When the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal broke, many were quick to throw their opinions and thoughts into the fray, including yours truly.
Not surprisingly, comedians such as John Stewart and Jay Leno had scathing and sarcastic reviews of the NFL. John Oliver was one of them.
I loved John Oliver’s point, but I had a problem with his presentation.
He showed clips of NFL players who had been asked questions about the scandal and subsequent domestic violence policies. They all said similar things: “If it were my daughter” or “If it were my sister,” etc.
Many, including Oliver, were quick to point out we should not try to humanize women in terms of their relationship to men.
Our own president is guilty of this. In President Obama’s State of the Union address in January, he referred to women as “mothers” and “sisters.”
While his speech had excellent points about gender equality, it still seems many people can only see women as humans when they have a role outside of their womanhood or that they only have value in their relationships to men.
What Oliver was insisting on was to see abused women as humans first. The reason a woman shouldn’t be abused or violated is because she is a human being, not because she is a person who has a role in your life as your “sister” or your “friend.”
This is a point that must be discussed and brought to bear in talks about women’s rights.
But I argue that these football players Oliver used to demonstrate his point were not being bad people or sexist when they said they were upset by the situation and that if it were a member of their family they would be even more hurt and angered.
It is a not a bad thing to give oneself context when processing a horrible situation.
The violence in the Middle East is something I think about a lot. It’s different from a case of domestic violence, but roll with me.
When I think of the bombings occurring daily in the Gaza Strip, I feel removed and remote. I have never had a building explode over my head or watched my neighbors gunned down by errant rifle fire.
I feel deeply troubled by what is going on, but I don’t have the emotional experience to understand what it is these people suffer.
Quite frankly, I sincerely hope no one, myself included, ever has an experience so awful. But tragedy is something we must learn to deal with in order to be sympathetic citizens of the world.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in the Gaza Strip, and try as I might, I’ll never be able to understand the personal horror of someone there.
But if I say to myself, “Well, how would you feel if your neighborhood burned down and one of your own neighbors died?” I suddenly understand a little bit better what it must be like to live in a place fraught with danger and rife with death.
Granted, it won’t put me in the shoes of someone actually living in Gaza, but it allows me to empathize with them by bringing the situation to bear on my own life.
It is a perfectly normal way to process a troubling or transformative situation, and it allows one to empathize with suffering.
We shouldn’t shame people for contextualizing a tragedy for themselves so that they can understand the emotional impact of a given situation.
We all recognize that we are human beings and that we shouldn’t hurt, abuse or kill each other.
I’m sure the football players who were interviewed understand that Janay Rice should not have been battered by her husband because people shouldn’t beat other people, but it allows them to understand a little bit of the emotional experience of a battered woman by imagining members of their own families or themselves in similar ?situations.
This kind of processing is healthy. It is not something we should shame people for. We should recognize they are trying and that this does not make them bad people.
In fact, it makes them better than the people — John Oliver and company — who are so obsessed with nit-picking that they focus on what people are doing wrong and not on what they are doing right.