Time for some serious talk about menâ€™s violence. Iâ€™ll break it down to make a difficult point really simple.
Number one: Menâ€™s violence against women is a menâ€™s issue.
Number two: Prevention is the best solution.
Itâ€™s been almost two months since Chris Brownâ€™s infamous and brutal attack on Rihanna. With our three-second Twitters, four-second sound bites, and a five-second news story shelf lives, itâ€™s like this assault happened a million years ago. Itâ€™s so easy to collectively forget and move on to the Next Big Story.
But think back to the leaked police photos of 21-year-old popstar Rihannaâ€™s bruised and swollen face. Although her bruises may have faded along with our collective voyeurism, a crucial issue remains.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 1.3 million women are victims of assault by an intimate partner each year. Do the math. That works out to nearly two-and-a-half women assaulted every minute, typically by a boyfriend or husband.
We live in a culture that shrouds these facts of violence in secrecy, silence, and misunderstanding. Weâ€™re taught to confuse abuse with passionate love. Our culture links violence with romance with lines like, â€œBaby, I only hit you because I love youâ€ â€” the kind of relentless refrain we see repeated in mainstream movies, TV, magazines, and music.
If a celebrity woman stays in a violent relationship, or gets back with an abusive guy, the takeaway for most people is that that male violence is not so bad. This insidious message, comments journalist Katha Pollitt, reinforces ideas that male violence is a natural part of life, and something in which women are complicit by provoking it, using it, even liking it.
This is dangerous misinformation. It contributes to a culture that normalizes violence and is accustomed to looking the other way, even with the rates of abuse so astronomically high.
But hereâ€™s the thing. Whether weâ€™re talking about two megastars in Hollywood or the couple living right next door, we might scratch our heads and ask, â€œIf heâ€™s abusive then why does she stay?â€
Itâ€™s a fair question. But the wrong one. The question that goes to the heart of the matter is Why does he hit?
Men are certainly victims of domestic assault. But the vast majority of cases are women hurt by menâ€™s hands, words, and control. Direct service agencies and hospital samples indicate that men commit nearly 90 percent of domestic abuse. Yet, ironically, weâ€™re trained to think of abuse as a womanâ€™s issue. When weâ€™re talking about male violence against women, says violence-prevention educator Jackson Katz, weâ€™re really talking about a menâ€™s issue.
This isnâ€™t about blaming men. The point is more profound and the goal more constructive than that. The most effective way to end violence against women is to stop the problem before it happens. Doing so means we need men on board. We need men taking responsibility, getting in on the conversations about male violence, and refusing to be silent bystanders to the problem.
Rihanna and Chris Brown are high-profile cultural icons. Millions of fans look to them as trendsetters and culture creators. With media giving so much attention to their personal lives, the coupleâ€™s private relationship has powerful public impact.
The Rihanna-Chris Brown fan base skews young. So does abuse. Girls and women between the ages of 16 and 24 are more likely than any other group to be in abusive relationships. The NCADV reports teen dating violence is one of the major sources of violence in adolescentsâ€™ lives. A full 20 percent of dating couples report some type of violence in their relationship. Teen dating violence is particularly insidious because it happens at a time when young people are navigating intense relationships, sorting out their values, and laying emotional roadmaps for their futures.
A recent study of Boston teens that found nearly 50 percent of the 12-to-19-year-olds surveyed blamed Rihanna for getting hit. But this isnâ€™t just about pop-star punditry. The issue literally hits at home. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, 71 percent of the teens they questioned said arguing is a normal part of relationships and 44 percent said fighting in relationships is routine.
This is startling.
So letâ€™s seize this cultural moment to keep talking â€” really talking! â€” about masculinity, violence, and pop culture. Honest conversations across communities about male violence against women are crucial for the safety of teenagers at risk, for children who witness abuse, and for survivors everywhere. We need to start talking across communities because menâ€™s violence against women is a menâ€™s issue. And prevention is the best solution.