What Women Really Think

Dec. 1 2014 11:27 AM

Janay Rice Answers Those Asking Why She Stays

Reading Janay Rice's interview with Jemele Hill of ESPN, in which Rice explains why she is standing by her husband, Ray Rice, after he punched her out cold in an Atlantic City elevator, is hard. It's hard reading her make excuses for his behavior and hard reading her blame herself. It's hard reading about how much she lives in his world, which no doubt makes it that much harder to imagine life without him. It's hard reading about how Ray Rice put his wife in a position to comfort him and tiptoe around him, like he was the victim, mere hours after the incident. But it is important reading, if you want to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and really get answers to that perennial question of why she stays. 

"We know our incident led to very important discussions to hashtags of 'why I stayed' and 'why I left,' " Janay Rice told Hill. "If it took our situation becoming headline news to show domestic violence is happening in this country, that's a positive." A lot of feminists, when discussing why domestic violence victims stay, put the emphasis on financial dependence and fear. Rice's testimony, however, shines light on some of the more personal reasons that victims stay: They believe their abusers' apologies. They believe they are the ones to blame for the abuse, which leaves them to believe they can prevent future incidents. They are so accustomed to catering to the abusers that they don't have much room for concern about their own well-being. As Rice explains, "I still find it hard to accept being called a 'victim.' " In a culture where accusing someone of "playing the victim" is a common discrediting tactic, it should be no surprise that victims will minimize their own experiences rather than be sneered at in just this way. 

Rice clearly hopes that the interview will exonerate her husband, but it does the opposite in many ways. For one thing, she shows that her understanding of what happened that night is mostly, perhaps completely, filtered through her husband. "The only thing I know—and I can't even say I 'remember' because I only know from what Ray has told me—is that I slapped him again and then he hit me," she says. When she did crack and watch the video of the incident, she turned to her husband to interpret it for her:

The video didn't make me rethink our relationship, but I did want more of an explanation from him. I asked him why he left me on the floor like that. I asked him how he felt when he saw that I was unconscious. He told me he was in shock. I asked him what happened when we got out of the elevator. He told me he was terrified because security was there. I asked him how he felt seeing me like that. He said he was thinking, "What did I just do?" I didn't watch the video again.

Because physical violence is so jarring, it sometimes overwhelms discussion about the emotional aspects of domestic abuse. But in many ways, the emotional aspects are just as, if not more, important. While there's no way to know for sure what's going on in the Rice marriage beyond what Janay Rice has told us, it's fairly typical for abusers to manipulate their victims to become dependent on the abusers to interpret life events for them. One common strategy is called "gas-lighting," defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline as "an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity." Constantly telling victims they remember things wrong, they are hysterical and over-reacting, or that others are filling their heads with ideas are common strategies. In the end, according to the NDVH, "they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape."

Janay Rice has done us all a favor by opening up and explaining her thought process. She repeatedly expresses a desire for this openness to "humanize" herself and her husband, and in this interview, she definitely succeeds. It's easy to judge from the outside, but hopefully her narrative will show how much various social and emotional pressures make it seem, for the person inside the relationship, like staying is the best idea. Yes, leaving is overwhelmingly understood by experts as the long-term goal for someone in an abusive relationship—hanging in and hoping the abuse stops has a dismal track record—but shaming the victims and judging them in hopes of hurrying the process along tends to backfire and makes them more defensive of their relationships. As Janay Rice's interview shows, if you listen, they may just tell you. 

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Nov. 26 2014 8:02 PM

A Thanksgiving Guide to Talking to Your Relatives About Women's Issues in the News

Affirmative consent, Bill Cosby, feminism—when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, women's-issues-in-the-news are bound to be on the table. Here's a guide to talking about some of the stickier gender issues that might come up this holiday season to help get you through.  

Bill Cosby rape accusations

"If all this happened so long ago, why is it only coming out now?" 

Actually, several of these accusations have been out for many years. A comedian named Hannibal Buress recently made pointed jokes about how Cosby is a hypocrite because he lectures everyone else on family values while all these women are accusing him, credibly, of rape, which led to the old accusations bubbling up in the news again, which led to other women coming forward, because there is safety in numbers.

Who is Hannibal Buress?

After dinner, let's watch Broad City on Hulu and I'll show you. 

All these women are just out for attention and money!

Nov. 26 2014 11:23 AM

Thanksgiving Is Becoming Impossible for Low-Wage Working Women

Black Friday has been poaching Thanksgiving itself, as demonstrated by this disturbing piece at Huffington Post showing how major retailers are opening earlier and earlier on the holiday. This, in turn, is increasing the amount of debate over whether or not employers should be allowed to steal the holiday from their low wage service workers. "Increasingly, Thanksgiving is a holiday that only some can afford to celebrate," Jillian Berman of the Huffington Post writes. 

Having to skip the actual meal portion of the day so you can sell cheap TVs to bored shoppers trying to escape their families is already an indignity, but, as Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports, the pain is compounded by many who have bosses who don't even bother to tell them they're working Thanksgiving until right before the holiday. As Jodi Kantor reported this summer in the New York Times, fancy new scheduling software at big chain stores has created a situation where many employees don't even know what hours they're expected to work until the last minute. The software, which uses store traffic patterns, weather, and other variables to produce timely estimations of how many employees a store will need during any given shift helps save companies money, but only by forcing low wage workers to live the "on call" lifestyle, not knowing from one week to the next when they're supposed to work. That mentality does not take a holiday for Thanksgiving, with many workers who had made travel or family plans being told at the last minute to drop those plans or get fired for not showing up to work, according to Harkinson's reporting. Susan Lambert, a researcher at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, found that almost half of young retail workers get less than a week's notice of what their schedules will be.

Nov. 26 2014 9:09 AM

Leg of Lamb Instead of Turkey for Thanksgiving: One Family’s Tragic Story

In late 2013, my parents, sibling, cousins and uncle gathered for a secret family meeting. My husband, daughter and I were not present, so I don’t know the details of how it went down. But I do know the outcome. The family decided unilaterally that there would be no turkey at Thanksgiving this year.

My mother, who was the only pro-turkey dissenter at this clandestine assembly, mentioned to me at some point over the summer that we wouldn’t have turkey in 2014. Thanksgiving seemed far away, so I brushed it off and promptly forgot about it until I was reminded of the turkey ban last week. That’s when my husband and I both acknowledged the true horror of the situation: We’re having lamb, instead of turkey.

“But all the fixins are the same!” my mother exclaimed when I cried foul, before adding in a voice that trailed off with the sadness she had hoped to cover up for my benefit, “whether they go with lamb or not...”

Nov. 25 2014 1:39 PM

The Drastic Overreach of the “Rape by Fraud” Bill  

Here is some legitimate overreach when it comes to prosecuting sexual abuse: New Jersey state Assemblyman Troy Singleton has drafted a "rape by fraud" bill that would make it illegal to lie your way into someone's pants. From NJ.com:

Earlier this month, state Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) introduced the bill (A3908), which would create the crime of “sexual assault by fraud,” which it defines as “an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not.”

The bill was inspired by the case of Mischele Lewis, who lost $5,000 to William Allen Jordan, a man she was dating who pretended to be a British military official in order to squeeze money and sex out of her. Jordan was convicted of fraud but attempts to charge him with sexual assault failed since lying to people to get them into bed isn't actually illegal. Singleton hopes to change that with this bill.

Nov. 25 2014 1:35 PM

The UVA Gang Rape Allegations Are Awful, Horrifying, and Not Shocking at All

Between the time I walked into Old Cabell Hall, which houses the Music Department at the University of Virginia, where I work as a professor, and the time I got to my office Wednesday morning, I heard the word “rape” seven times. Wednesday was the day Rolling Stone published the story of a UVA student who says she was gang-raped in a fraternity. If anyone at the University of Virginia was shocked by this article, then they have not been paying attention.

A very expensive mural called "The Student's Progress" covers the entire foyer and stairwell of Old Cabell Hall, which is also the University’s premier auditorium and the favored space for visiting dignitaries. The mural depicts, among other scenes of daily life at the University of Virginia, a male faculty member standing on a porch and tossing a mostly naked student her bra as his beleaguered wife comes up the stairs. My students and I have pointed out that wildly inappropriate section of the mural to faculty, administrators, students, parents, and donors, but so far, no one has been particularly horrified. The mural is proudly displayed and is prominently featured on UVA tours.

Nov. 21 2014 5:32 PM

Read the Letter Outraged UVA Faculty and Students Are Sending to Their President

The University of Virginia community is reeling from horrifying accounts of sexual violence and rape detailed in a Rolling Stone piece published earlier this week. The story painfully details a campus culture that allegedly silences victims, disregards offenders, and fails to keep the students informed about sexual assaults on the grounds. Now, students, alumni, and faculty are beginning to address the brutal allegations.

UVA president Teresa Sullivan responded quickly, explaining, rather underwhelmingly, that her administration was “marshaling all available resources to assist our students who confront issues related to sexual misconduct.” On Wednesday, Sullivan requested an investigation of a campus fraternity specifically mentioned in the original piece. But for many in the UVA community, this isn’t enough.

A letter making the rounds on social media is garnering support from faculty, students, and alumni alike. Christine Mahoney, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Politics in UVA’s Batten School, penned the message. “[UVA] faculty want to send a very clear message that this will not happen on our watch,” said Mahoney when I spoke to her earlier today. So far, 127 faculty members have signed the letter.

Read the full text below:

Nov. 21 2014 4:30 PM

What Happened When One Canadian Dad Took a 37-Week Parental Leave? (Nothing Bad.)

The state of American child care is pretty abysmal. Day care is not well-regulated, the quality is often poor, and it’s expensive: In 35 states and Washington, D.C., it costs more than a year’s in-state college tuition. We are the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid vacation or sick days, so when a snow day or a fever keeps a child out of school, it can mean a career setback for many parents. And for working parents with low-wage jobs, things are even worse.

We point to other countries—often ones in Europe—as models of how to do child care right. But is it really so much easier to be a working parent in Paris than it is in Peoria? We asked working moms and dads from all over the world to tell us their child care experiences. Here is the eighth in our occasional series, from a mother in Montreal, Canada.

Name: Camille*

Age: 31

Location: Montreal, Canada

Occupation: Economist

Partner's occupation: Financial analyst

Children: Two kids, 9 months and 4 years old

Hi, Camille. What are your work hours and your partner's work hours?

I work part-time on an 80 percent schedule, so officially I work 32 hours/week, but in practice is it more 35 to 40 hours of private sector consultation. My husband is employed in the public sector and works 35 hours/week, which is considered full-time. His work typically does not require any overtime hours.

Who takes care of your children while you work?

Nov. 20 2014 11:07 PM

Why Did the AP Suppress the Sexual Assault Portion of Its Bill Cosby Interview?

On Nov. 10, the Associated Press released a video featuring Bill Cosby and his wife Camille, chatting about the collection of African-American art the couple had recently loaned to the Smithsonian. More than a week later, the AP published additional footage from the Cosby sit-down that hadn’t make the original cut.

In the clip, a reporter mentions numerous allegations of sexual assault that have been made against Cosby over the past decade. “I didn’t want to—I have to ask about your name coming up in the news recently,” the reporter told Cosby. “No, no, we don’t answer that,” Cosby replied. The reporter tried twice more to get a comment out of Cosby, and Cosby denied him each time. The clip released by the AP also includes an exchange recorded after the formal interview concluded, but before Cosby had removed his mic. “Now, can I get something from you? That none of that will be shown?” Cosby asked the reporter, adding that he thought the AP had the “integrity” not to ask. “If you want to consider yourself to be serious,” Cosby told him, “I would appreciate it, if [the footage] was scuttled.”

The clip is troubling, because Cosby appears studied in the art of soft intimidation. But I’m also troubled by the ease with which the Associated Press buckles to his demands. Until last night, the AP had opted to suppress the sexual assault portion of the interview, accommodating Cosby at the expense of reporting the news. Why would it do that?

Nov. 20 2014 5:06 PM

Why Does Alleged Sexual Predator R. Kelly Still Have a Career?

As of Thursday afternoon, 16 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, the latest a nurse named Therese Serignese who says the comedian drugged and raped her in the mid-1970s. Earlier this week, model Janice Dickinson told a similar story, alleging that Cosby drugged her during a 1982 encounter, and that she woke up in a daze the next morning with her clothes off and “semen in between my legs.” As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic on Wednesday, the sheer number of allegations against Cosby makes it hard to believe that he’s anything but a serial predator. “[B]elieving Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person's word over another,” Coates writes, “it requires you take one person's word over 15 others.” (The number of accusers has gone up since Wednesday.)

Claims of sexual abuse against Cosby aren’t new, as Gawker’s Tom Scocca noted earlier this yearPhiladelphia magazine, People, the Today show, and other media outlets reported on accusations from multiple women back in the mid-2000s. These women gave bracing, on-the-record accounts of Cosby drugging and raping them. So why are we only paying attention now?

Barbara Bowman, one of Cosby’s alleged victims, first told her story to Philadelphia magazine’s Robert Huber in 2006. In a piece for the Washington Post last week, Bowman says people finally listened to her because “a man, Hannibal Buress” (italics hers) gave voice to what she’d been saying for a decade. Scocca argued back in February that stories like Bowman's were ignored because they contradicted Cosby’s happy, smiley TV image—that “nobody wanted to live in a world where Bill Cosby was a sexual predator. It was too much to handle.” And in a Slate piece, also this February, Newsweek’s Katie J.M. Baker told Amanda Hess that the women making claims against Cosby were blithely cast aside “because they were imperfect victims,” that nobody had much sympathy for “ambitious aspiring actresses and models who were hanging out with an older man who said he'd make them famous.”

I don’t think any of these explanations is quite right. It’s certainly true that, in 2006, “nobody wanted to live in a world where Bill Cosby was a sexual predator.” But I don’t get the sense that anyone is particularly excited to ponder Cliff Huxtable’s alleged sex crimes in 2014, and yet here we are. To understand what’s changed, let’s consider the case of R. Kelly, a man who, despite a Cosby-esque litany of sexual assault allegations against him, has yet to face a Cosby-esque backlash.

I covered Kelly’s child pornography trial back in 2008, a task that required sitting in a Chicago courtroom and watching a video in which a man who looks exactly like Kelly urinates on and has sex with a teenage girl. Though Dave Chappelle turned Kelly’s micturition into a joke, there’s nothing funny about this tape, which shows a girl of around 14 saying “Yes, daddy” when she’s asked to initiate sex. Jim DeRogatis, who doggedly chronicled the allegations against Kelly in the Chicago Sun-Times when no else seemed to care, said in a recent interview with the Village Voice’s Jessica Hopper that she has “the disembodied look of the rape victim.”

Despite what was on that video, the “Sex Planet” singer was acquitted of all charges in his 2008 trial, in large part because the alleged victim refused to testify. But this wasn’t an isolated accusation. In a separate piece for the Voice, DeRogatis cites “dozens of civil lawsuits and out-of-court settlements with underage girls who claim they had sexual relationships with him that left them physically and emotionally damaged,” adding, “I will never forget sitting with a girl who showed me the scars where she slit her wrists when her relationship with Kelly ended.”

DeRogatis has been on the Kelly story since 2000, when he wrote an article with Abdon M. Pallasch that began, “Chicago singer and songwriter R. Kelly used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them, according to court records and interviews.” That story describes a lawsuit by a woman who said she met the R&B star at age 14, started having sex with him at 15, and that he “encouraged her to participate in group sex with him and other underage girls.” Another woman named in that same lawsuit, who said she had sex with Kelly when she was 16, told DeRogatis that she believed the singer had a “sickness” for underage girls.

That lawsuit that DeRogatis wrote about in 2000 was settled, and the alleged victim’s mother told DeRogatis that “the terms of the settlement forbid her from talking to the press.” That, in part, explains why the Kelly story has never exploded into a Cosby-style media moment. Had one of the women in that lawsuit (or any of the other women who filed a lawsuit against Kelly) made the incredibly difficult choice to come forward and give a first-person account, perhaps more would have felt emboldened to do the same. That’s what happened with Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi, and also with Cosby.

The accusations against Kelly did get a bit more attention when the Village Voice’s Hopper collected and recapitulated DeRogatis’ reporting in December. At least, they got more notice than when Hitsville’s Bill Wyman did the same thing in 2008. As these last couple of weeks have demonstrated, the Internet’s power to amplify messages (for good and for ill) is exponentially greater than it was just a few years ago. That’s in part due to the rise of Twitter, but also because the media ecosystem is so much different now, with sites like BuzzFeed, Gawker, and, yes, Slate, pouncing on items more quickly and spreading them far and wide. (This is why the Buress video caught fire online, not because a man was saying that Cosby was a rapist.) As a society, we’ve also moved slowly but perceptibly in the direction of believing alleged victims of sexual assault—it turns out that we do, at least in some cases, give credence to the claims of ambitious aspiring actresses. This shift over the last 10 years may be small, but it’s real, and it’s contributed to how this wave of Cosby allegations has been received in the press and in the broader culture.

Given these factors, all of the R. Kelly reporting that’s already out there—helpfully aggregated by the Village Voice—is a tinderbox that’s waiting to be lit. It just hasn’t happened yet. If someone like Lady Gaga says she won’t work with Kelly anymore and explains why (preferably in a sharable video), then that could be the Hannibal Buress–esque spark. If some of Kelly’s alleged victims decide to tell their stories, that could do it, too.

I’m not saying they should come forward—that decision, of course, is theirs and theirs alone. This is simply an explanation of why Cosby has become a pariah while Kelly continues his career unperturbed (with the small exception of a recently canceled concert appearance). In 2010, he performed at the World Cup. In 2011, he was named Billboard’s top R&B artist of the last quarter-century. He continues to play sold-out shows and release new tracks and major-label albums. He continues to get a pass, one that Cosby once received and has now been revoked.