It’s been months now since the NFL issued a two-game suspension to Ray Rice for his role in a physical fight with his fiancee that left her unconscious in an elevator, and more than a week since TMZ released video footage of the fight that led the the Baltimore Ravens to terminate the running back’s contract and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to say he “didn’t get it right” with the initial suspension. In the time since the first censure by the NFL, and ramping up after the release of the surveillance footage, we’ve been bombarded with opinion from all corners. And while the feminist movement has certainly found fuel for its fire in this situation, Rice’s actions and the subsequent mishandling of sanctions by the NFL have roused a much broader female contingent who are speaking out about how things should have been addressed.
It is never a step backwards to talk about the pervasive nature of domestic violence and the effects it has on families across all demographics, nor is it unreasonable for women to rally against abuse and for equal representation in arenas dominated by men. I think voices like Katie Nolan are getting it right: addressing domestic violence in the professional sports community needs to be an ongoing discussion and not just a flare-and-die fight. I think questions like those asked by Hannah Storm are questions that need to be in that ongoing dialogue. But I also think that until women who want to participate in the discussion stop glossing over the factors inherent in the league and the media coverage of it that lend to the objectification of women, we’ll never really be getting anywhere.
The truth is that the perception of women as objects that breeds domestic violence and gender inequality will not stop in the NFL (or anywhere else) until we as a gender take responsibility for the fact that we are partially responsible for the perception. In the NFL paradigm we’re talking “Cheerleaders” dressed in tiny strips of costume who perform stripper choreography unpaid in order to appear in calendars, female sports anchors wearing revealing clothing to garner viewership and keep their places at the desk or on the sidelines, and this analysis of the fight between Rice that has largely ignored that it was in fact a fight with both people participating physically.
What I am not saying is that women who are abused ask for it or any other such stupid thing; do not narrow this viewpoint by reducing it to rhetoric. What I am saying is that if we as a gender are really going to begin having serious discussions about our places in formerly male-dominated industries and environments and speaking out about the abuse levied against us as a gender, we better damn well be ready to honestly admit our contributions to those positions and to work within our own ranks to stop the perpetuation of acts and ideas that make us readily objectified. Because until we come to the table prepared to talk about domestic violence as an epidemic that victimizes both sexes, and until we admit that we cannot use our sexuality to advance and at the same time fall back on its characteristics for protection, we are undercutting any progress we could make toward resolution of the issues in ways we cannot ever fix.