Abuse-Enabling Author Leslie Morgan Steiner Buys A Berth On The Ray Rice Ethics Train Wreck

"So I guess that means that Roger can take a shot at you now and then, Right, Jessica?"

“So I guess that means that Roger can take a shot at you now and then, right, Jessica?”

As if we didn’t have enough Ethics Train Wrecks whizzing around—let’s see, there’s Ferguson, the I.R.S. cover-up, the Redskins, plus oldies like Penn State and Trayvon Martin still gathering riders, and the spectacular Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, which is guaranteed at least another six years of track—the Ray Rice Express is gather speed and passengers. It appears feminist, especially abused feminists, are leaping on board as the cars rumble by, and woe to him who is foolish enough to point it out.

Like me, I guess. Today the Washington Post opinion section carried a jaw-dropping essay by Leslie Morgan Steiner, the former Post editor and current author, the lesson of which, as I read it, is that no matter what a woman’s spouse of partner does to her, says to her, threatens her with, or hits her with, she is absolutely absolved of any responsibility or accountability for the harm that comes to her.This, we are told, is because, as Carol Costello (a fellow passenger) said regarding domestic abuse victims like Janay Rice, currently defending her abuser-husband, “It’s complicated.”

To show just how complicated,  Steiner presents a long list of the various hints she got from her lover-man that he might well just kill her some day, including…

Three months into our relationship, the night he choked me during sex and I wrote it off as weird but somehow erotic (for him; not for me).

The morning five days before our wedding when he first physically attacked me, because, he said with his hands around my neck, “you remind me of my mother.”

During our honeymoon, when he punched me so hard my head hit the window in our car…

The first time he threatened to kill our dog.

The first time he pushed me down a flight of stairs.

The first time he threatened to pull the trigger of the loaded gun he held at my head.

Steiner makes certain that she lets us know that she’s a Harvard grad, apparently believing that this eliminates the obvious response, “What an idiot! She also makes a point of noting that yes, once she too derided women who stay with abusive partners, as if this fact inoculates her against well-founded criticism. It doesn’t, and while I’m sure it’s complicated, she’s an idiot, at least in this critical matter.

Her reasons for staying in the relationship do not rebut these conclusions. They are..

  • “No one in my life had ever made me feel so safe, loved, beautiful and validated as he did during the early months of our relationship.” And do we keep, say, automobiles that we loved to drive in the early months that we owned them, after they prove themselves to be unreliable, expensive lemons? Is this a rational reason to do so?
  • “I thought I was the only woman who could help him face his demons.” Well, she might be the only woman willing to help him face his demons while regularly being abused by him.
  • “I confused pity with love, feeling sorry for him because he had been beaten and starved by his stepfather as a child.” This is so nonsensical that it defies argument. Would she feel similarly sorry for her rapist, her child’s molester? In what universe does pity excuse abuse? They taught her that at Harvard?
  • “In between the terrible times, he still made me laugh.” Gag me with a spoon.
  • “I loved him.” God, read “Oliver Twist.” See the musical “Oliver!.” if Harvard didn’t cover English fiction. You love people who beat you up? Or is it pity, like you said three sentences ago?

These aren’t reasons. These are delusions, self-destructive rationalizations, and lame excuses.

Yet somehow, the author thinks they are ennobling, and that anyone who dares to call this conduct what it is—idiotic, reckless, and irresponsible, and thus entailing some accountability for the results of making terrible and irrational choices, as with every other terrible and irrational choices all of us make—is missing some grand truth. No, we really aren’t. She writes,

I wish the world could give Janay Rice, and other victims of relationship violence, the dignity they deserve.

Instead of condemning her for loving a troubled man, let’s educate ourselves about the twisted psychology of abusive love, so that we can be there for her if she decides to leave. Firing Roger Goodell and blaming the NFL won’t do Janay Rice, or any other domestic violence victims, any good.

Rather, we should hold abusers — and no one else — responsible for the damage they inflict.

Wait, what? What’s dignified about letting a man dominate you, threaten you, abuse you and dehumanize you? Does the victim’s terrible reasons for putting up with abuse matter at all? Steiner’s are bad enough: I’m sorry, but I do not respect an intelligent woman who allows herself to be brutalized because “He makes me laugh.” Ah, how we chortled in that afterglow when he knocked in my teeth with that pogo stick! But I can imagine reasons that are less respectable: what if she likes it? What if she endures it because she likes the money more than she minds the pain? What if she wants to hit him at will,, even knowing that she will get the worse of the exchange? All of these reasons earn dignity? Nonsense. This is pure a  “war against women” war against logic: women can do no wrong. Sure they can.

I think the question of why men hurt the women they think they love is at least as bewildering as why their women stay with them. Doesn’t everybody wonder about this, including the abusers themselves? I’m sure the reasons for their conduct is also “complicated,” full of pain, self-esteem issues, childhood traumas, and more. Do the abusers deserve dignity too? Why not? Because they are men? Because they are the aggressors? Not necessarily, as we saw in the Rice Knock-Out Tap. Because holding a loaded gun to your lover’s head is crazier than staying with someone who hold a loaded gun to your head? Is it? I judge that competition a tie.

Steiner’s position isn’t just a self-excusing cop-out, it’s dangerous. It is exactly what abused women do not need to hear. “Just leave him on your own time, dear, when you are ready, and he no longer makes you laugh. Nobody will judge you. Just keep your fingers crossed that you don’t end up on a slab first.”

Alcoholics are in the grip of an illness, but they are told that they, and they alone, are responsible for saving themselves, and that if they don’t, they are responsible for that too. If someone refuses to leave a burning house because “she loves that house,” and “No house had ever made her feel so safe, loved, beautiful and validated ” and burns to death, is she absolved from responsibility for her foolish choice?

Ray Rice has no excuses, no mitigating circumstances, nothing, including his demons, that should shield him from legal punishment and societal condemnation. But Janay Rice, at this point, has no excuses either. We all are accountable for our choices. Women get no dispensation, and there is no dignity in a woman allowing a man to harm her.


Sources: Washington Post


25 thoughts on “Abuse-Enabling Author Leslie Morgan Steiner Buys A Berth On The Ray Rice Ethics Train Wreck

  1. Someday I hope this becomes an aberration of the crazy years around the end of the millennium. Either that or I might welcome the arrival of invading Vulcans.

  2. Has anyone considered that these women enjoy the cheers of all those the celebrate their survivorship as a victim of something? Very powerful motive for some.

    • It’s so confusing. How does one keep up? In one breath they say rapists are the vilest of the vile, even consensual sex is rape, and then in the same breath a beaten woman who stays with her abuser is experiencing an ennobling complicated version of love.
      I see that claiming the victim prize is the common thread. Victims are always right. Women are always victims. Liberated women are so complicated.

      • I have seen more men beat down by their wives…to the point of emotional abuse… than I have seen women who have been physically beaten by their husbands. That’s just my personal experience. The funny thing is that these men, although very depressed and at times not even able to function, rarely have any idea that they are being emotionally and/or psychologically abused by the woman in their life. How could they know? It’s the man who always victimizes the woman, right?

        • The author of the piece here very clearly states that men can be, and often are, victims of domestic abuse (1 in 7 men according to Ms. Steiner). These criticisms, while validly made elsewhere, do not apply to this particular piece.

          • Rich
            You said, “The author of the piece here very clearly states that men can be, and often are, victims of domestic abuse (1 in 7 men according to Ms. Steiner).” Why if they (males) “often are” victims is it necessary to say can be? If they “often are” then they are, and not “can” be. The wording is in itself either wordy or makes me suspicious of why it is included.

            The point that Sharon makes is that in the cycle of violence very little discussion of female on male psychological violence is discussed which results in the male feeling even more socially isolated than a female in an abusive relationship. Women tend to be more verbal and open while men bottle things up and suffer in quiet misery. Men are told to “grow a pair”, or “put on their big boy pants” when they open up. In today’s world the American male is expected to be the primary provider and protector while the female is the nurturing care giver. Our court system assumes, even when all things are equal, that mothers are the preferred caregiver and the father is the resource provider. It is ironic that women feels safer with a female cabbie but there is no call for having only a female police officer respond to an emergency call when they are in harms way. I will admit there is a greater likelihood that females are more apt to be forthcoming with information when they are with a biological kindred spirit but so too are men.

            There is no self righteous sector decrying the epidemic of female abusers but there is no shortage of support groups, shelters, public counseling services or knights in shining armor running to aid the damsel in distress. It is no wonder males suffer in silence. Consequently, commit 4 times more acts successful suicide then women according to the CDC. Worse, if they explode at some point time and direct their emotions outwardly at females then they are seen as abusers. Never as victims that are at their wits end. Conversely, women that lash out violently are excused by virtue of battered woman syndrome, or in the case of non-fatal female initiated violence the behavior is rationalized as out of frustration and desperation. Males are never afforded such social support.

            In these discussions any reference to female on male abuse is a mere reference to in one or two sentences to absolve them of any perception of bias and to preemptively diminish the value of a counter argument. This is a typical rhetorical device used by any first year debating student.

            • ” Why if they (males) “often are” victims is it necessary to say can be? ”

              I poorly wrote the sentence, switching to “often are”, without removing “can be”. I wrote it quickly after my lengthier response below.

              I did state the criticisms raised were valid, but that they originally seemed non-responsive to the piece here. Wyogranny described the reasons for staying in the abusive relationships as “noble”, but as I pointed out below, Ms. Steiner described her reasons as “twisted”. Sharon focused on men being emotionally abused as though it were never mentioned, when that was not unaddressed in the piece. Being a personal reflection, Ms. Steiner could not address the experience of men….

              However, given the added context that Jack provided in his response that Ms. Steiner had several abusive relationships, rather than the single abusive marriage she portrayed herself as escaping, I now see her piece being significantly is much more ideological than my first reading. Wyo and Sharon’s dismantling of this ideology do not seem so out of place now.

  3. I am reminded of a rather classic line I got from a wife-beater, 2nd-hand, from his wife: “Now see what you have made me do to you ?” Of course3, she always followed that up with “He was right, of course, it was my fault.”. My guess, both parties have self-esteem issues out the gazoo. One has to have total control to make sure he/she is not left alone. And the other has to be totally subservient for the same reason.

  4. What can you truly say to someone whose thought processes are so convoluted that they cannot distinguish between fact and fantasy, normal from abnormal, moral from immoral- and to such a degree that it completely blocks out their most basic human instincts… such as survival? But even more, what does it reveal about those editors who hire such people to write these stories and (presumably) a readership that follows them? Insanity begets insanity.

  5. I am not certain I agree that Ms. Steiner’s is describing her reasons for staying as “noble”; rather she specifically called them the “twisted psychology of abusive love”. She states that she now wishes she left after each incident in the “pattern” of abuse; however, she stated several rational concerns that motivate victims to stay, including the increased risk of homicide by their ex-partner enraged by the exit from the relationship. She then speaks to the cold truths that convinced her to leave, including cops warning her that she would likely end up dead anyways.

    Ms. Steiner is raising awareness of the practical reality that most victims, male or female, take several attempts to leave, in part because of the legitimate fears and emotional manipulation involved: “Fairy-tale romance. Isolation from friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. Threat of violence. Actual violence. Convincing apology. Repeat.” Recognizing the dangerous fallacy of this cycle is the key to breaking it; overcoming also the legitimate difficulties is critical to success. Where Ms. Steiner might be wrong is not emphasizing the need to recognize the cycle early to escape it before becoming trapped.

    The author also points out that it is unknowable where Mrs. Rice is in the cycle. Mrs. Rice is essentially a “nobody” dating a big “somebody”; she could have legitimately feared for her safety if she had reached out before the videos became public. That being said, even with the added safety of everyone watching her and her husband, she chose to stay, which is idiotic. I similarly fault Rhianna for going back to Chris Brown; such individuals in the lime light set a horrible example for those with fewer resources.

    Ms. Steiner used Mrs. Rice as a poor example to begin a conversation about the realities of living and escaping abuse. Mrs. Rice’s dubious choices and behavior perhaps overshadow the otherwise sound descriptions of the twisted psychology that influences victims to stay, and the subtle support needed to empower them to leave.

    • I’ll concede that nobility may be a step too far, even beyond what Ms. Steiener is claiming, though she insists on according repeat and willful victims dignity. Let’s see…


      noun: dignity

      the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.
      “a man of dignity and unbending principle”
      a composed or serious manner or style.
      “he bowed with great dignity”
      synonyms:stateliness, nobility, majesty, regality, courtliness, augustness, loftiness, lordliness, grandeur; More
      solemnity, gravity, gravitas, formality, decorum, propriety, sedateness
      “the dignity of the proceedings”
      a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.
      “it was beneath his dignity to shout”
      synonyms:self-respect, pride, self-esteem, self-worth
      “he had lost his dignity”

      • To continue..”we should be compassionate bout these people” is miles from”don’t criticize the; don’t judhe them; don’t hold them to reasonable standards of accountability; never say “I told you so”—even though “I told you so” has value and legitimacy: it means: Will you listen the next time?

        Her answer is “no.” This is why women like Rice AND STEINER move from one abusive relationship to amother. Not only don’t they learn, Steiner is insisting that we accept that they don’t learn, and that it’s OK.

        Infuriating! And the kind people nod and hummm.

        • I will acknowledge that victimization is by definition an indignant experience, and the goal should be a restoration of dignity by ending the abusive situation and working to heal. To hold victimhood itself as an innately dignified position is perverse.

          To be clear, each and every human being has an innate right to basic respect. Someone who has been abused has a right be treated with respect; victimhood simply does not add or detract from this basic human dignity.

        • Further, Steiner portrays herself as triumphantly escaping a single abusive marriage; if there were other abusive relationships, before or after, then that greatly diminishes her anecdote here. Ducking accountability by only sharing her success story does not help other women recognize that repeating the cycle is wholly unwise.

          There is still a taboo that abuse victims face, and institutional barriers and biases. Chris Marschner above rightly points out these are much worse for men now, but a few decades ago, the system of shelters we have now for women did not exist either. There needs to be a balance of accountability and compassion to overcome this taboo and successfully address abuse.

  6. What I don’t understand is the lack of focus on the fact that both domestic abuse victims and perpetrators require psychotherapy, as they both have serious mental/emotional issues to resolve. If you are incapable of seeing that your behavior is warped, you will never be able to make the leap of taking responsibility for your behavior. I imagine that the behavior has a high repeat rate if one doesn’t resolve the issues (or at least work on resolving them) and then take personal responsibility for the behavior.

    • Because saying that the abusers are suffering from mental illness allows that they are suffering and ill. The vast majority of current feminist rhetoric is dividing people into good/bad groups, (woman/man, abused/abuser, victim/villain) and calling an abuser the victim of illness muddies the water for them. It doesn’t matter that the person might be suffering, he’s bad, because patriarchy. It’s also why they have a really hard time explaining lesbian domestic abuse, they’re so busy trying to pigeonhole women as victims, in a situation where something bad has happened, and only women are involved, their logic breaks down and their brains melt. (The closest they’ve come is that in a lesbian relationship, at least one of the women take on a male role, and the abuse stems from toxic masculinity. Because that’s reasonable.)

    • I’m not sure where the notion that psychotherapy is not recommended (indeed in most cases, mandated) for the offender comes from. Most first-time domestic violence offenses are usually dismissed upon the completion of counseling by the offender. If Rice completes his counseling, his case will also be dismissed.

      I do think counseling for perpetrators is a good idea, as even if the victim manages to successfully leave the relationship, the offender is highly likely to repeat the behavior with the next relationship. I think that is the case for victims too, but unfortunately it is difficult to mandate counseling for them.

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