Why teaching “respect” won’t end violence against women

gregodenAnother professional athlete has been arrested for hitting a woman. This time it’s NBA player Greg Oden, who punched his former girlfriend in the face. The police report described “blood, swelling to the nose, lacerations to the forehead and nose area” on the woman’s the face. Oden was apparently calm and cooperative, telling the police “I was wrong, and I know what has to happen.” And blah blah blah, blah blah blah.

Look. The details change, but the story remains the same: violence against women is an epidemic we refuse to take seriously. Sure, Oden is “taking responsibility” for what he did. Congratulations to him. But he still did it. He still punched a woman in the face. He doesn’t get a round of applause for taking responsibility after the fact. What comfort does that bring?

I’m tired of having conversations about domestic/intimate partner violence as if it’s inevitable and the only thing that can be done is people being “held accountable” and “taking responsibility” in the aftermath. The women who are disproportionately the victims of this type of violence deserve better. The women who will potentially be victims of this type of violence deserve better. 

As a society, we’re not serious about ending violence against women. We pay great lip service to the idea, but we aren’t willing to interrogate the ways in which we have accepted gendered violence in our everyday lives.

We teach boys this general message about how they’re supposed to “respect women” while writing off all behavior that is blatantly disrespectful (and dangerous) toward women as “boys being boys.” It starts young, when every hair pull, pinch, slap, push, and shove boys exact on girls is written off because “boys will be boys” and that’s how they flirt. No, that’s how they hit girls. Any message to the contrary only further perpetuates the idea that all of this is OK.

Then they get older and any time they get into a physical altercation with a girl, we spend more time asking about how they were “provoked” than what they should have done instead of putting their hands on a girl.

Then they become adults and the police and lawyers and judges downplay the seriousness of their offenses. And they get to say “that’s not the person I am” or “I take full responsibility” and voila, they’re completely absolved.

Where the fuck is the respect?

And yes, to all the devil’s advocates lurking behind anonymous accounts, we should be teaching everyone not to hit anyone, and that includes girls/women. Sure. But as I’ve said before, there isn’t the same history of women using violence against men as a means of systemic subjugation. Violence in any form from any person is an issue, but violence against women as an epidemic with far-reaching consequences on the life outcomes of more than half the population. I’m just saying, there’s a different weight to the problem.

So, Greg Oden will probably face charges and blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Enough. Let’s do something real to actually make women safer. Let’s remove the threat. Stop making excuses and talk to young boys about how to end violence against women and girls. Stop thinking this vaguely defined “respect” for women is enough. Stop encouraging or condoning harmful behavior with the ridiculous “boys will be boys” mantra. And, for all our sakes, quit it with the false equivalencies.

Violence against women is not inevitable. We can eliminate it. We just have to have the courage to take on that challenge.

MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for Feministing.com and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for Feministing.com and Salon.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/1tnt21/ Tanya Thirlwall

    I have been the victim of domestic violence, I have had the bruises on my body, and I have been asked what happened and why did it happen, and while the questioning was what provoked him or what did I do to provoke such a thing, the truth of the matter was that he had a history of it. He had a history of violence, and it wasn’t the first time he had done it, and I was not the first woman that he had hit that had stood up against him and put him in jail for it. All of that however, I found out after the fact.

    From personal experience, and what I learned, men with violence streaks are not necessarily a product of their environment, but along the way were upset, injured, belittled, and the need to take it out on someone of less stature. Women, being less physically intimidating, become the targets. When someone is ready to become physically violent, it should be taught and understood that it is a last resort to someone who is truly a threat, a true physical threat, and when the urge to hit someone comes up because you do not feel good about the situation, that enough discipline has been put in that person to walk away, whether they are right or wrong no matter what is said, but to physically walk away. To just physically walk away allows them to gain control of themselves, the situation, it is the biggest way they can protect both themselves and the other party and most importantly, it shows the ultimate respect both to them and their partner. Time and distance tend to be the best answers in fixing immediate physical threat issues. In arguments, true judgment of the matter becomes hazy with raw emotions. Nothing gets fixed, wrong things are said, and the outcomes tend to lead to physical threats and acts. Both men and women need to learn that when an argument escalates, that they both need to walk away. Self control is what is lacking in situations like this one being mentioned – self control is what should make either party just walk away, completely remove themselves from the situation, and when things are calm, develop a new plan. The plan should not be how to control the other person in another way, or how to get the upper hand, because mental, emotional, and even spiritual abuse can be bigger and much more damaging than physical abuse, if you are in a loving relationship, were you want to see yourself grow with that person, then the plan should be how to regain trust, how to constructively devise a solution that both parties agree on on how to resolve conflicts, and how you will move forward. Knowing how to function in a relationship, being equals, that shows respect.

  • http://feministing.com/members/abrilpruneda123/ abril

    I thinks it is time that we teach boys not to hit instead of teaching girls to be extra careful with violent men. Same goes to the rape victims, this society tells us that it is better to give a fake number than just reject the guy. So I agree with Tanya that when someone’s ready to become physically violent, he or she should be taught that thats the last way to react in any situation.