“Bang, zoom, straight to the moon!” Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason’s character on The Honeymooners liked to use this threat when he grew frustrated with his wife to remind her that the force of his punches could propel her into outer space.  I, like most of us, want to believe that Americans’ attitudes toward domestic violence have come a long way since audiences laughed at this oft-repeated line from the popular 1950s sitcom.  After all, domestic abuse would never be accepted as comedic fodder on today’s network television programs.  Just because we no longer laugh openly at the idea of a man hitting his wife however, doesn’t mean the way we think of domestic abuse in 2009 is necessarily healthy.  If the weeks since last month’s alleged domestic dispute between pop stars Chris Brown and Rihanna have proved anything to me, it’s that attitudes toward domestic abuse are not as evolved as I’d once hoped, particularly among youth.

As the official LAPD affidavit shows, what transpired between Brown and Rihanna in the early hours of February 8 was violent, gruesome and extremely disturbing.  No less disturbing were the subsequent reactions to this dispute, especially the reactions of teenagers. In a recent survey of youth ages 12 to 19 conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission, 46% said Rihanna was the one responsible for the incident, despite having been beaten badly enough to require hospital treatment.  In the article “Teenage Girls Stand by Their Man,”  a New York Times reporter spoke with teenagers whose views reflected the Health Commission’s survey results. “She probably made him mad for him to react like that,” a ninth grade girl is quoted as saying, referring to Rihanna and Brown. “You know, like, bring it on?” 

While it’s understandable that young teenagers–especially fans–are shocked at Brown’s behavior along with the rest of the public, their quickness to defend his actions is alarming.  Such reactions are precisely what make the Brown incident a “teachable moment,” as Oprah is calling it. Prompted by what transpired between Brown and Rihanna, Oprah devoted an episode of her show to domestic violence earlier this month and invited Tyra Banks to co-host with her.  Banks hit the nail on the head:  “There’s no excuse for a man to put his hands on a woman, ever, ever, ever.” (Or someone of any gender to put their hands on their partner, for that matter.)  This is exactly the message that should be , but is apparently not, explained and repeated to all children from a very young age. 

Though abusive relationships are complicated and unfortunately common (1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hurt by their partner), violence in a relationship should never be mistaken as acceptable.  Though this may seem blindingly obvious to the vast majority of people, especially students at hyper politically correct campuses like Wesleyan, it’s clear that it’s not so obvious to everyone.  What the teens surveyed in Boston, the ones quoted in the Times piece and those still debating the incident on blogs and social networking sites have failed to recognize is this: What Chris Brown did to Rihanna is not okay and not her fault, period.  

To be sure, there is no value in demonizing Brown. Abusers need help and support every bit as much as their victims do. Brown is not evil or a lost cause; he’s a talented 19-year-old kid who messed up big time and is now having his mistakes broadcast to millions. I’m just hoping that when Brown arrives at court for his April 6 arraignment, he won’t be the only one who has learned an important lesson about the realities of domestic abuse.

About gpalmer

Gianna Palmer is a senior English and Sociology major from Eugene, Oregon. At Wesleyan, Gianna has written for the Argus and Wesleying, and tutored through the Writing Workshop. Outside of Wesleyan, Gianna has interned/written for Preservation Magazine in Washington, D.C. and the New York Daily News. Besides heading up the Blargus, Gianna is keeping busy her senior year by doling out funds as a member of the Student Budget Committee, dancing in student-choreographed pieces and scoping out the class of 2014 as a senior interviewer in the Admissions Office.
  • Fault?

    It always takes two to tango. We can acknowledge everyone should be keeping their hands off everyone else without going so far as to talk about “fault.” Men and women constantly involve themselves in abusive relationships. Both men and women return to physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive significant others only to be abused again. It’s easy to say no man should hit a woman and Rihanna is not at “fault” for getting pulverized. But isn’t returning to an abusive lover like walking into traffic when you’ve already been hit by a car? Let’s not forget Rihanna, unlike a lot of other abused women, is financially independent and doesn’t need to be stepping back into the tiger’s cage. Her decision to do so is exactly the type of crap motivating teenagers to think it’s OK when their boyfriend or girlfriend beats them up.

  • casey c.

    Rihanna’s behavior is right in line with that of other women who have been a victim of intimate partner violence. There’s data that it takes, on average, 8 times for an abused partner to leave. It’s not just as easy as walking way, even if you do have money.

  • Anonymous

    Just because Rihanna is rich and in the public spotlight doesn’t mean that she is somehow magically able to do what countless women are unable to do in private every day. She’s 19 year old, and she’s probably overwhelmed, frightened, confused and deeply hurting. Abusive relationships don’t just happen overnight- if everything in a relationship was perfect and then suddenly one partner beat the other to a pulp, things would be easy to recognize and walk away from. Relationships take time to get to that point. They start subtly and quietly, with ever-escalating emotional manipulation/abuse and a slow buildup of physical harm. Often by the time things are easy to recognize as “serious” by outsiders, the victim is so beaten down, tired, and manipulated that their perceptions of love and right/wrong are too skewed for outsiders to understand. Yes, of course I wish Rihanna could have been able to leave and find a healthy relationship. Yes, of course I wish that she could have used this as an opportunity to show girls around the country a strong example of the way to act. But she’s a hurting 19 year old girl. Just because she’s a celebrity doesn’t mean she’s stronger or smarter than anyone else.

  • David Lott, ’65

    Domestic violence was not being portrayed in the Honeymooners. “To the moon, Alice” was a joke. Part of the Joke was that Ralph Cramden was a blusterer who never, ever lived up to his talk. Alice, who was tougher and smarter than Ralph, would not have put up with an iota violence from her husband.

    1950’s television was not accepting of domestic violence in comedic form. People were, however, more tolerant of parody and far less sensitive to politically incorect words than we are in the current time.

    One thing has not changed though. The comedic theme that men are fools still sells.

  • Rileigh

    Your article perfectly shows what I neeedd to know, thanks!