I’ve been thinking a lot about the Ray Rice business. Haven’t we all–it’s pretty much unavoidable these days. Also about the two other pro football players whose recent domestic abuse wasn’t video-ed. I believe they’re still playing after very brief suspensions. And about the deep issues of how men treat women’s bodies. And about how profoundly problematic I believe football and all its associated bread-and-circus inherent culture of violence is.
I would love to blame football. I would love to blame men, or the cultural constructs of both masculinity and femaleness (interesting, isn’t it that masculinity means “cultural definition of manhood” and femininity, although it can mean the corollary definition of sexual identity, also carries a whole icky boatload of Maribel Morgan/Phyllis Schlafly/Disney bullshit with it…). And there is plenty of validity in those discussions. Plenty.
But I wonder whether there is a deeper point from which to start the discussion: Given how pretty much all of human culture treats the bodies of men–particularly of young men, how can we be shocked by the violence with which those men sometimes treat and regard female bodies? In every human culture about which I know anything (neither an unusually long, nor an unusually short list), the bodies of young men are fodder for various kinds of violence–ritual mutilation, war, entertainment of others via dangerous competitions, war, war, war. Hard not to think of the infamous Roman mothers’ words of sending when their sons when off to war (which I will probably bollux somehow here) “Come home with your shield, or on it.” Come home having killed a bunch of other mothers’ sons, or dead. It’s telling, that.
It seems to me that humans, very generally speaking, don’t much respect the individual bodies of other humans, even sometimes (often?) those of other humans they love. Never have. Maybe it’s core evolutionary biology–like ducks and sea turtles, we make so many young because biology assumes the consumption of some of those young by predators. I don’t know. At any rate, while it is very clear that humans, at least, have been making rather too many of their young and keeping (in purely environmental terms) too many of them protected into adulthood to the point where, if we don’t stop making so many young and continuing to base our economies on an economics of constantly expanding profits, we’re going to find ourselves neck-deep in some version of apocalypse in fewer years than anyone really wants to think too hard about. Which would make us, as far as I know, the only species to have intentionally (because denial is an intentional process) brought about our own extinction. Which is to say that we don’t treat our larger environment with any less violence than we treat each other.
American football is just a particularly vivid example (even in environmental terms, it’s kind of a mess)–though we could just as easily talk about war. I don’t expect that thoughtful humans everywhere in the US will stop watching football, though it will also not stop bothering the heck out of me that it has effectively replaced the rather more interesting and much less violent baseball as “America’s Sport.” I wish folks could turn their backs on football without hurting the thousands and thousands of non-players whose livelihoods depend on the massive machinery that is the NFL. Economics is always messily complicated. I do think it’s reasonable to hope that the asshat, amoral, mega-zillionaires who run it will grow consciences and start dealing with the multiple problematic realities they’ve caused and/or are deeply complicit in. But I’m not holding my breath.
Meanwhile, Ray and Janay Rice have become the focus of a discussion that needs to happen and may ultimately do some good. It is way beyond time for humans to keep the capacity to wreak mayhem upon another body out of its definition of male identity. Sure, we can blame, and hold accountable, any man who uses his (in this case, vastly) superior muscle mass to physically abuse any woman. Adult individuals are, even taking contexts into account, accountable for their behaviors. It’s one of the critically valid definitions of adulthood. But if we raise and train and reward a man for turning his body and his anger into weapons, and all that training is based on inculcating in him an unquestioning willingness to be hit and hurt by other similarly trained men, then we should be more amazed when he doesn’t turn into an adult who uses his body to hurt other bodies even “off the field” than we are when he does. Our shock and dismay are disingenuous. Maybe even a little disgusting.
Especially in the context of the other discussion that’s been swirling through the inter-sphere about how American culture has made an industry out of the dehumanization of black men. I have almost no authority to speak on that subject, other than to acknowledge my pretty much automatic (by virtue of the accidents of my birth) complicity in that grossly abusive system. But it is impossible to look at Ray Rice and not wonder how that complicated and cancerous issue factored in to how he became that man in that elevator. Not an excuse. The behavior has no excuse. But a factor I couldn’t even begin to understand.
So, yes, the incident is about all of the things it has been said to be about–all of the male/female issues, and all of the football-culture issues, and all of the racial and economic issues. But nothing will truly change until we stop seeing the bodies of young men (and of the young in general) as appropriate locations for violence.