Welcome to DORO – Pull Up a Chair
At Robinson Elementary, there were several tough-as-nails teachers with reputations for strict standards. Mrs. R.C.* was one of those teachers. I landed in her fifth grade math class and, true to legend, she didn’t take anything from anyone. Her face was somewhat disfigured so students joked about her looks. Plastic surgery wasn’t as advanced or accessible in rural Louisiana. Kids called her ugly and made up names for her, all behind her back of course.
One day, all of the girls were told to sit after class a little longer. She brought out a picture and asked us to pass it around. It was a photo of a beautiful woman, smiling, somewhere twixt twenty and thirty. After we’d all looked at the photo, she told us that it was indeed her picture, a younger, lovely Ms. R.C. Then she dropped the clincher, “Don’t ever let a man hit you. See my face? A man did this to me.”
This was multiple decades ago, so the order of events and exact phrasing may be a bit skewed, but not the lesson. I remember my shock, confusion and disbelief. How could that Jet beauty, Ebony campus queen looking face become what we saw today? Our fifth-grade brains wouldn’t have been able to process statistics and facts, but we would understand pictures. We would take home a lesson that was unforgettable.
Perhaps that’s what’s happening with the nation at this moment. The ugly aftermath of Janay Palmer Rice flat on a casino floor, knocked out cold, was simply an image to point to while speculating about a possible two-minute elevator scenario. Everyone made up their own story, some calling for Ray Rice’s immediate dismissal while others wondered what the woman did to make him hit her like that? The league was lenient, later toughening up with new standards after social backlash. Then we got the whole picture. A grainy, silent film that left miniscule room for doubt because some out there would still believe that we’re missing part of the story. A complete story is front of us, the before and the after.
This isn’t about the NFL.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is at fault for lax leadership, but people turn a blind eye to incidents all through American society. If the statistics and facts do hold true, every single one of us knows someone or will know someone who has been a victim of or committed an act of domestic violence. A CDC study found that “nearly one in four women experience at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood.”* The numbers were self-reported in the 2000 study, so experts assume that the number may be higher. Don’t let a degree or high net worth fool you. Someone you know chose to work at home for a few days and came back to the office with a fresh tanning salon look. Another person wears sweaters in the summer, claiming to be too cold. Many abusers won’t hit their victims in the face or arms, though, for fear of discovery. They’re smart and cunning. A man you know as a loving spouse may be terrorizing his wife, searching her purse and threatening her every night. He thinks it’s normal. Often the abuser grew up in a household where he witnessed similar violence.
This is not about football.
Abuse of women is almost glorified in game culture and music. The growing acceptance of the daily degradation and abuse of women in today’s society is a real problem. Entertainment culture today says that the words “hoes” or “bitches” are synonyms for females. Every woman dating a man of means is a “golddigger” even if she has her own career. There was a time in this very society that a man caring for and sharing rewards with his partner was called love. Things have changed.
The video is painful to watch and perhaps it should not be in the public press. That’s a different discussion. But this is just like fifth grade math, when the problems get more complex and require new language at a different level. Young women who see the film also saw Janay Rice’s angry Instagram post blaming the media for sharing it just for ratings. The Baltimore Ravens release of her husband didn’t change their lives, though. Her husband did. Her anger and commitment to her marriage may be confusing for the young watchers. Or maybe, hopefully, it could be instructive. A woman may see her own willingness to make excuses and blame everybody but the one person responsible for her family’s immediate pain. The image could stick. Perhaps just one young woman will recognize the signs of violence in her own current relationship or finally be able to label the escalation of abuse by a partner as such. As ugly as it may be, there could be a lesson in it, the same lesson a class of preteen girls received from a caring educator. A single visual may help these victims understand that knocking me off my feet is not meant to be a literal act.
*Initials used in order to protect her privacy.
**The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, (July 2000)