Now I don’t usually like to get involved in Beyonce discussions after having had a few bad experiences.In some circles she’s almost sacred – some of her fans have a military type zeal that borders on fanaticism. I think I made a Youtube video on her a year ago that I need to take down because I actually disagree with myself now; additionally I don’t want the Beyholders to find my address and post copies of her latest album through my letterbox in some twisted form of harassment. Anyway, this is about her esteemed husband Mr Jay-Z himself, and her less popular sister, Solange. Some of us feel sorry for Solange because we see her as the musical side chick. Personally, I think she did the only smart thing in the unfortunate (depending on how you look at it) career situation of having Beyonce as a sister, which was to carve out a completely different, slightly quirky identity for herself that attracts quite a different following from that of the mainstream Bey worshippers. Her most recent claim to fame is as the sister who decided to accost monsieur Jay in a lift.
I’m not really interested in the multiple hypotheses as to why she decided to give him two Pokemon style kicks, neither am I interested in the natural hair communities questioning whether she has now chemically straightened her hair (yes, this was actually a major query for some people).
What I am interested in is the conversations this has precipitated about domestic violence and the response we have when women are the perpetrators as opposed to men. I had a conversation about this a couple of nights back, and the young man who I was chatting to argued that the responses most people have had to this situation have been clearly misandrist, aka sexism against men.
I agree that if we compare this to the Rihanna – Chris Brown situation, the internet response has been quite different. My twitter and Facebook timelines over the past few days have been filled with memes, statuses, annotated photographs, spoof videos and the like, making a complete mockery of the whole situation. Someone even changed Solange’s Wikipedia description to “Jay-Z’s 100th problem”. Very few people seem to want to class this as serious abuse, it’s just the crazy bitter sister acting a little bit nutty, or the loyal ride or die sister giving a good walloping to a potential wife beater.
In fact, what has been very interesting to me is the assumption many of us have made that Jay-Z MUST have done something wrong. He must have. Or else why would she attack him? In part, it’s this underlying assumption that when men beat up women, it’s because they are simply abusers – controlling, damaged people with anger management issues, but that when women hurt men they are wounded, fragile, and hurting inside. There’s almost a kind of relish for some women when they see men getting beaten up. It’s like all the pain from their previous break ups, impending divorce, and the crush who didn’t crush back when they were 6 is relieved from that one sucker punch they saw someone give their ex on some TV show. In fact, I’ve seen a at least a couple of films where a man getting completely trampled on is the comedic and dramatic highlight, where all the women stand around in a circle and throw in the odd handbag thump where possible, cheering on the main ringleader.
This is problematic because there are some women who ARE physically abusive to their partners, and the societal stigma around that ‘role reversal’ means that there are men who are probably too embarrassed and afraid to seek help. I don’t think physical violence should be encouraged or excused no matter who initiates it, and men who are in relationships where they are being abused should feel as free to seek help as women. (I do want to note that what Solange did wasn’t technically domestic abuse btw)
Having said that, I think it’s important to maintain that there is actually quite a big difference when a woman attacks a man to when a man attacks a woman. Devoid of societal context, devoid of looking at the statistics around sexual abuse and domestic abuse, and devoid of an understanding of how a certain type of patriarchy shapes our thinking, it’s easy to complain that it is a ‘double standard’, the men are being treated unfairly. However, it’s quite clear that:
1) Most women aren’t a physical threat to men in the same way that men are to women.
The average woman is simply physically weaker than the average male. If I in a violent rage attack a man I am with, without any implements such as a knife, rock etc, it’s not likely that I will hurt him in the same way as if the attack was reversed.
2) In terms of power structures, men are not the victims of global sexism in the same way women are.
Men are not the primary victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or global patriarchy. The number of women who are killed weekly due to domestic violence vastly outnumbers that of men, most men aren’t scared of walking alone at night for fear of being attacked by a woman, men aren’t warned to be careful of ‘strange women’. You cannot treat the two scenarios as equivalent when the world that women occupy and the world that men occupy are two very different worlds, with very different fears, privileges and consequences for behaviour.
No, Solange shouldn’t have gone all Wesley Snipes on Jay-Z. Yes, Mr Sean Carter is still a victim in this particular situation. Yes, domestic abuse and GBH are still wrong not matter the gender of the person who commits them. But no, women attacking men and men attacking women are not the same. And yes, Beyonce told me she didn’t get involved because she just had her nails did.