The #31forRAY campaign kicks off today. What is it? It’s an invitation for men to write Ray Rice from the heart. It’s an engaging, intimate public conversation published on the Emotional Justice Tumblr. Each day throughout October, a new letter written to Rice will be uploaded. The Tumblr will be a place for brave men to confront their own truths about the issue of intimate partner (or domestic) violence. There will also be information about services and organizations focused on the emotional healing of men.
It’s been 20 years of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and yet the response to intimate partner violence from men is still far too often, “It’s none of my business.” In subtle ways, women are still viewed as the property of men, and language like “private” and even “domestic” furthers the notion that this crime is something other than what it is—a crime.
“I made a mistake,” is what Ray Rice said of the elevator incident in which he was videotaped knocking out his then fiancé, Janay Palmer (Rice). She hit her head and lost consciousness and Rice dragged her limp body out of the elevator. We all know the story of what happened next: the first video release, the press conference, the two game suspension, the second video release, the firestorm that followed, Rice’s firing, the NFL condemnation, the public debate.
Many men and women excused or defended Ray Rice’s actions. They argued he should not lose his job for what he had done. Many men and women, argued Rice should absolutely be held responsible for the violence he inflicted. The argument was passionate, painful and would continue to be divided down these two lines.
Numbers tell their own stories. Every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is beaten. 3.4 million women are beaten every year, according to the AMA and the FBI. Domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women.
During the first press conference Rice said: “I want to thank Mr. Palmer for trusting me with his daughter.” I wondered about that exchange between Palmer’s dad and Rice, and then more broadly about men’s responses, about the ways in which men either sanction or challenge each other when it comes to intimate partner violence.
We often hold women responsible for the violence they suffer at the hands of men in the same way society often holds Black men responsible for the violence they suffer at the hands of White police officers. We accuse, we blame, we judge, we question these women. But, we rally around black men. We don’t do the same, with the same consensus about the dignity and rights of Black women.
After the Ray Rice incident, powerful memes were created on social media #whyIstayed #whyIleft. They offered intimate partner violence survivors a voice.
But “why don’t women leave?” remains the question. One reason might be that women are 70 times more likely to be injured after leaving, according to research.
The #31forRay campaign turns the lens on men and asks: What about men? What will it take to get men involved in a movement to end intimate partner violence—and to have tough, untold, unheard conversations about manhood, masculinity and creating the kind of culture change that might save lives?
The Ray Rice incident happened during the 20th anniversary of VAWA. That policy made intimate partner violence illegal. That policy was crucial. Commentators, activists, scholars, journalists, used their platforms to make calls to educate men about intimate partner violence. Those platforms matter—they create calls to action. What’s also clear is that policy and platform are not enough—we also need process. Process is about engagement, and changing belief systems. Process means negotiating your resistance, dealing with your contradictions.
Let me be clear. This #31forRay campaign is not about supporting Ray Rice. We condemn his actions and believe he should absolutely face the consequences for his actions. My emotional justice work–which I’ve been doing now for 6 years – is about engagement, creating process to make the kind of change that transforms lives. We have a complicated and intimate relationship with violence. Our ideologies may condemn it, our emotionality engages, excuses and negotiates with it. That’s what makes it hard. That’s why process matters. A culture of violence needs ideology, policy, platform, legislation to condemn it. And then it needs process to engage and transform it. #31forRAY is about that process.