In January of 2001, a woman named Joumana called 911 in Paradise Valley, Arizona, a wealthy suburb of Phoenix. She spoke of her husband, Jason, punching her in the mouth in front of their young son. When the 911 operator asked about her welfare, Joumana replied, “Don’t worry about me. This is nothing compared to what I usually go through.” Joumana’s and Jason’s last name was Kidd. At the time, Jason was the star point guard for the Phoenix Suns. He was arrested and plead guilty to domestic abuse. His punishment? “Anger management” classes, then an expunged record. A mere slap on the wrist.
Joumana, the woman who spoke of the punch in the mouth as “nothing,” willingly returned to the marriage bed. When Jason was shipped off by the Phoenix Suns, she followed him to his next NBA stop in New Jersey. She publicly defended him against taunts of being a wife-beater. Joumana was a woman of means. A woman who didn’t face going to a shelter if she left her wealthy husband. A woman who didn’t face a life of uncertainty for her children or herself if she refused to return to a man who she said had long abused her. Yet, she made the choice to do so.
Many women make this choice, even when they have other options. Rightfully, we realize that the societal pressures put on women play a heavy hand in this so-called choice. We realize that telling women that marriage and relationships with men are their most important achievements leads women to accept abuse and misuse at the hands of men. We realize that some women don’t have Joumana’s means. They may find it necessary to “choose” to stay with an abuser so they and their children have a means of support. We realize that there are a whole host of social pressures put on women to “make it work”, to “stand by your man”. We realize that these pressures can lead women to make choices that are dangerous for them, and create and embolden the misogynist men who would beat them. We realize that these choices have been used in the past to reinforce ideas that women accept abuse as a part of a relationship–and that they should accept it. We don’t accept that a woman’s claims of “love” for the man who beats her makes this choice alright. We sure as hell don’t call her choice “feminist” and demand that feminists support it.
For some strange reason, when you replace the word “love” with “orgasm” or “sex”, a woman choosing a violent relationship becomes something we are supposed to celebrate. It not only becomes acceptable, but anyone who finds fault with it is labeled a “prude” and accused of condescension. A woman who “chooses” to be with a man who gets off by torturing her isn’t fucked in the head by social concepts of female masochism. This woman isn’t internalizing society’s twisted notions of womanhood. Studies have shown that this woman is highly likely to have been sexually abused in the past, but we aren’t to believe that this abuse led her to twist concepts of sexuality into unhealthy practices of power and abuse. We aren’t to believe that the constant inundation of media depictions of rough, violent, aggressive men who impose their sexual will on submissive, panting women have had the same twisted effect on this woman that the social concepts of “love” have on the abused wife.
Instead, we are to see the woman who likes violent sex as somehow empowered. Sexually assertive, even. We are told that she, as a bottom, is “in charge”. I often wonder if the women who met John Robinson in online BDSM chat rooms thought that about themselves. Did they think that traveling to have violent sex with a man they didn’t know, that signing a “slave contract”, was empowering? Did they think that right up until they were slaughtered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums labeled “Rendered Fat”?
I’ve read articles by people involved in the lifestyle who talk about how staged photos depicting dead women are regularly included in the porn of the violent sex crowd. In short, these people get off on the things that Robinson acted out. If your dick gets hard at seeing a picture of a woman made up to look dead, or a woman being bound and tortured, you’re a fucking psycho. If you get turned on by pretending to be that dead or tortured woman–or allowing yourself to actually be tortured–you’re the furthest thing from empowered that I can think of.
The Joumana Kidds of the world, the countless women who “choose” to return to violent men out of “love” are not empowered. They are making choices, but choices aren’t all equal. As feminists, we don’t excuse the abuse or the tendency of women to return to abusers as acceptable. We don’t condemn those who point out how society, views of womanhood, and trauma in women’s lives all play into those choices.
I can understand the motivations of the poor or working class woman who is economically bound to her abuser. I can’t understand the corrupted mind of the woman who does it not for love or for survival, but for an orgasm. No one says people aren’t allowed to make their choices. What I am saying is that your choices are fucked up. Your choices reinforce all the twisted things about women and sexuality that misogynists thrive on. Your choices are not feminist in any sense of the word. And using the word “sex” instead of “love” doesn’t make your choices any smarter than those of that abused woman who goes back to that wife-beater.