Ray Rice is now one of the most notorious people in the world. I will not explain why, but if it is possible that you are unaware, I invite you to click here. (The link takes you to the story, NOT the video.) Over the next few weeks, I will provide four reasons why we need to stop demonizing Rice as an individual, and start examining his behaviour as a product of some powerful cultural forces. For reason number one, click here. Reason number two is detailed below.
2. When we talk about what is wrong with Ray Rice, the conversation tends to inevitably turn to the person he assaulted, his then fiancée, now wife. I have deliberately chosen not to refer to her by name because at no time has she asked to have her private business broadcast around the world.
Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened to her when the Ray Rice story emerged at the top of the news cycle. The lynch-pin of the story is the video released by TMZ that chronicles exactly what happened to her in the Atlantic City elevator. This is a video that no one in the public sphere has any right to see, for it documents what was assuredly a deeply personal and private moment in her life. It should only be viewed with her explicit consent. This is what she had to say on that subject (from a post by Dave Zirin that makes a similar argument):
I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But you have to accept the fact that reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has cause my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing...That is not what consent sounds like. That is the voice of a person who finds it painful to have her experience and identity dragged through the news. Yet, despite this unequivocal statement, in an incredible and egregious violation of her basic right to privacy, the video was repeatedly aired by every major U.S. news and sports television network. It has also been watched by countless others over the internet, not to mention shared, analyzed, judged, and commented upon. We need to move the conversation to a broader discussion of structural gender-based violence because we need to move the conversation away from the person that Ray Rice hurt. As Zirin puts it in the title of his piece, otherwise we are just "revictimizing" her.
The ethical imperative not to violate her privacy is not the only reason to stop discussing the specifics of this story, however. We also need to stop parsing the details of the case because in doing so we create the false impression that those details matter. They don't. Yet, many people think that they do and they have shared that perspective from very prominent media platforms. For instance, on the ESPN television program First Take shortly after the original two-game suspension was handed down to Rice, Stephen A. Smith said:
"But, as a man who was raised by women, see, I know what I'm gonna do if somebody touches a female member of my family. I know what I'm gonna do, I know what my boys are gonna do, I know what, I'm gonna have to remind myself that I work for the worldwide leader, I'm gonna have to get law-enforcement officials involved because of what I'm gonna be tempted to do. But, what I've tried to implore the female members of my family, some of whom you have all met and talked to and what have you, is that, again, and this is what, I've done this all my life, let's make sure we don't do anything to provoke wrong actions. Because, if I come, or if somebody else come, whether it's law enforcement officials, your brother, or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put there hands on you, it doesn't negate that the fact that they already put their hands on you. So, let's try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn't happen...And, I think that just talking about what guys shouldn't do, we gotta also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn't happen. We know they're wrong, we know they're criminal, we know they probably deserve to be in jail. And, Ray Rice's case, he probably deserves more than the two game suspension, which we both acknowledged. But, at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation -- not that there's real provocation -- but, the elements of provocation, you've gotta make sure that you address them because what we've gotta do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in anyway and I don't think that's broached enough, is all I'm saying."The focus on individual cases of gender-based violence ultimately becomes a focus on contingency, on the specific details of what happened in any given case. It becomes a question of who did what and why and whether it was justified. These are questions that have zero value, for they obfuscate the most important and most basic fact: gender-based violence is never legitimate. Never. No matter what.
They also make it more difficult to see the second most important and most basic fact: that gender-based violence is a structural issue. That is, it is a social issue, a cultural issue, a masculinity issue. When we are able to understand this premise, the question of "elements of provocation" is rendered unintelligible. Or, it is rendered intelligible in all its absurdity. For, the only context in which making someone angry can be understood to be legitimate provocation for the use of violence is one in which a person is socialized to believe that violence can provide appropriate resolution to anger. In other words, a society in which coercive entitlement is a prevailing ideology. If we do not accept the premise that coercive entitlement is legitimate, then it becomes impossible for any form of provocation to exist that might legitimize gender-based violence.
If we look at the Ray Rice story from these two angles, it becomes easy to see why we need to stop focusing on the details of the case. It's pretty simple: we need to honour the request for privacy made by the survivor of the assault. And, we need to understand that gender-based violence is caused by structural factors, principally a philosophy of manhood based on the notion that violence is an appropriate tool for getting men what they want. This means that gender-based violence is not caused by the "provocation" of women. Ever.