Exhibit A: Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice. NFL running back for the Baltimore Ravens since 2008. He was a 2012 Super Bowl Champion and has a number of other accolades: three-times to the NFL Pro Bowl all-star game, AFC Champion and the NFL Play of the Year award in 2012. He’s also the 200-pound pro football player who delivered a knockout punch to his fiancée, Janay Palmer, while they were riding in an elevator in Atlantic City this past February.
Exhibit B: Two new TV shows, Legends (TNT) and The Mysteries of Laura (NBC). There are many other examples I could pick, but these stuck out, perhaps because I’ve always liked Ali Larter and Debra Messing, who star in them. The problem I have is the way in which both shows sexualized their female stars.
Casual violence against women. Women as eye-candy sex objects. No connection?
I’ve ranted a lot about the seeming disconnect between our supposed stances against violence and our stunningly hypocritical love of violence in almost every aspect of life. Today I want to rant more specifically about the disconnect between our two social views of women and the role they play in society.
We are downright schizophrenic when it comes to women. On the one hand we work to promote equality in the workplace and we worry about violence against women. On the other hand, the Miss America Pageant not only still exists, but still has a swimsuit competition.
The mind boggles.
It comes, perhaps, from being downright schizophrenic when it comes to sex. We love the stuff — can’t get enough of it (pornography is a five-billion dollar business, and that’s just the legal side of it). But while we love our splattered blood and cut-open corpses in prime time, nudity (let alone sex) is reserved for cable shows (where it’s obligatory whether it makes any sense of not).
The problem seems to be that really doing something about the problem requires acknowledging our own participation. It requires that we do something, that we change our approach to life.
The problem isn’t over there somewhere. The problem is right here. In our laps.
Fixing it requires more than Twitter tweets or Facebook wall scribblings or wearing pretty colored ribbons. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that those things have almost no effect whatsoever. They might make one feel like they’ve “done something,” but that feeling is false, a feel-good illusion.
There are certainly groups who work hard to clean up the aftereffects of our objectification of women. And there are groups who work hard promoting equality or who work hard to somehow, somehow, somehow, reduce the violence against women.
But when a pro football player delivers a knockout punch to the jaw of his fiancée, when new TV shows immediately place their substantial female stars gratuitously in skimpy clothing (or worse, in sexualized situations), one has to wonder how much progress has actually been made.
And one really has to wonder when the NFL manages to handle the situation in every worst way possible. They not only broke every rule about handling domestic violence, but treated the matter far too lightly and may even have attempted a cover up to protect a “valuable” player.
I don’t really want to talk about Ray Rice. There’s plenty of news out there if you want to know more (assuming you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t seen the gut-sickening surveillance video dozens of times by now).
I am, however, disturbed that the NFL coverup is distracting from the underlying issue. At first there was a strong conversation going about domestic violence, but the putative NFL coverup is taking over the spotlight. (And the whole thing is slowly sliding away as the country gets bored and moves on to its next thrill.)
Instead, let me talk about the seeds that bring forth such foul fruit.
The new TNT summer show, Legends, stars Sean Bean and Ali Larter, two actors I rather like (except that poor Bean always seems to get his head cut off or something). The show turns out to be more of the usual mindless foolishness — sound and fury of no account. Bean is a master undercover operative for the FBI, and Larter is his superior — his boss.
Of course, it can’t be that simple on TV. Turns out they had some sort of fling in the past and so now there’s an edge to their relationship (ah, good old workplace sex — makes everything so much more “interesting”).
And how quickly they get Larter into stripper gear giving Bean a lap dance (because Bad Guys typically meet in strip clubs, you know), supposedly in order to deliver crucial information he needed to know immediately. What would they have done had Bean’s boss been a guy? (Oh, right, found something much more sensible.)
Or consider NBC’s new fall show, The Mysteries of Laura, a police comedy-drama filled with clichéd and hackneyed fluff. (It’s so weirdly out of date that it reminded me somewhat of the old Sledge Hammer! TV show — if not Police Squad! — but without the light-heartedness or charm of either.)
I realized the show was idiotic in the first few minutes, when homicide detective, Laura Diamond, shoots a hostage-holding bad guy. In the ear. Which (oddly) does not result in the bad guy shooting his hostage or anyone else. No, this perp — who’d just killed two people in a Bodega robbery — conveniently falls to the ground screaming.
Which allows divorced mother of two, Det. Diamond, to do the old “mom wiping child’s face with hankie” bit on the blood-splattered face of the shocked hostage (the show’s schtick involves how she uses her mothering instincts to solve crimes).
What I wanted to know is what happened to the bullet she fired in a crowded park. What I wondered was why firing a weapon in a crowded public place seemed to involve no review whatsoever by police superiors or IAB.
Oh, it’s a comedy (involving firing guns at people in public parks), so I guess reality got checked at the door. Excuse me all to hell for looking for a modicum of sense in a TV show.
What put the show on my Shit List was how they managed — in the very first episode — to put star Debra Messing first in a skimpy bathing suit and then, in a later scene, in her underwear. (For what it’s worth, I’m not the only one who hated the show! Critics and Twitter slammed it good and hard. Bravo for taste and sense!!)
These are hardly isolated incidents. These are, in fact, standard operating procedure. We pay lip service to the idea that women are equal to men, but in reality — more often than not — we see them as objects of beauty and sex.
And we wonder why rape and spousal abuse is a problem.
September 28th, 2014 at 12:04 pm
Good post. Thanks for at least trying to connect the dots. And I agree, the incompetence with which the NFL handled the Ray Rice “incident” has detracted from the real issue.
But most important, I have always been a fan of Debra Messing. But that new show of hers, which, because of my admiration for all things Debra Messing, I was hoping to really enjoy, was awful. I am losing my patience with TV shows. Between Bones, Castle, and a whole host of others, it’s all about sexual tension between the way-too-attractive-and-sexy female cop (or detective or medical examiner, or whatever) and the glib male protagonist (author, DA, cop, FBI agent, or whatever). It’s just tiresome and trite.
September 28th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Thanks. Yeah, it’s a bummer to see the conversation shift from the domestic violence issue to the coverup (and even more disheartening to see it begin to fade as the public gets bored with it). I’m glad I’m a baseball fan.
I felt the same way about Messing (I loved Will and Grace) and, like you, was really looking forward to seeing her on TV again. But, oh dear, what a disappointment. It may come from letting a former musical video director who calls himself “McG” produce and direct. (I’m sorry, but if you go around calling yourself “McG” that’s automatic asshole points in my book.)
And, yeah, these shows always seem to be mostly about the sexually-charged (or actual sexual) relationship between its stars. I’ve been watching the Showtime series, Masters of Sex, which is about (Bill) Masters and (Virginia) Johnson. I need to do some research — those two did have a sexual relationship while Masters was still married — but the series has increasingly focused not on their studies so much as on their relationship and the various sexual relationships of all the other characters on the show.
I do agree with your assessment, but I confess a fondness for Castle. I’ve liked Nathan Fillion ever since Firefly, and the show has a sly tongue-in-cheek self-awareness (of its own silliness) that makes it enjoyable to me. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’ve found that, for me, that makes a huge difference.
I think that’s part of what made the most recent two Superman movies so awful — they took themselves sooooo seriously. Come on, we’re talking about an alien from another planet who flies around in his underwear and a big cape. You can’t take that too seriously! (Compare those two to the Chris Reeve ones, which were delightful and which still endure.)
September 28th, 2014 at 1:20 pm
Okay, I agree, I gave up “Legends,” though when he put the drops into a man who he knew would die from the poison, to ‘prove’ he could be one of the bad guys. I was disappointed in Debra Messing and Ali Larter’s roles, but I don’t want my heroes to be killers, men do the wrong things making money, too, W.S.! Anyway, I still mention that I am pleased that Angie Harmon on the harmless “Rizzoli and Isles,” wears black or solid colored jackets, while her coworkers also wear theirs. I hated Marg Helgenberg’s always wearing sexy tops, when she would have been cold, not being a professional in her “CSI” (original Las Vegas version) position. I don’t like Tom Cruise’s personal life, but was pleased in “Jack Reacher,” as an executive producer he could have ‘bedded’ the blonde woman but instead kissed her and walked away. He ‘grew up’ and realizes we don’t all need him to be that ‘bad boy,’ at least on film. Hey, I like “Forever” because of Judd Hirsch’s role, as the ‘son’ of the man who is living forever. It is neat that they talked about his wife, who would be Judd’s character’s mother. They both miss her, she would have been 96 they talk over dinner about her. It is a good murder mystery, crime scene and morgue show. Wish they had given it a better title, men will think it is a love story… Well, did I agree with you on this subject overall, an emphatic YES!
September 28th, 2014 at 3:14 pm
CSI is a very good example of glitz and sex over common sense and reality! Even their laboratory is dark and sexy — real scientists work in brightly lit labs. And the “science” in the show is frequently utterly absurd, although I’ve commended the show for being one of the first to send the message that “science is cool.” At least they make some effort in the direction of science and intelligence.
I’ve continued to watch the show out of loyalty (and because it hasn’t quite risen to the level of pissing me off), but I thought the CSI:NY version did a bit better on the realism front. (The Miami version was worse than the Vegas version in the sex and glitz department, and I never bothered with — plus I don’t much care for David Caruso… never forgave him for abandoning NYPD Blue.)
And while I do like Marg Helgenberger, her character suffered the same problem as, for example, Troi in Star Trek (TNG). Long on the eye-candy factor, very short on the convincing me she’s a trained professional factor. About as convincing as Arnold Schwarzenegger as a scientist in his worst movie, Junior!
I adore Rizzoli & Isles, and Angie Harmon, in particular! I’ve had a crush on her since she was a ADA on Law & Order. (I just realized a cute thing: both her main TV shows have an ampersand in the title! 😀 ) And exactly as you say, she (and co-star Sasha Alexander) come off as highly-trained professionals doing a job. The show itself is a little silly and broad, but the characters are sterling!
September 28th, 2014 at 1:58 pm
You raise a lot of valid questions here Smitty!
There’s a real tug and pull going on between trying to emulate the type of society we would like and competing for ratings.
More accurately perhaps, is that there is no tug at all and its all about ratings because you gotta know that these shows are on TV because people are watching them!
September 28th, 2014 at 3:23 pm
Yeah, I think you were right the second time — it’s about selling soap (as they used to say). And these days we’re big on conflict and emotional turmoil — it’s the primary ingredient in “reality” shows and most of our news. Reality increasingly seems tossed out the window. More and more I see stories that, if one just stops and thinks for a moment, make absolutely no sense.
The problem with existing due to popularity… well, the same thing can be said of cocaine and prostitutes. Or even Mikey D’s french fries. I think that’s the real tug of war: between our own better and worse natures. As I said in the post: this isn’t a problem caused by other people over there somewhere. It’s us — we created it, and we sustain it. That’s why it’s so bloody hard to change — it requires changing how we go about our lives.
September 29th, 2014 at 12:16 am
I’m really not sure how much I agree with this, if any. Women have been beaten and raped by men all through the ages, long before bad TV even. And somehow trying to find a correlation between how women are depicted on TV and how they are treated in real life is one step removed from comparing how short her skirt was to deciding if she really just got what she deserved.
The disconnect between what is acceptable treatment of women by some men is NOT triggered by TV shows. If that were the case, every man would be beating and raping women, and we know there are many many good men out there who don’t subscribe to this behavior, even with Debra Messing wandering around in her spanx a week after the Miss America pageant yawned its way through the living room.
Where the conversation needs to go is to the men who assault women–to ask why they think it’s okay to do this. To teach every young male child that it is NOT acceptable to do this EVER. That THEY are responsible for their fists and their genitals. It’s an education process that needs to be addressed to remove the finger pointing at the women in the world, or even the women on TV, as cause for this behavior.
The issue with men beating and raping women has really nothing to do with what a woman is wearing or saying or shooting or eating… it has solely to do with the men doing the raping and the beating. They just need to STOP EFFING DOING IT.
September 29th, 2014 at 2:09 am
THANK YOU for disagreeing! A wish I have for many of my posts is to start a discussion, and that’s hard to do unless there are two sides to discuss!
A difference between “all through the ages” and now that I see is that we’re supposedly a more advanced, more aware, civilized egalitarian society that claims equality for men and women. I see a severe disconnect between our assertion that women have an equal role in society and are equivalent to men versus the way we depict and objectify them, seemingly at every turn.
There is also the one-two punch of media being such a constant part of our lives combined with it being so incredibly realistic (and in high def). This is a new — and, I maintain, dangerous — aspect of modern society. There is a vast difference between, say, a book or painting versus 1080P high-def on a 50″ TV with surround sound.
I used to believe that media wasn’t any sort of problem at all, and for people with a varied educational diet, I still think it’s not a problem at all. But when it’s the majority of someone’s diet, then I really wonder.
There is, I think, a circular effect. Our media reflects our true values (because people buy and watch what they choose) and in turn perpetuates — and I think can even amplify — those values.
I’m not suggesting that TV shows alone trigger anything (and even if they did, that wouldn’t mean everyone would do it any more than taking a drink makes everyone an alcoholic). I am suggesting they reflect our true values back at us and create a climate of what is acceptable and what isn’t.
One thing that concerns me is: don’t we already send the message to children about what is and isn’t acceptable? I surely got that message, and I got it loud and clear.
But the media we consume daily often sends such a different message, and when young people get too much of their input from that media, I think that becomes a problem. We’re talking out of both sides of our mouth. We perpetuate myths and treat people as objects.
Look at it this way: if men have been beating and raping women all through the ages, why would we expect them to just STOP EFFING DOING IT now? What’s changed?
None of this is clear-cut or black-and-white. The problem is extremely complex and has many aspects. Let me turn the discussion back to you with a question: Are you saying that, indeed there is no connection between our social mores and our media? None at all?
September 29th, 2014 at 8:52 am
Actually… no not much at all. You said yourself you were given the message as a boy with regard to how to treat women. I’m assuming this means you were told what not to do, what lines not to cross, what NO means, and that just because you can see 3 extra inches of leg above the knee on a woman in a bar, that woman does not want to have forcible sex with you. And even though you’ve seen women objectified in the media, watched the Fox Sportsgirls (who seem a bit ditzy, but are at least fully clothed in team gear), possibly seen some really raunchy porn (not sure what you’re into 😉 ) and witnessed beating bloody brutal scenes in movies and on TV… you STILL retain a sense of what’s okay and not okay in how you treat women.
So either you are presenting yourself as a lofty male with ideals and behavior far above the average man in our “civilized egalitarian society”… or there’s a gap in your logic somewhere. Because I don’t see most men this way. I see some men this way and I see that their behavior started long before they could find a porn site, or see a Quinten Tarantino film. I think there is a lot of cyclical behavior in home settings. You see your father hit your mother, it becomes something that’s “normal” and “acceptable” and you carry that behavior forward. You get hit hard at home as a child, that’s how you tend to discipline your own kids. You have a dad who makes constant jokes about “getting some” with women–that sex is what women are for, not relationships, not love–then that is how you view the role of women.
Some people do become more enlightened after they leave their formative homes. They choose to not repeat such behaviors. I’m guessing those numbers are lower than the ones who carry the behavior forward. I’ve been told it’s hard to break that cycle.
And I strongly disagree with your comment that these horrible things shown in the media create a climate of what is acceptable and what is not. Individual people decide what is acceptable and what is not. Again, if your premise were true, you yourself would fall into the abyss of beatings and rapings as you wouldn’t be able to help yourself–the media would have MADE IT HAPPEN.
So I stand by my premise that the way have the beatings and the rapings stopped is to have men STOP EFFING DOING IT. However, by the time they’re watching Debra Messing in her bathing suit, it’s too late. They have to be reached much earlier.
September 29th, 2014 at 1:41 pm
Maybe we should start by seeing if there is any common ground. Would you agree that media at least reflects our values as a society? What does how we depict women say about those values?
We’re focusing on sexual violence, which is not what my post tried to address. I’m speaking about the objectification of women and specifically about the nature of that objectification. In fact, media objectifies both sexes, but I think generally speaking men tend to come off better than women in that.
It’s how an aggressive and pushy man is “studly” or “management material” whereas an aggressive and pushy woman is “bitchy.” (In my book they’re both just assholes. 🙂 )
Two points you’ve repeated seem important…
Firstly, the idea of the shortness of a skirt fomenting or excusing an attack by a man. I hope I haven’t given the impression I’m framing my argument that way. I don’t agree the behavior of an individual is similar to the pervasive messages communicated by media. Seeing a real individual, or even many individuals, is not the same as the bombardment of values from ubiquitous and faceless media. (And, again, this is not about sexual violence, but about the constant depiction of women (and men) in media.)
Secondly, the idea that, if media really was a problem, everyone would do it. As I mentioned above, drinking alcohol doesn’t make everyone an alcoholic, but it does affect some that way. That’s not necessarily an argument for banning it (we tried that; it only criminalized it), but it certainly is an argument for awareness and caution.
A balanced diet is key. My media diet has always been varied, and I think that is a saving grace. And my education is pretty extensive, which also helps. And I was raised to believe in doing the right thing — the spirit of the law rather than its letter.
I agree that, ‘as the twig is bent, so grows the branch.’ Much of our behavior comes from our home environment. It also comes from our classmates and teachers (I can trace certain aspects of my personality directly to teachers I had). And there seems two distinct paths for children: they grow up aligned with parental values, or they grow up rejecting parental values. I’m sure you’ve heard people say they’re channeling their parents? Or that they’ll “never be like” their parents?
The question I ask is, if all the time one spends at home affects a child, and all the time spent in school affects a child, how is it possible that all the time spent in front of a video screen does not affect a child?
Certainly! But based on what? These decisions don’t take place in a vacuum. They are based on ones view of the world, and that view comes from many sources. And as I’ve also said before, the realism in storytelling, and the high quality of the media itself, combine to make it very compelling.
Sure. How do you propose we do that? The behavior has been condemned and interdicted for centuries.
p.s. FTR, Quentin Tarantino films — for all their violence — actually have pretty good values and, in two of his best, extremely powerful (and I think wonderful) female roles (I’m speaking of Jackie Brown and Kill Bill). Mia Wallace (Pulp Fiction) was a pretty good figure, too.
September 29th, 2014 at 2:14 pm
I’m throwing sexual violence into the mix because it’s hard to separate “just” a beating (Ray Rice) from the sexual violence that often accompanies physical violence. In order for your theory that TV (media, whatever) influences a man to become the type of man to beat a woman then you have to look at the number of men watching TV (bazillions) and how many actually beat women. The numbers don’t match up.
You have seen these shows, this objectification of women, the gratuitous violence… so have you been affected by this violent media? Or been swayed to lose your moral bearings when viewing it? I don’t believe most men are. My son is not a violent young adult (nor was he as a teen) due to playing violent video games. No matter how many times I watch a show about children being beaten, I’m not going to cross over to that side. It can’t affect my psyche in such a way.
Do I LIKE that women are objectified, or seen as bitchy, or paid less, or held to a different standard? Of course not. I’m just saying that seeing these things in the media isn’t what causes the Ray Rices of the world to act like that. I’m pretty sure this is something instilled in them from a young age (psychopaths and sociopaths aside) that has nothing to do with what they saw in the media.
I understand what you’re saying about all things affecting a child to varying degrees. I guess there could be some influence, but it would be much smaller than what I think you’re trying to suggest. Only because I think there would be far FAR more men to succumb to this behavior if the media influence was that strong. They would be defenseless against it.
Now I need to find a study done where abusive men have been asked what makes them act the way they do.
September 29th, 2014 at 6:26 pm
Sexual violence and domestic violence are related, but at least somewhat separate, issues. According to the CDC: “nearly 25% of women experience at least one physical assault during adulthood by a partner.” A UN study puts the figure at 22%. Various studies put the rape percentage at 17% (“1 in 6 women have experienced an attempted or completed rape”).
Domestic violence, obviously, is always by a relationship partner. Rape stats (in the USA) put rates at 26% by current or former partner, 7% by a relative, 38% by a friend or acquaintance, and 26% by a stranger.
Statistics are tricky things in this area due to under-reporting, so they should be taken with a grain of salt. Date rape and rapes by family members, for example, are likely highly under-reported.
Domestic abuse is also very highly under-reported, so it’s hard to draw conclusions, but the numbers here do suggest some separation between rape and domestic abuse. (The separation gets even higher when you look at male rape versus domestic violence against men. Male rape is comparatively rare (about 9% of reported rapes — 1 in 33 men have experience some form of rape) and many (most?) of those take place in prison settings. Conversely, about 15% of domestic violence cases are against men.)
One in four women experiences domestic violence in their lifetime. One in six experience rape. Pretty damning numbers!
I’ve addressed this repeatedly. I (and you) have backgrounds and educations that I believe make a key difference. More to the point, how would we really even know how much affect there might be? To what extent has my view of women been corrupted by the perception that — at least some women — are apparently quite happy being sex objects?
Stronger than one in four?
But I think you’re misunderstanding the strength of the connection I’m making. I’m not suggesting men watch and that causes them to lose their minds and go out and abuse women (or rape them). I’m am suggesting our media sends a constant message that is often at odds with our espoused views. And in particular I’m talking specifically about violence against women.
Such studies exist and return a wide variety of results (‘what I see on TV’ being one of them). Peoples’ motives are not always clear to themselves — many are neither self-aware nor self-reflective — so it’s hard to sort through the causes. It’s really hard to parse Nature-Nurture issues.
Here are some links you check out if you want further information: