable and common feeling when it comes to grieving the loss of a partner. To help her mom better understand her grief, Farrah plans another therapy session.

Let me just say that I love Farrah’s therapist. She is blunt and tells it like it is, and she called Farrah’s mom out on ignoring her daughter and, rather than listening to Farrah explain her deep grief, she was trying to “talk her out of it” instead. Eventually her mom admitted she didn’t realize the connection was so strong and apologized, but she wouldn’t have come to that conclusion with an objective third party there to say, “Hey, you aren’t listening to what she is saying. You are tuning her out so you can only hear yourself talk.”

Teen Mom: Partner violence, grief, & high school graduation

September 29, 2010

Teen Mom was an intense roller coaster this week — Amber assaulted Gary (multiple times), Farrah reconnected with her deceased boyfriend’s sister, Tyler and Catelynn couldn’t graduate on time, and Maci and Ryan worked together on a custody plan for Bentley.

1. The signs of an abuser

Last night, Amber verbally assaulted Gary to no end. She yelled things such as “Guess what bitch, this is my house — I’ve bought everything in this motherf-cker — get out!” and “Don’t get cocky with me,” and ” You need to shut your f-cking mouth … You want to f-ck with me? Huh? … You are so f-cking lucky, you better watch your goddamn back.” As if that abuse weren’t enough, she then threw his stuff down the stairs, punched him in the face, and then slapped him again before he left.

Amber is an abuser. And she was an abuser before she punched Gary in the face, as the things she would scream at him were meant to maintain control over and demean him. She constantly called him a fatass, meant to degrade him and lower his self-worth, and she constantly reminded him that it was her house, so he’d better do what she says or he’s out on the street.

At the reunion episode after season one, Dr. Drew called her out on the domestic violence and she said she didn’t regret it. Only after she remembered that Gary had been abused when he was younger did she retract that statement, which was concerning because it was like she admitted that, had he not been abused as a child, her hitting him would’ve been perfectly justified. It seems that sympathy for Gary didn’t last very long.

Abusers often were victims of abuse themselves, and so have learned to use violence as a way to solve problems, relieve stress, or control a situation. Of the four main types of abuse found in intimate partner violence (via the Centers for Disease Control), Amber utilizes three (the fourth being sexual abuse, which isn’t discussed on the show) — physical abuse, threats, and emotional abuse (including “harming a partner’s sense of self-worth”).

There is a major disconnect for Amber between how she treats Gary directly and how she interprets her own treatment of Gary — directly, she is obviously abusive in a number of ways. As she puts it, however, she is sympathetic toward Gary and lets him live with her because he is Leah’s father and she doesn’t want him living on the street. She confides in her friends that Gary threatened to call Child Protective Services, and the aggressive attitude she has toward Gary was nonexistent when she described the incident to her friends.

“It scares me as a mom to hear him say, you know, ‘You’re never going to see your daughter again, I’m going to take her away,'” Amber said, though this possibility never seems to stop Amber from abusing Gary — it’s unclear whether Amber’s rage is enhanced for the same reason Maci got angry at Ryan, which was that he was implying she was making poor parenting choices, though he himself had only recently become more involved with raising their child. Regardless of what fueled the rage, nothing makes it OK.

And, again, I keep wondering how people’s reaction would be different if the roles were reversed — if Gary were abusing Amber on film, calling her a fatass, hitting her, telling her that he better respect her because he puts a roof over her head. I’m sure the public outcry would be loud and strong, and my hope is that viewers don’t cut Amber slack for her behavior — she needs anger management classes, not martial arts classes.

2. Dealing with — not avoiding — grief

Sophia’s dad hasn’t really been mentioned much before this season — in Farrah’s episode of 16 and Pregnant, it wasn’t even mentioned that he had died in a car accident, but it simply seemed like Farrah’s mom and her had decided he wouldn’t be involved with raising her. This week, she reconnected with her ex’s (Derrick’s) sister Kassy, who shared with her how much Farrah meant to Derrick and gave Sophia a picture book with pictures of him.

“I see her everyday, I see Derrick’s face everyday,” Farrah told Kassy, and the pictures of Derrick really do show a strong resemblance between Sophia and her dad. Farrah’s mom told her that the best way to deal with those sad feelings is to stay away from the family, but that is not a way to deal with those feelings — it’s merely a way to avoid them. She admits she doesn’t think she’ll find anyone who compares to Derrick, and all these feelings need to be sorted out — not swept under the rug — for her to gain some closure and move on.

I’m glad that Derrick is being mentioned in the show, because Farrah has to be feeling so many emotions that viewers who have lost a loved one or partner can identify with, especially considering Farrah was pregnant when the car accident happened. It always seemed weird that Sophia’s dad was the elephant in the room, and I think there are a lot of viewers (and obviously Farrah) who will benefit from openly addressing Derrick’s death and its effect on Farrah and Sophia, rather than avoiding discussing it.

3. The importance of education

For many people, a high school diploma is the default — a piece of paper that is just routine on the way to college. For Tyler and Catelynn, a high school diploma is the exception rather than the rule, and a symbol of why they gave their daughter up for adoption. “Me and you will be the first ones to go to college or even graduate from high school,” Catelynn told Tyler, regarding their families.

But Catelynn made a good point that they needed to graduate to really make the adoption worth it, because the entire reason they gave her up was because they couldn’t support her financially and needed to get an education first. Though being pregnant with Carly set Catelynn and Tyler back when it came to having enough credits to graduate, Catelynn says, “If I had kept carly, I might not be graduating at all.”

Catelynn and Tyler also struggled with choosing college career paths, something every teenager can relate to. It’s daunting to be 18 and charged with figuring out your life goals, and I know so many people who didn’t truly figure out what they wanted to study or pursue until two or three years after high school, and sometimes longer. “I thought I knew what I was doing, and now I don’t know what I’m doing,” Tyler said, frustrated with all the options and feeling like he should have his life figured out by now. Trust me Tyler, you’ve got a lot of company there.

Something else Catelynn mentioned was that she had to miss school because of her mom’s alcoholism — I think this is an interesting problem that isn’t really discussed in the mainstream. For a lot of people, school is just a given — you always have a way to get to school, you always have money to buy lunch, you always have the resources to complete homework.

But for some people, that’s not the case — merely getting to school is a challenge, and family problems can get in the way of attendance and homework (e.g. what if you need to focus more on an after-school job to help pay the bills than doing homework? Or what if, like Catelynn, one or both of your parents has a substance abuse problem that means 1) you can’t find a way to school or 2) you have to take care of them?). Catelynn’s admission revealed an obstacle to education that many people don’t experience or realize happens.

Teen Mom: Cycles of abuse, custody woes, toxic fighting

September 15, 2010

Last night’s Teen  Mom brought the usual drama — Farrah and her parents, Amber and Gary, Ryan and Maci — but was sprinkled with some happy vibes as Catelynn and Tyler got to talk to Carly on her first birthday, expressing that they were very happy that Carly was happy.

1. Dependency and Domestic Violence

Though Farrah and her mother’s relationship isn’t typically what comes to mind when one hears the phrase “domestic violence” (usually a man/woman come to mind, as in intimate partner violence), it carries all the tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship. Aside from the physical violence, the rollercoaster of emotions and the dependency that draws the abused person back to the relationship are classic and cyclical when it comes to domestic violence.

Farrah’s mom keeps a pull on Farrah by using her financial problems to her advantage, much like a male partner typically can do to an intimate female partner who relies on him for financial support. Farrah is not only working to support herself, Sophia, and get through school, but she also recently lost $3,000 after falling for a scam. This episode, Farrah’s mom offered to let her stay in the rental house across the street for cheap rent, also providing free baby-sitting when necessary.

Farrah acknowledges that her problems with her parents stemmed from them “trying to overcontrol” her, but she is easily lured to the cheap rent and free baby-sitting that goes with living across the street from her mom. This is textbook of an unhealthy, cyclical violent relationship because Farrah’s mom is using Farrah’s financial struggles to create a dependency — Farrah isn’t living near her mom because she wants to, but because it’s financially better.

Jumping back into the relationship is another textbook and unhealthy step in the path of domestic violence. In last week’s episode, after an intense therapy session, Farrah and her mom enjoyed a nice, civil lunch with baby Sophia. Whether because of the show’s editing or not, it seems like Farrah is now ready to jump back into the relationship with her mother right where it left off because of this one good encounter.

This can be dangerous and misleading — in abusive relationships, it’s common for there to be a rollercoaster of highs (there’s repentence, forgiveness, a honeymoon stage of being reunited) and then the subsequent lows (problems come back to the surface, fighting ensues, abuse happens again) because the problems are forgotten or pushed aside instead of addressed and resolved.

Personally, I think Farrah needs to live elsewhere if she can afford it — their relationship can’t honestly be fixed if she is also relying on her mother as landlord and childcare giver, because it’s something the mother holds over her head and can use as a means of control. Also, Farrah has her own issues to work out — like her inability to communicate, her instigating of fights, and her taking everything personally (even the car breaking down).

2. Staying Together for the Baby

I’ve addressed staying together for the sake of the child before when Ryan and Maci were having problems and their parents urged them to make it work for the sake of Bentley. Now, Amber is questioning whether she is settling for Gary because he is Leah’s father. “I’m not 100 percent sure I want to marry him,” Amber said. “I don’t want to live this life of regret. I don’t want to settle.”

Amber was trying on wedding dances, taking dancing lessons, and still she felt like something was wrong. Perhaps it was fueled by the blowout fight they had, but she’s got a point — if you’re not feeling totally committed to someone, should the baby always make you lean toward staying together? “If I didn’t have Leah, we would not be together,” Amber told Gary. Sure you want to try harder to make things work, but Amber and Gary’s relationship at times seems irreversibly toxic and full of resentment.

Kids are always better off in environments where their parents are happy, even if it means their parents being separated — at least having a custody schedule provides stability, which children need, unlike when Gary randomly leaves or gets kicked out of the house after a fight. Though Amber’s friend suggests that Gary is here to stay because he’s Leah’s dad, the old “well he’s always going to be in her life so you mineswell marry him” advice doesn’t make much sense in terms of quality of life and healthy environment for the child as s/he grows up.

Another problem with parents staying together “for the child” is that the child becomes a battleground/tool for the parents dislike of one other. They don’t like each other, and they use the child to get that point across, as Amber did when she told Gary to get his stuff and leave and then told Leah, “Daddy left you again.” You not only bring the child into a fight that’s only about the parents, but you cause emotional damage — if Leah were five and heard that, she wouldn’t know Amber was taking a swipe at Gary or that he got kicked out — she’d think her dad really was abandoning her without reason.

3. Custody, court, and ethical dilemmas

Maci decided that she was going to move to Nashville before Ryan could take her to court for joint custody of  Bentley, hoping to evade the 100-mile radius rule that would prevent her from moving there after Ryan took her to court (Maci currently lives in Chattanooga, 120 miles from Nashville, which would prevent her from moving to Nashville if the court ordered her to remain within 100 miles of Chattanooga).

There’s a dilemma here about how ethical it is that Maci skip town — mostly because she’s doing exactly what Ryan was worried about. Ryan was worried she would skip town and move away without having any ability to stop her, and here she proves just that — who knows if she would have even told Ryan, as he had to pry it out of her that she was moving to Nashville.

Maci seems so worried about Ryan getting joint custody, but I’m not sure why she is freaking out about it. Either she would prefer to have sole custody over Bentley, or she doesn’t want Ryan to have an equal amount of joint custody. It’s completely normal for the father to get some kind of joint custody, even if it’s just weekend visitation — all Ryan wants is something in writing so instead of Maci being the sole arbiter of custody decisions, the court is.

Something tells me Maci doesn’t believe people can change, but though she questions his changing level of involvement in Bentley’s life, she can’t change that he is Bentley’s father and has a right to see Bentley and be a part of his life. In other news, while I disagree with Maci picking up her life and moving to Nashville for Kyle, at least she isn’t moving in with him right away and recognizes the possibility it might not work out.

‘Love the Way You Lie’ doesn’t promote partner violence

August 13, 2010

I’ve been a bit hesitant to throw in my two cents about the Eminem song “Love the Way You Lie” — a song about intimate partner violence — mostly because after reading blogs like this one, this one, and this one (and the corresponding comments), I thought I was being insensitive or missing something because I actually like the song — and lots of people don’t like the song:

[Rihanna]’s singing in that gorgeous voice of hers, and for a moment I think “Maybe this won’t be so bad.” A few seconds later, the recording fails and “I Love The Way You Lie” turns into a rap song. By Eminem. Who is literally the last fucking person I want to hear singing about intimate partner violence.

Garland Grey of Tiger Beatdown is just one of many who find the song and especially the music video disturbing — I can’t speak for the video because I haven’t watched it, but I can speak for the song, which I have listened to many times. And though some people think it’s a self-pitying rant by an abuser and/or a song that promotes staying with an abuser, I think it’s neither — it’s an honest look at intimate partner violence.

Eminem isn’t asking for pity on this track — his lines about being sorry are juxtaposed with lines that threaten his partner because that’s a common cycle of partner violence and likely an honest account of his feelings as an abuser (his physical abuse toward ex-wife Kim is well-known). Do I pity him after hearing this song? No. Can I appreciate that he’s honest about his thought process, deluding himself into thinking he will change, recognizing he shouldn’t be physically abusive, but then doing it anyway? Yes.

Rihanna is being heavily criticized for her part in the song, in which she sings lines like “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/But that’s all right because I like the way it hurts” in the chorus. Rihanna is a survivor of partner violence, leading people like Tricia Romano at The Daily Beast to ask, “WTF is Rihanna thinking?” 

I think, like Eminem, Rihanna’s lines are equally honest. She recognizes how insensitive and hurtful the partner is, but she deludes herself into thinking that she likes the relationship, the partner, and the abuse. Rihanna herself admitted to Diane Sawyer that after Chris Brown physically assaulted her, she briefly reconciled with him — she loved him, she said, but she didn’t want her fans — especially the young ones — to see her go back to him and think it was OK to stay in an abusive relationship because Rihanna had done it.

It’s unfortunately common for women to return to abusive relationships. In fact, researchers at the University of Rochester found that half of women who leave abusive relationships go back to the abusive relationships, on average about five times — so, yes, Rihanna’s lines in the chorus are not direct calls against partner violence, but rather depictions of the real psychological abuse that manifests from abusive relationships.

So maybe I’m still being insensitive and missing something, but of course everyone hates the lyrics. You should hate the lyrics at a superficial level, and if you aren’t fazed or affected by them, that’s a problem. They are the thoughts that breed and continue partner violence, and they are thoughts that overcome both the person abusing and the person being abused, both who — as the song depicts — are cognizant that the relationship isn’t healthy but convince themselves to stay or that things will change.

I’ll agree with critics that the song never explicitly addresses that the partner violence depicted is unhealthy and wrong, which could lead listeners to misinterpret the message; whether this omission is because Eminem, Rihanna, and the others involved thought it would speak for itself as an anthem against partner violence, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t think the song romanticizes or condones partner violence. It’s an honest account that sends the message of how confusing, painful, and cyclical it can be — and we need to talk about those aspects to truly understand intimate partner violence.

As one commenter on Feministing put it:

This song IS pretty fucked up. So is domestic violence … What does it mean if we take these words at nothing but their face value? It was what it was. In Recovery [the name of Eminem’s new album], we tell the truth. Maybe?