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Barbara Kay: Janay Rice confounds feminists by failing to conform to their theories

Ray and Janay Rice

If there’s one thing that irritates an ideologue, it’s when reality does not conform to cherished theories. I daresay many feminists are grinding their teeth over Janay Rice’s refusal to speak the lines written for her in the feminist handbook on domestic violence.

As the world knows, Janay Rice is the wife of Baltimore Ravens now-former running back Ray Rice. In February, when Ray was her fiancé, a security camera captured footage of Rice punching Janay in a casino elevator. In the video, we see Janay’s head hitting a rail, knocking her unconscious. Rice drags her out of the elevator and stands, along with a casino employee, looking down at her body with no sign of alarm or remorse, not touching her, even as she groggily comes around and attempts to sit up.

According to feminist theory, all domestic violence scenarios involve a controlling male and a submissive female. According to the script written for her, Janay should be terrified of Rice. She should be putting a brave face on her pain, but it should be evident that she feels she has no choice but to carry on because she is fearful of what may happen to her or her little daughter, Rayven, if she leaves him.

Unfortunately Janay is not playing to type. She is clearly not a weak woman. She is not poor, or fearful of her husband (one news account reported that the couple “can be heard shouting obscenities at each other, and [Janay] appears to spit in the face of the three-time Pro Bowl running back” before he punched her. Spitting in no way justifies what Ray then did, but if true, it would indicate Janay is not in general afraid of Ray and is no stranger to provocatively abusive behaviour herself).

Janay did not have to marry Ray; she wanted to marry him. She could walk out in a heartbeat. If she left him, no court in the land would fail to give her sole custody of the child and a hefty settlement. Personal security is obviously not the issue here. As she made perfectly clear in lambasting the media for their exposure of the video, Janay loves her husband. Her present distress is not rooted in his brutality. She is upset because the media exposed it: “No one knows the pain that the media …has caused my family,” she wrote on Instagram. “To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing.” It is instructive that she says “we” regret that moment. It suggests neither is ashamed of their mutually volatile relationship in itself, only of acting it out in public.

Sending Ray Rice to jail is unlikely to change the underlying psychological problems that are preventing this couple from dealing in healthy ways with intimate-partner frictions.

Janay’s perspective highlights the complex nature of intimate partner violence (IPV), which is a more precise definition of the phenomenon than domestic violence. Intimate partnerships are a test of both men and women’s ability to handle strong emotion with maturity, patience and mutual respect. Men and women who have grown up with violence in their home – I don’t know if that is the case in the Rice marriage, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of it – tend to form “assortative” relationships, that is, partners with the same immature impulses, and so repeat the cycle. In about half of IPV cases, the abuse is mutual and equally violent. Knives and heavy objects can equalize the difference in strength between the average woman and man. Many women are in fact as strong as or stronger than their partners.

Ray’s behavior was abominable and indefensible, that goes without saying. Moreover, the relaxed attitude he exhibited during the incident speaks to the probability that violence is a familiar feature in moments of anger. However, Janay’s instinct to side with her husband means she too is unclear on the nature of a mature relationship. If Ray were violent with outsiders, imprisonment would be the correct punishment. But when aggression is directed at an intimate partner who does not want her aggressor punished, and when her resistance is clearly not coerced, the consequence to the aggressor should correspond to the root cause of the aggression.

Sending Ray to jail is unlikely to change the underlying psychological problems that are preventing this couple from dealing in healthy ways with intimate-partner frictions. Probably the best thing that could happen for the Rices is mutual psychological therapy and relationship mentoring to help them both understand the nature of responsible intimate partnering. It would certainly be the best thing that could happen for their daughter. 

National Post