Why Are Teenage Girls The Only Ones Expected To Be Appalled By Dating Violence?


There are so many frustrating elements about this New York Times article on dating violence and teenage girls that one is not even sure where to begin. But let’s give it a whirl, shall we?

The wrongness begins with the title, “Teenage Girls Stand By Their Man,” which, in itself, sets the tone for the entire article, which seems to paint “teenage girls” as immature, uneducated, and clueless when it comes to dealing with potential violence inflicted upon them by their “men.” The “men,” by the way, are barely spoken of at all, as if they have no place in this story, as if they are not a piece of this increasingly difficult puzzle.

The piece, by Jan Hoffman, centers around the reaction many young women are having toward the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident, wherein many high school girls are blaming Rihanna for her actions and defending Brown, something we’ve discussed before. Oh, and it’s published in the “Fashion and Style” section of the Times, because nothing says “Fashion and Style” like violence against women, right?

“On blogs and social networking sites, teenagers are having an e-shouting match about this highly publicized episode – perhaps the first time their generation has been compelled to think aloud about dating violence, Hoffman writes, “And what may be surprising is the level of support for Mr. Brown. While thousands of teenagers have certainly turned on Mr. Brown, many others – regardless of race or gender – defend him, often at Rihanna’s expense.”

While this is a true and horrifying phenomenon, the notion that girls are perpetuating this cycle by being so quick to forgive is a bit unfair. Marcyliena Morgan, director of Harvard’s hip-hop archive, claims that she’s not surprised that boys are quick to forgive Chris Brown, “But it’s the girls! Where have we gone wrong here?”

Perhaps “we’ve gone wrong” by being so apathetic towards the reaction of young men here. If it’s not surprising that boys are quick to forgive Brown, doesn’t that signal a problem? Why is it only the girls who are expected to be outraged, horrified, and willing to take a stand against dating violence?

As Melissa McEwan of Shakesville writes, “Where have we gone wrong with girls? The same place we’ve gone wrong with boys: Not providing them alternative narratives, that’s where. It doesn’t do girls any fucking good if we just throw up our hands and say, “Well, of course boys excuse rape and violence against women,” and take that as read, so we can move on and wonder what’s wrong with the girls. Talk about victim-blaming.”

Jill at Feministe, however, points out that the article makes a good point about the way young girls tend to be blaming Rihanna as a means to continue their harmless crushes on Brown, who, prior to this incident, had a squeaky clean public image as the type of boyfriend who would never, ever hurt you. “The victim-blaming in high-profile intimate partner violence cases reads to me a lot like self-defensive victim-blaming in sexual assault cases: If you can pin the responsibility for the violence on something the woman did, you can live without the fear that someone might harm you in a similar way.” As Hoffman writes, “After all, sweet Chris Breezy – his nickname – even appeared in a music video with Elmo of “Sesame Street.” Acknowledging his attack would make them feel vulnerable: How could they have a crush on someone who could do that? It was less terrifying to blame Rihanna.”

Perhaps the fault lies in the fact that attempting to open girls’ eyes to the true horrors of dating violence without expecting the same participation from boys is simply going to lead to a one-sided viewpoint that many young women will have a difficult time sticking to, especially when the society that surrounds them seems to agree that boys, as always, will be boys. It’s a bit difficult to stand up for one’s self when the system in place argues that girls should be appalled by violence, and boys should be forgiven for it.

Teenage Girls Stand By Their Man [NYTimes]
Teenage Girls And Dating Violence [Feministe]
What’s Wrong With The Girls? [Shakesville]

Earlier: Teenagers Claim It’s Rihanna’s Fault

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