Before reading: Prepare yourselves for lots of links and information about recent cases of domestic violence in popular culture. I encourage everyone who looks up the links to pay attention to the titles of the articles. Think about the phrasing and the order of names. Which person is the actor, or who is given power, and who is the one being acted upon in these titles? Are the authors of these articles attempting to frame domestic violence cases in a particular way? Are they trying to evoke some emotion or thought out of the reader?
Do you guys remember the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident back in 2009? Here’s a link if you don’t remember, even though it would be hard to forget, with everyone talking and gossiping about it: Chris Brown charged with assault on Rihanna. Domestic violence became a pretty huge topic, but over time, the discourse changed and focused more on romance, who the two were dating, or whether or not they’d get back together. Five years later, Rihanna, Chris, and the topic of domestic violence are back in the news and in our thoughts and conversations.
Rihanna and Kanye West were planning to perform at the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, but CBS pulled the plug on it. Why would the TV network cancel such a high-profile performance? Well, the Baltimore Ravens recently released Ray Rice earlier this week, for reasons I will discuss in a moment, and CBS thought it best that Rihanna, a victim of domestic violence, should not be featured at that particular game. Taking this news in, two things come to mind. 1.) Once again, large television networks and the media are controlling decisions about what to show the public, and ultimately controlling what we should be talking and thinking about. And 2.) Domestic violence has followed Rihanna and marked her, even five years after she was abused by Chris Brown
Rihanna’s case ties to the Ray Rice case going on right now. Here is a link to the timeline of events: A complete timeline of the Ray Rice assault case. This case and how it’s played out is really interesting, for it tells a lot about today’s society’s thoughts on and definitions of domestic violence. The case started in May, when Rice was charged and released from jail on assault charges. There was a video used as evidence in the case, a video of Rice pulling his now-wife’s (Janay Palmer) unconscious body from her shoulders out of an elevator. As the case went on, Rice was able to get out of jail time, and the Ravens only suspended him for two games, assuring that he would return. Then, in late July, the full video of the incident was released, and it showed Rice punching Palmer in the face so hard that she passed out. It took this video and three months after the incident for the Ravens to release Rice and for the NFL to develop a domestic violence policy. And all while this is going on and amid the assault case, Rice marries Palmer!! What?!
Another couple that has been in the news recently is Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver and Christy Mack. Here are three articles that serve as a timeline of events: 1.) MMA fighter arrested for assaulting porn star 2.) Christy Mack claims War Machine beat her and threatened to kill her 3.) Christy Mack posted an updated about her condition after War Machine brutality. This case also tells a lot about we deal with and respond to assault and domestic violence cases in the United States. This was a case of not only physical abuse, but verbal and mental and emotional abuse as well. Everything started on Instagram, when Koppenhaver joked about their aborted child and showed off a tattoo he got in remembrance. When Mack broke it off with him, he attacked on Twitter, defaming her and her mother, and then he threatened to kill her and her mother. Then we later learned that on the night that he physically attacked her, Mack called 911, but the police were not quick enough to prevent the abuse. The interesting twist that I’ve noticed in the articles about this case is the way people write about and describe Koppenhaver and Mack. Koppenhaver is War Machine, a character of violence and aggression, while Mack is his “porn star girlfriend.” Did Koppenhaver’s character’s aggression translate over into his reality? Should we blame Mack for dating him or see her at fault just because she’s a porn star? These are their identities in these articles, and if affects how we read them and interpret the situation. How do things change, though, when we see pictures of Mack being hospitalized for broken teeth, a fractured rib, broken bones to her face, and a ruptured liver?
As scholars of sex and society, we should also be thinking about sex and its relation to domestic violence. What are the different social institutions involved in these cases? …the media, TV networks, the NFL… What do these social institutions have to say about sex and sexuality? Who, in these cases, has the power to define what is domestic violence and what is not?
Lots of topics about sex and society that we’ve discussed this semester are brought to life in these cases of domestic violence. There’s the feminist perspective from Catherine MacKinnon who emphasized male dominance and argued that men use sex as a tool to control women. As it says in “Theoretical Perspectives” by Steven Seidman, “To the extent that men have the power to define what desires, feelings, and behaviors are sexual, they can define women’s sexuality in a way that positions them as subordinate. Does MacKinnon make a fair point and how does this relate to domestic violence?
I hope I’ve given you some things to think about. I’ve provided examples of three very different incidents of domestic violence. In closing, I encourage you continue thinking about a few things. Are these domestic violence issues being talked about or being hushed and shoved under the rug? Why do we need to talk about domestic violence? How do we educate people about the various issues of domestic violence?