Republicans Honor “Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month” by Unanimously Voting Against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
Since being signed into law in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized by Congress in 2000 and 2005. Currently its reauthorization is being debated, and while passing this should be a “no-brainer,” not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill last week. In addition to wanting to cut funding to existing programs aimed at combating domestic violence, Republican opposition is aimed at wording that ensures protection of gay and transgendered victims, as well as provisions for illegal immigrants who seek assistance for domestic violence.
The timing of this debate coincides with “Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month,” a result of the 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. In response to the alarming rates of dating violence here in the U.S.— 1 in 3 teens is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, with girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experiencing the highest rate of intimate partner violence—in 2010 Congress declared the month of February dedicated to raising awareness to this often overlooked problem. Now, I realize that just last week I made an argument about the effectiveness of “awareness.” And while I stand by my earlier comments in relation to breast cancer, I do believe that we as a nation are woefully unaware and ill-equipped in dealing with and understanding intimate partner violence.
If you don’t believe me, we only have to look back to last Sunday’s Grammy Awards and the debates surrounding Chris Brown’s performances, to see the ways in which domestic violence is misrepresented and misunderstood by the media. As everyone remembers, Brown, 23, was arrested on the eve of the Grammy Awards in 2009 for assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna, who was 21 at the time. This past Sunday, Brown performed at the Grammys for the first time since his arrest in 2009. For many, his two performances were too much, too soon. My point here, though, is not to debate the inclusion of Brown at the Grammys, but, rather, to stress the way in which reactions to Brown’s performances indicate our culture’s twisted relationship to violence against women.
Take, for example, this comment from Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich: “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years, and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” Umm, I’m sorry, the Grammys were the victim here?? How exactly did the physical abuse Rihanna’s body suffered hurt the Grammys? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t. Rather, this is just one way in which the depoliticalization of the battered women’s movement has shifted the focus away from women—who, let’s face it, are the overwhelming majority of victims in these situations—and instead redirected the problem into what feminist Nancy J. Meyer describes as “a hyper-individualist rhetoric of impartial expert knowledge.” Or, in other words, a “culture of victimization” that sees everyone as a victim, except of course, those who actually are.
Even more disturbing than Ehrlich’s comments, though, were the number of Tweets during the Grammys from young girls saying things such as “I’d let Chris Brown beat me up” (@DontDoubtDani), “Like I’ve said multiple times before, Chris Brown can beat me all he wants…. I’d do anything to have him oh my” (@kelllllx), and “Dude, Chris brown can punch me in the face as much as want to, just as long as he kisses it (:” (@KaylaMarieWatts). While many of these women have fired back that they were “joking,” regardless of their intentions or meaning, they speak to the very warped way in which violence against women is seen as a joke in contemporary society.
The battered women’s movement arose from the second wave feminism in the 1960s and the 1970s, turning what was once seen as a “private, family matter,” into something that challenged patriarchal institutions that naturalized and legitimized violence. With its emphasis on “women,” the battered women’s movement argued that this violence was rooted in misogyny and sexism, and what happens to one woman is an issue for all women. Fast-forward to 2012 where domestic violence has been “domesticated” to the point where girls can “joke” about being beaten by a celebrity, and Republicans proudly put politics before the welfare of women. Maybe I’m too old, or too much of a feminist, but the humor is lost on me.