Joan Collins gives good advice based on a faulty assumption

12 04 2009

On April 8th, IMDB.com posted a news blurb in which Dynasty star Joan Collins warned pop star Rihanna against returning to her ex-boyfriend, celebrity Chris Brown, who is charged with assaulting and threatening her (Rihanna).

Rihanna and Brown are involved in one of the most high profile instances of teen dating violence in recent history, and the relationship abuse has sparked discussions among teachers and parents of how to explain the issue of intimate partner violence to their children.  The case has also revealed societal attitudes about relationship abuse.

For example, in this news blurb, Joan Collins, who has been married five times (eesh), says:

I made a few mistakes but one of the things that I would say to a girl like Rihanna is never go back to a man who hits you. Never, ever. Any man who hits you once will hit you again. No man has ever hit me. They know I wouldn’t tolerate it for one second.

The beginning of this quotation is very strong and clear: abusers don’t magically stop abusing.  I agree with Collins that Rihanna shouldn’t get back together with Brown.  But unlike Collins, I understand that it is very difficult to leave an abuser, and therefore, should Rihanna decide to go back to Brown, I will not think less of her, and I would encourage other people to remain supportive of her.

Why wouldn’t people be supportive of her?  Probably because of attitudes like the bolded portion of Collins’ quotation (emphasis mine).  There is this ridiculous attitude that abusers won’t abuse unless they’re given a chance, and if you, the victim, don’t give them a chance, then they won’t hurt you.  Joan Collins mistakenly believes that she was never physically abused because her partners “knew” she wouldn’t put up with it.  While this idea might sound empowering (“I’m just too strong to be abused!”), it’s incredibly damaging for victims of violence, and it’s also false security.

If you assume that you won’t be hurt or abused unless you “let” someone hurt you, you might miss warning signs of abuse or other dangerous behaviors.  And if you’re hurt or abused after “not letting” someone hurt you, then who might you blame for the abuse?  This attitude reinforces the idea that the victim is to blame for her own abuse or assault.

Joan Collins, it’s great that you recognize that abusers don’t change.  But you might want to brush up on the rest of Relationship Abuse 101.


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2 responses

17 04 2009
Jason

To be honest, a person’s attitude can make all the difference. If a woman (I’m going to go with women, since they suffer the vast majority of spousal and partner abuse) has a very strong attitude, and in no way relies on her partner, and makes it very clear she will walk out that door as soon as he raises his hand- she’s less likely to attract abusers. And if she projects an attitude that she won’t stand for it, those who are potentially abusive are less likely to stop being “potential” abusers and just become… abusers.
No, it’s not a sure-fire thing. But attitude can make it a LOT less likely.

And does that make it a failing for those who don’t project that? Not even a little bit. It’s largely an esteem thing- people who are abused often believe they deserve it. And can we blame someone for low self-esteem? Of course not. Not for a moment. It happens as a result of their past experiences.
A woman who realises she does not deserve to be treated poorly will demand respect and is therefore less likely to be abused. A woman who believes she deserves the treatment- or that being with him is somehow “worth it” (which, in my opinion, is also connected with self-esteem) is more likely to be abused- and, more importantly, is more likely to allow herself to remain that way.

That means we should be supportive of these people, who remain in or return to abusive relationships. One day, they’ll find the strength to walk away and realise they’re better than what they’re receiving.
With support, that time can come sooner, rather than later.

20 04 2009
angryblkfeminist

I think what you’ve said Jason is a perfect example of the culture surrounding domestic violence against women. While it may not seem like it, but what you’re saying is in a way victim-blaming.

This patriarchal society spreads the sentiment that if the women was merely strong, or had high self esteem, or had some other characteristic then she wouldn’t have been abused. Being abused has nothing to do with the abused’s personality; it has to do with the abuser. All sorts of women with certain types of personalities can find themselves in abusive situations.

How often do people say “oh I’d NEVER be in an abusive relationship.” I want to assume no one wants an abusive relationship and very few people are going to get into a relationship with an abuser who shows their true colours right away. They are lured in because most abusers are charming. That’s how they get away with what they do.

Someone’s “attitude” doesn’t make them immune from abuse or from abusers. Abusers and abused people come in all shapes and sizes and levels of esteem and backgrounds and walks of life. It is unfair to survivors of domestic violence to insinuate that if they only had a different “attitude” they would not have been abused.

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