Even if you don’t watch trashy reality TV, you probably know socialite Taylor Armstrong, from Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHOBH), survived domestic violence. Within the past couple weeks, RHOBH aired episodes involving an intervention with Taylor about her abusive marriage.
I cringe at the thought of people knowing I watch the Real Housewives. But sadly, I do. Call it feminist research. Or a guilty pleasure. Feminist media critic Jenn Pozner, in her groundbreaking book Reality Bites Back, argues the detriments of reality TV for its horrifically negative portrayal of women. Many of us might brush it off as a harmless indulgence. But we should question what we’re watching.
Now, I normally wouldn’t even mention the Real Housewives except to deride it for its horrifying message to women about materialism and cattiness. But watching as a domestic violence survivor, I noticed some things that other people might not pick up on. Who says you can’t learn something from watching TV?? Whether or not you saw the show, it raised some common misconceptions about domestic violence that I want to dispel.
Domestic Violence Myths:
1. Only poor people suffer domestic violence. Now, I hope to god people realize this isn’t true. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many people still believe this pervasive myth. Domestic violence doesn’t know income, class or socio-economic status. The only reason why it might appear that rich people don’t face abuse is that they often have the money to afford staying at a hotel if they leave their abusive spouse. Those without disposable income might stay at a domestic violence shelter or turn to law enforcement to intercede. Being rich doesn’t inoculate you from domestic violence. In the U.S., one in four women will face domestic violence in her lifetime. Domestic violence is an insidious crisis that affects us all.
2. If you can’t see bruises or cuts, there isn’t abuse. On RHOBH, Camille Grammer told Taylor she’s confused as to whether or not she’s telling the truth about her abusive marriage (getting hit, having her jaw broken) since she has no bruises or cuts (and stays in her marriage…but we’ll get to that myth in a moment). Physical abuse might not be apparent for a couple of reasons. Some sneaky abusers won’t mark your face to conceal abuse from the outside world. Abusers might punch you in the stomach or crack your ribs. Abuse also escalates. What starts off as pushing or shoving can advance to slapping and then punching. But abuse isn’t just physical. Even if no visible signs of abuse exist, violent threats and intimidation constitute abuse too. Abuse can be emotional or psychological. Abusers can control your finances, not allow you to see your friends or family, tell you you’re fat, ugly or worthless. You should never doubt someone when they confide in you about their abuse.
3. The abuser is SO nice, calm, mellow, _________, s/he can’t possibly be an abuser. On RHOBH, Adrienne Maloof’s husband said he just couldn’t believe Taylor’s husband abuses her. He’s too nice and calm. Appearances can deceive. Just because someone seems nice or shy, doesn’t mean they aren’t a total douchebag behind closed doors. Facing domestic violence is a horrific experience. We must take domestic violence claims seriously; people do not bring violence on themselves. Abusers are the ones to blame, not the survivors.
4. If someone says they’re abused, they would never stay with their spouse or significant other. If they do, they must be lying. The women on RHOBH can’t seem to wrap their heads around why Taylor (or anyone for that matter) would stay in her marriage if it’s abusive. If abuse happens once, why stay? Many people just don’t understand. A violent relationship often exists in a cycle. Things may go well for a while. Then you bicker, arguing turns into fighting, and that’s when physical violence may occur. Next comes the “hearts and flowers” phase (which Faye Resnick points out on RHOBH). The abusive partner apologizes, professes their love and swears they will never hit again. Then the survivor thinks, “oh they didn’t really mean it” or “they were stressed.” The abuser goes out of their way to make amends. Then the cycle begins again.
Many women stay in abusive relationships because they love their partner and truly believe things will change. Others desperately want to leave but can’t as they’re bound by fiscal chains, worried they have nowhere to go and no way to support themselves. Or their partner threatens them by taking away their kids. Or withholds their passport and reporting them to the authorities if they’re an undocumented immigrant. Others stay for they don’t want anyone to know their dark shameful secret. We shouldn’t assume someone’s lying when they say they’ve been abused. We never know what goes on behind closed doors; we never know the private pain someone faces.
5. If I reason with a person in a domestic violence situation, logic will spur them to leave their abusive relationship. Ahhh, it’s so easy, just leave! I know that’s what many people think. What people who aren’t domestic violence survivors don’t realize is that it’s not that simple. When you’re being abused, you feel as if you’re losing your mind. You question every choice you make, every word you say. You often blame yourself, thinking you could have done something different or that somehow you provoked it. “Logic” often doesn’t work here. If you happen to know someone in an abusive relationship, as much as you want to, you can’t make them leave. As hard and as frustrating as it is, they must leave when they are ready. What you can do is provide them with love, encouragement and support. And let them know that love should never hurt. Ever.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call Safelink at (877) 785-2020. It’s multilingual, free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.