If a functioning economy was the only thing preventing your domestic partner from beating the shit out of you: you might be in the wrong relationship.
On a scale of one to ten, how challenging was that statement? Probably an eleven. So I know I’m on thin ice, here.
And you can consume a thousand other media sources that will amplify the opposite perspective, for which I’m glad. I want to live in a world that prioritizes women; that takes women’s safety seriously; that holds men, individually and collectively, accountable for their patterns of internalized misogyny. I understand that economic stressors roll “downhill”, and that men’s identities are often constructed on shaky ground, and that women, and their children, often find themselves trapped without effective legal, financial, or even cultural recourse. And I get that nuclear family dynamics in the developed world have technically, but not per se energetically, exited social constructions which render women legitimately defenseless and biologically vulnerable. These social constructions have the momentum of centuries and — whatever you call thousand-year increments — on their side. And most of all, I sympathize with individual victims of specific abuse, who find themselves suddenly un-buffered, thanks to an economic interruption on a magnitude we’ve never seen, and that no one could have predicted.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused me to scrutinize our media-driven victim culture. The News points its camera: “What a shame! —” and then demands we answer: “Who’s to blame?” So we scramble to offer up the right villain. Anyone who owns a cat and a laser pointer knows exactly how this game goes. And it’s a game with legs, too; the fun can go on for days, weeks — years! My entire Facebook feed has devolved to, essentially, a riot of cats and lasers.
And you know how your cat will eventually get bored, or tired, so you have to jiggle the laser more enticingly? The news media does that too, by finding a victim you can’t ignore, no matter how exhausted you’ve become. Not “triggered” enough by a bunch of old folks with terminal, stage-9 whatever? Okay, here’s some young folks. Not sad enough? Okay, now they’re famous. Bored of that? Here’s a Broadway actor with his leg amputated! Or let’s try the five-year-old daughter of an EMS worker, who apparently already knew she wanted to be a pediatric dentist (??). Or, or, or — howabout a bunch of battered women? No one can sit still while that laser zooms by. No one could possibly be enough of an unfeeling asshole to question that. (As Señor Chang famously quipped, in the series Community, season one, episode 16: Have you met me?)
Individuals are truly, legitimately victimized every day, and that’s sad, and I hope everyone gets the help they need — most certainly, though least likely, the invisible “food” animals, for whom this holocaust is business as usual. But we’re so deeply, thoroughly, and constantly manipulated by this media mind game — what a SHAME! who’s to BLAME? — that we can’t even see the forest for the trees. Newsflash: cats never catch the laser. And we won’t ever offer up enough villains, or the right ones, because the harder we try — the more new victims we create.
If sensational headlines attracting widespread focus to specific catastrophes were the only connector piece needed, in our desire to move others from victimhood to empowerment, I’d be the first to rent an airplane banner and fly it across the sky. And I acknowledge that all societal shifts in consciousness have been preceded by exactly the sort of churn we, in contemporary times, can count on the media to amplify. (Correlative, yes; causal — eh…) So maybe I’m way off base, here, and this is the perfect way to solve problems. Maybe my boyfriend will have a bad day tomorrow, and punch my lights out, and I’ll finally understand that my personal responsibility lies in snapping some selfies, uploading them to social media, and joining the cast. Series title: Battered Women. Season: COVID. Episode: What else could I possibly have done?
I’ll tell you what scares me: the sweet, sweet temptation of joining whatever tribe of self-identified victim matches my demographic. For instance, I could be a card-carrying woman-victim, or a veteran-victim, or a vegan-victim. I could get really creative and be a women-in-trucking victim, or a scoliosis victim. I grew up white on a reservation, so I could be a racial minority victim.
Question: how do we honor those aspects of our identity which are unique, and even misunderstood, and even aggressed, without adding momentum to the very strife that has wounded us?
Answer: by asking this question in the first place.
And a final thought: I don’t think it’s likely we’ll eliminate these patterns of violence from our lives without first having had the courage to conduct, as the sober alcoholics put it, “a fearless and searching moral inventory”. We’re all victims of trauma, in some way, shape, or form — that’s a given. But where, and how, and when are we the aggressors? What chains-of-pain do we perpetuate? To whom can we show mercy? Is there a level of reality, a face of suffering, to which we ourselves remain stubbornly oblivious? What invisible acts of violence are we tolerating, ignoring, rationalizing? Hint: the shit rolls downhill. The blindspot you ignore is the psychic doorway for violence, and it swings both ways.