#WhyIStayed: Solidarity in a Culture of Victim Blaming

Unfortunately,  typical questions for victim of domestic violence include, “Why are you staying with him?” or “Why don’t you leave?” These questions are extremely problematic. They attack the victim by putting her at fault for staying with an abuser and take the spotlight off of the abuser – the person really at fault. In the wake of Ray Rice’s crimes against his wife, domestic violence has been at the forefront of the national news, revealing the ways in which our media and culture perpetuate victim-blaming.

For recent proof that our society encourages victim-blaming, we look to a very traditional cornerstone of U.S. culture: the Miss America pageant. Controversy often surrounds beauty pageants in the feminist community for myriad reasons – a discussion I’ll leave for another day — but I think I speak for us all in saying that this year’s pageant enabled abuse.

We all know how pageants go: a talent portion, a bathing suit portion, and the grand finale, the interview. This year’s interview portion proved particularly challenging when an entirely inappropriate and offensive question was asked; Judge Kathy Ireland asked Miss Florida, regarding Janay Rice’s public announcement that she intended to stay with her husband, Ray Rice: “As a woman, what do you think of her decision?”

Sadly, this question accurately represents what the conversation surrounding domestic violence tends to look like in our country. However, this conversation is heavily flawed. This question and similar ones asked nationwide are problematic because they invite the answerer to condemn Janay Rice for staying with her husband. They expect the contestant to judge another woman without any knowledge of her personal situation. They imply that leaving an abuser is a decision that a survivor always has the privilege to make safely.Miss America Crown

The pageant’s winner, Kira Kazantsev, a survivor of domestic violence and advocate for the cause, expressed her discontent, “I want people to stop asking, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ Every woman is an expert in her own case, and there are so many extenuating circumstances that lead to a woman staying with her abuser.”

The Miss America pageant missed the opportunity to have critical and productive discussions about the pressing topic of domestic violence on a national stage.  This incident stands as a symbol of the institutionalized victim-blaming that exists all around us. Victim-blaming makes the conversation one sided, keeping the voices of abusers dominant and forcing the voices of affected women to be silenced.

So how do we, as women, stand up against victim blaming when it is so pervasive in our culture?

At the outbreak of the Ray Rice case, women broke that silence by taking to social media with the hashtag #WhyIStayed, directly confronting these questions by highlighting the countless reasons that women in abusive relationships often don’t have the choice to leave.

Their safety or financial security may be threatened. Sometimes, even if they do have the choice to leave, they are manipulated to believe their partner’s behavior is not abusive. People often neglect mental and emotional control and manipulation as forms of abuse, leaving some women’s experiences feeling invalidated.

It is crucial that survivors have an outlet to share their stories and — though a hashtag may appear small — it allowed survivors to create a space to combat victim blaming by discussing their experiences on their own terms. Survivors were able to create solidarity and visibility in the face of a controversy that threatened to further silence their voices. These women related to Janay Rice and used their voices to form a collective source of empowerment for themselves, for Janay, and for their fellow survivors worldwide.

7 responses to “#WhyIStayed: Solidarity in a Culture of Victim Blaming

  1. I’m in a abusive relationship with a psychopath.I would like to read useful guidelines+ research. THank u!

  2. This past month, my husbands parents forced me to leave my husband after he had laid his hands on me for the 11th time. They made me leave him because it was “your fault that he gets so upset. If you would just do what he wants, he wouldnt get mad at you. Thats your job as a wife. You do what your husband wants, you dont question anything he does, you cook him what he wants and you clean. It doesnt matter how many jobs you have or if youre going to school, you need to serve *husbands name* because that is what you vowed to do when you got married. He deserves better than someone who refuses to keep his life stress-free, and someone who wont make him upset.”
    It was my fault that my husband abused me. I grabbed his arms, and pushed them to my chest hard enough to leave a bruise. Its all my fault that he had done that. After being forced to leave, I was almost not allowed to take my son (even though I had him outside of our marriage and he never established paternity) and only had $10 dollars to my name after having to use my financial aid to purchase a car so I didnt have to walk to my friends house with my son. I love him. It started with making me feel horrible by talking about my weight and how I look so much prettier with makeup on and to never take it off. then it turned to screaming at me, then shoving, now he hits. I am a strong ass woman, I have lived through enough to know I do not have to run away from him. I am damn good at protecting myself. However, I will not fight back. My son means more to me than winning a damn fight and I would rather die than hit someone who hit me back. I can handle enough abuse to keep my son oblivious to the situation.

  3. I am so sorry to hear about your situation. You are not alone, and there are services that can help you.

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 and their number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also chat with a professional through their website: http://www.thehotline.org/help/

    If you are looking for resources and research, the National Network to End Domestic Violence is a good place to start: http://nnedv.org/resources.html

  4. I stayed for 20 years of mental, verbal and emotional abuse. Even after a stress induced heart attack. Every dime I had was invested in our home based company and he knew I wouldn’t leave that to him. At my age then (62), it would have been financial suicide. Close friends and family knew how unhappy I was, but no one else in town or the business community. It was isolating and terribly destructive.

    In 2010, he finally agreed to mediation so I could sell to him. Settlement wasn’t equitable, but I bought a foreclosed house and am managing, frugally. I never see him, I visit friends, work on the house and am very happy.

    Even when you choose (?) to stay, when the opportunity presents itself, the decision may be different. I still have people ask me why I stayed so long, they still don’t get it.

  5. The only issue with that is the perpetuation of domestic abuse. Studies show that male children raised in a DV situation continue the pattern. He won’t be oblivious forever. Be very careful and plan for what to do if an opportunity presents itself. This doesn’t have to be your life forever.

  6. MEN are DUMB as ROCK when it comes to ANYTHING that has to do with abuse
    THEY are the abusers.
    THEY think they are not abusing us,
    THEY think??? they are just disciplining us.
    WE DO NOT NEED discipline.
    WE HAVE feelings and goals for ourselves that are SEPARATE from THEM…..
    I hate men .

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