A picture, the old saying goes, is worth a thousand words. In today’s always-connected digital world, however, a provocative web video more probably is worth several million. And in such horrible circumstances as the current ISIS surge into Iraq, accompanied as it has been by videos of hostage beheadings, the price tag surely goes way up into the billions.
C loser to home, we now also have the shocking surveillance-video footage of NFL star Ray Rice slugging his then-fiancee Janay Palmer (now his wife) in an elevator last February. The saddest aspect of that particular incident — besides the fact that the couple actually got married — is that there was nothing all that special about what Ray Rice did; unfortunately, men have been physically abusing women for more millennia than we can count. Indeed, this magazine did a cover story on the subject nearly 30 years ago (see inset).
But the fact that this bully's performance was captured “live” on video has brought the issue of domestic violence front and center in our culture, as never before. Let’s hope this new focus lasts longer than media sensations usually do. Personally, I hope Ray Rice is banned for life from the NFL, and that that organization develops a zero-tolerance policy as regards domestic violence. But even that would be a largely symbolic victory, one that might make players in that league behave differently, yes, but one that would mean precious little to the millions of American women still dealing with domestic-violence issues on a regular basis.
Much more necessary is zero-tolerance of domestic violence in every corner of our society. And that zero-tolerance has to start with the male half of our population.
Let’s face it, gentlemen. The problem is us. According to the Department of Justice’s 2011 figures, nine out of ten homicides are committed by males. Similarly, the vast majority of domestic-violence incidents involve men being physically abusive to women. The burden thus must be placed upon all men to put an end to this unacceptable nonsense. There is never an excuse, of course, for striking a woman, but equally, there is no excuse, ever, for knowingly tolerating any other man’s abusive behavior to a partner. We all need to speak up, whenever necessary. No excuses.
It is probably no coincidence that the current controversy has focused so directly upon the all-male National Football League, whose response to the recent flurry of domestic-violence incidents can be described as thoroughly inept at best. The NFL’s business model, after all, is built around what might be called institutionalized male violence. Every fall Sunday, a thousand-plus male athletes dress up in gladiatorial costume to engage in one-on-one physical combat, i.e., trying to beat each other’s brains out. (They are evidently quite successful at this; a recent study determined that as many as 30 percent of retired NFL players suffer from permanent brain damage.) So we’re surprised when they take their work home with them?
We shouldn’t be. All of us, male and female, have become inured to living in a culture where violence — in films, in video games, and, yes, in sports — is omnipresent. But the time has well and truly come to make our homes — all of our homes — no-combat zones.
Speaking several weeks ago on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the passage of his Violence Against Women Act, Vice-President Joe Biden observed that his one regret about that legislation was that his committee labeled the problem “domestic violence, as if it’s a domesticated cat. It’s not. It’s the most vicious form of violence there is.”
Amen to that, Mr. Vice-President.