A Forbes columnist wrote a clumsy essay that managed to make it sound like all incidents of campus sexual abuse were the fault of co-eds who can’t hold their liquor. It was almost instantly taken down, and he was sacked in disgrace, for some opinions are just not fit for open debate in politically correct America, it seems. Self-censorship is the order of the day, or fear the wrath of the War on Women Warriors. You can read the piece here: in my view, there was enough that was thought-provoking in it to allow the dumb and offensive parts to be taken care of by astute commenters, critics and bloggers. But women are the new unassailable icons right now (oh my God, I nearly wrote “sacred cows”! My career just flashed before my eyes…). It will be fascinating to see how long this delicate and fanciful balance can be maintained in the culture without someone breaking out in uncontrollable giggles: women are equal in every way to men, but are too pristine and delicate to accept or endure criticism of any kind, and if you dare offend them, you are toast.
Around the same time Forbes was declaring Bill Frezza’s essay a blight on humanity, Slate’s Amanda Hess was posting a column of at least equivalent nonsense content, and I would argue, more embarrassing. It is a desperate plea for a distaff double standard regarding domestic violence, responding to articles like mine, pointing out that soccer star Hope Solo is garnering faint condemnation for the pending charges against her, while the same sports writers and social commentators ignoring her are attacking the National Football League and its several abusers, alleged abusers, and charged abusers with gusto. Hess calls her opus “No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem, Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.“ If this didn’t guarantee a ticket to spend a lonely weekend with Frezza lamenting the end of their gigs, nothing will. Slate disgraced itself by publishing it, because it adds nothing to the public debate regarding domestic abuse except rationalizations, excuses, and of course, the exalted double standard that women can do no wrong, or at least no wrong anyone should get upset about.
Before I expose the utter dishonesty and incompetence of Hess’s essay, let me just state for the record why I and anyone else who is objective and paying attention compares Solo to Rice (and the other NFL players recently disciplined), or to be more precise, compares the obligation of U.S. Soccer to treat its accused abusers exactly like the NFL is doing now:
1. Solo and the NFL players are major sports figures, earn millions of dollars in endorsements, and have adoring fans among the young and old.
2. Solo and the NFL players are paid heroes and role models for the young.
3. Solo and the NFL players either did commit or are alleged to have committed acts of violence upon loved ones or family members of the playing field, in violation of law, ethics, and the traditions of civilized conduct.
4. Both Solo’s soccer lords and the NFL initially papered over the offenses as if they were not as important as the games themselves.
5. Due to public, media and sponsor pressure, the NFL changed course (many times) and removed the players involved from active rosters. No such action has been taken against Solo.
6. Since Solo is a female and the other athletes are male, such disparate treatment creates a prima facie case of a double standard based on gender.
Gee, all that seems to me to justify a comparison, and doesn’t seem “very, very stupid” at all. But maybe I just don’t have Amanda’s keen analytical mind.
I don’t: I have one that works. Hess’s argument is astounding considering her obnoxious title. If you are going to call so many people who are more ethically and logically astute than you stupid, you had better have some bullets to fire. She has exactly none.
Here are Hess’s arguments, in the order in which she makes them. If I rated them according to ludicrousness, they would all be numbered #1.
1. Before the recent spate of NFL suspensions, some were arguing that “Solo was, in fact, catching more public heat for her domestic violence arrest than scores of football players who have been arrested for even more serious offenses…The NFL’s new normal—where players like the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy and the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson are benched with pay pending the outcome of their cases, and Rice has been suspended from the NFL indefinitely—represents a complete inversion of pro football’s prior policy. Again, after years of league inaction and obfuscation, this standard literally emerged in the past two weeks.”
I hate to break it to Amanda, but the discussion is taking place now, based on those two weeks. The NFL, as the richest and most visible professional sport there is, has been pressured to establish a new standard that doesn’t trivialize domestic abuse. The fact that once mere criticism of a star athlete who settles disputes with fists was considered sufficient and they were still sent out on the field to be idolized and cheered is merely the rationalization “It’s always been this way!”, a variation of Rationalization #1 “Everybody does it.”
2. “It’s worth questioning the league’s motivation….Rice’s indefinite ban (which he plans to appeal) is the NFL’s attempt to demonstrate that it takes his crime seriously, sure. But it is also a bid to deflect criticism directed at the Ravens and league officials, who stand accused of purposefully misleading the public about the details of Rice’s crime and their investigation of it. All of the players who have been benched in the past couple of weeks are taking the heat for their league’s long-standing ignorance of domestic violence. It’s not clear that this approach—which penalizes highly visible players while letting the league off the hook—is ideal. What we do know for certain is that it’s not applicable to U.S. women’s soccer, which has no such systematic, decades-long history of ignoring the fact that certain players abuse their partners.”
Again, so what? I’ll stipulate the NFL is clueless; I’ve written extensively that it is. However, this cultural exercise is about the toxic conduct involved, and the NFL’s corruption and deceit is tangential. How does the fact that the NFL leadership is so inured to violence and criminals on rosters that it thought nothing of having players get national exposure and fan accolades—as if huge men beating partners and toddlers was just a bad habit like farting—make Hope Solo any more deserving of having her violent conduct tolerated? It doesn’t. This is Rationalization #2, “They’re Just as Bad”: “…”As a distraction, the excuse is a pathetic attempt to focus a critic’s attention elsewhere, by shouting, “Never mind me! Why aren’t you going after those guys?”
3. “The perpetrators of domestic violence are overwhelmingly male, the victims are overwhelmingly female, and the violence that occurs between intimate partners represents a far more insidious form of abuse than that of a woman fighting with her extended family.”
Oh, brother. (Sister?) First, nobody knows if Hess’s claims here are true. Some sources estimate as much as 40% of domestic abuse is perpetrated by women, but again…. so what? As long as you commit a rarer category of violence, it’s better somehow? And this—“the violence that occurs between intimate partners represents a far more insidious form of abuse than that of a woman fighting with her extended family” is hilarious. I’d say the insdiousness depends on the injuries inflicted, wouldn’t you? Hess has just invoked my least favorite of all the rationalizations, the infamous #22: Comparative virtue, or “It’s not the worst thing!”
3. “But isn’t it more likely that the lack of public pressure in Solo’s case simply represents the relative lack of attention that women’s soccer receives as compared with pro football?”
Uh, NO. Hope Solo is more famous and visible than all of the football players involved in the current scandal, with the possible exception of Adrian Peterson. She was an Olympic star, in two Olympic Gamess. Among women and especially girls, she is far better known. Hess keeps trying to, er, shift the goalposts. This isn’t about football, or soccer, its about prominent celebrities and paid societal heroes engaging in conduct society must condemn and discourage, and their sports still enabling their conduct by celebrating them. It makes no difference whether the sports heroes are arm-wrestlers, surfers or hockey players. Do a lot of people buy what these heroes say to buy? Do they want to be like them? If that is the case, and it certainly is with Hope Solo, who was on “Dancing With The Stars,” a ticket to instant pop culture visibility that goes far beyond sports, such individuals cannot be abusers without risking societal harm
4. “Macur suggests that holding Solo accountable for a domestic violence charge would be a step toward “a world in which female and male athletes are ever to be treated equally.”She does not explain how benching Solo will actually serve to close the enormous cultural and financial gulfs between men’s and women’s sports, because it won’t.”
Wow! Those goal posts are so far away, I can’t even see them any more! When did this topic—domestic abuse, remember?—have anything to do with closing “the enormous cultural and financial gulfs between men’s and women’s sports”? Now Hess has moved (though only briefly!) from rationalizing, her forte, to logical fallacies. This is a straw man.
5. “Domestic violence also serves as a powerful symbol of the toxic masculinity and devaluation of women that football promotes: This is a sport where men are rewarded for beating other men until they can’t even walk or think anymore while women appear solely as sexual objects (a task they perform for a criminal sum) and are systematically underrepresented (to the point of nonexistence) as executives, journalists, coaches, and referees.
Distractions! Random thoughts! Irrelevancies! The pay scale of cheerleaders? The absence of female coaches and referees? Look! It’s the Aurora Borealis! Is Amanda just trying to exhaust my “So what?” reserves? I thought Hess was going to dredge up that fake stat about domestic abuse reports increasing after the Super Bowl. The violence on the football field is unrelated to the domestic violence off it, except that football players are bigger and do more damage when they beat up non athletes….though Hope is no one I’d like to be belted by. The issue isn’t about the particular sport, it’s about athletes, male or female, modelling dangerous and deadly behavior for the rest of the culture.
6. “But whether or not it’s the right call to suspend Hope Solo, how necessary is it for an institution like U.S. women’s soccer to send a message to young girls that it’s not OK to violently attack their family members? In the long list of social imperatives that can be modeled by women’s sports—like proving that girls can be strong, active, healthy, competitive, assertive, career-focused, and just as capable as boys on all of these fronts—this one does not exactly compete. Launching a campaign to raise awareness of female domestic abusers would be an absurd way to spend the league’s extremely limited cultural capital.”
We can assume from this logic, can we not, that Hess feels it is then a good idea to send a message to young girls that it IS OK to violently attack their family members? Is preventing and eradicating abuse important, or isn’t it? If it is important, then getting Hope Solo of the field is an excellent way to demonstrate it. Or, adopting Hess’s priorities, let’s just show girls they can be strong, active, healthy, competitive, assertive, career-focused, and just as capable as boys on all of these fronts, but unlike boys, be able to knock their smaller, weaker family members around without stigma or consequences. Like Hope.
7. “If we’re interested in elevating Solo as the symbolic face of women perpetuating domestic violence, let’s really investigate what exactly she represents. Macur oddly omits the fact that former NFL player Jerramy Stevens—who is no longer in the league after amassing a truly impressive list of sexual assault, battery, and DUI accusations—was arrested for attacking Solo the night before their wedding. The case was dropped for lack of evidence, largely stemming from Solo’s nonparticipation. The couple was married shortly thereafter, kinda sorta exactly like what happened with Ray and Janay Rice.”
Ah. You can’t point to Solo as a domestic abuser, because she’s also an enabler of domestic abuse…Ray and Janay, all in one, like Jeff Goldblum and the fly!
I hate to be repetitious, but SO WHAT??? Does being a victim of domestic abuse excuse her engaging in it? Does the fact that Solo married her abusive husband after he beat her entitle her to beat up her sister? Is this Rationalization #17, Ethical Vigilantism, meaning that Solo has a right to a little abusing because she’s been on the other end? Is it it #21. Ethics Accounting (“I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)?
I doubt that Hess knows what she means. This is flailing, and that’s all it is.
8. “One could also argue about the differences between the NFL and women’s soccer, but it is indisputable that both qualify as sports. So why is one a billion dollar industry that courts millions of viewers, billions in sponsorships, and untold airtime while the other barely registers with the American public outside of the World Cup and the Olympics? And why is no one talking about this?”
Nobody is talking about it, because it has nothing whatsoever to do with domestic abuse, celebrity athlete misconduct, and toxic role models.
And that was it! Those are all of Amanda Hess’s reasons why “it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice”! There isn’t one logical, persuasive, illuminating, relevant point among them. All she does is invoke invalid rationalizations or try to distract from the issue with tangents.
Slate should insist on higher standards. Manufacturing a knee-jerk defense of a woman who has behaved exactly like the men who anti-abuse activists are attacking the NFL for tolerating and is getting a pass from her sport anyway is lazy, biased journalism.