Monday, October 18, 2010

Assorted Thoughts on Domestic Violence Awareness

I'm way behind on the feminist chatter regarding the "Love the Way You Lie" domestic violence-themed music video starring Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan, but in part that's because I was approaching it from a critical viewpoint from the beginning. I saw the video and immediately critiqued it for its cowardice (Rihanna, a known victim of violence, sings--but doesn't dare to act in the video, as it would be all too real for the audience), for its stereotypes (ooh, Megan Fox is craaazy in that, man!), for its leading man (Eminem: not exactly known for being a friend to the ladies). It wasn't until I saw this ridiculous anti-DV PSA starring the Cox-Arquette clan (with a special appearance by Kenneth on 30 Rock) that I recognized how complex and potentially effective the Rihanna/Eminem video is. As Kate Dailey points out in Newsweek, "almost no one disagrees with the notion that domestic abuse is 'just wrong.'" (The conceit of the PSA is that married people joking about their furries fetish is "just wrong," as is--yes--domestic violence.)

Part of the reason domestic violence hasn't just vanished is not that it's invisible, but that it wears a big ooga-booga-scary mask when really abuse is a small series of tears that get bigger and bigger, almost imperceptibly, to both the perpetrator and the victim. And people don't want to admit that those tears go both ways--that two people fighting is still domestic violence, and that a woman can instigate violence, and that one person's violence doesn't excuse another's. I don't know how common actual mutual abuse is--abuse being the systemic breakdown--but mutual violence is common in DV relationships. To see Megan Fox's character spit in her lover's face: It's ugly; it's gross. But you know what? That's one way domestic violence works. The problem with well-meaning ads like the Cox-Arquette PSA or this chilling, albeit confusing, ad from the UK starring Keira Knightley, is the assumption that roles in violence are black-and-white (literally, with this cinematography)--that DV is a woman cowering in the corner while a big bad man kicks her. That happens--horrifically, that happens--but every single woman I know who has been in a violent relationship has reported something much murkier, much more difficult to report and still expect sympathy, something much more difficult to put in an PSA and not have people scratch their heads and wonder whose side they're supposed to be on.

That was sort of my first reaction upon watching the Eminem video, but the more I hear the song the more I think that's actually effective. I can be at the gym and hear Rihanna's pleas to stand there and watch her burn, and I think of the dead-eyed stare she had in the days after her very public attack, and I get chills. I don't like the sort of glamourized prettiness of the video--especially because given that Megan Fox is supposedly the hottest woman in the galaxy, we see the erotic element of the violence as something we're supposed to understand--but I like that it's confusing; I like that it's not cut-and-dried; I like that it's gross.

I wonder about the premise of the Newsweek piece, though--"Can PSAs End Domestic Violence?" the headline reads. Obviously PSAs can't end all social ills; really, all they can do is raise consciousness and possibly garner funds. Anti-violence campaigns are often critiqued for targeting victim instead of the abuser, but I don't know how to raise the consciousness of abusers, given that very few abusers think of what they're doing as abuse--it all makes a sick sort of sense in the moment. This British PSA (courtesy of a related Jezebel thread) is one of the few ads targeted toward abusers that I've seen, and while I can't speak to its actual effectiveness, I think that it gets at the heart of the matter--that abusive relationships are, well, relationships: that the people in them cuddle and hang out and spat, and that the abusers actually aren't irredeemable and that the victims aren't just interchangeable blanks. (Which is possibly what I hate most about the cowering-woman type of awareness ads--no victim of abuse wants to identify with her, so what awareness is raised, really?)

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