Ray Rice, Fifty Shades, and the morality of consent

Depositphotos_35019649_m-1030x360She was attractive with a social personality, yet possessed a subtlety that led me to believe hers had been a life of frequent disappointment. I considered this a tempting quality; a challenge frankly, to be the first and perhaps only man who wouldn’t let her down. She had a somewhat unrefined upbringing; never setting set foot outside the US and rarely beyond the state line. I made it a point to introduce her to those finer things my paycheck would allow. It didn’t take long for her to grow accustomed to many of them.

Wine became her treasured delicacy; Franzia boxes no longer quenched her new palate. This posed a problem. While she enjoyed an assortment of reds and whites, none cared much for her. Cabernet and chardonnay did to her what Jack Daniels did to an old fraternity brother. Her temper went through the ceiling; his fist went through walls.

I became well acquainted with the Ms. Hyde transformation. Her sensitivities were elevated whenever she was on the sauce and anything believed disagreeable or out of line sent them skyward. Arguments readily ensued, accusations were often leveled, and harmony routinely collapsed, yet little else came of it and all was repented of the following day. It became her predictable and dreadful habit.

She was the first woman I seriously dated after my divorce. I was anxious to make new memories and distance myself from a failed marriage; and with two round trip tickets anywhere in the U.S. it became the perfect reason to get away.

Considering her new love affair, a trip to Napa’s wine country was like adding fuel to a smoldering ember. Name-dropping the likes of Opus One and Stags Leap, as if old friends with pictures proving it, only heightened the romance. She now had reason to indulge more frequently and to never waste a drop. Her alter ego visited often, caused more turmoil, but still knew how to find the door. That would change shortly after our return.

In retrospect, the party was a coming out, a chance to showcase her new refinement and sommelier skills. Well beyond a casual night of drinking, the monster broke free in front of everyone midway through the second bottle of a merlot she’d picked up on route 29 outside Yountville. Chatting among friends, I evidently did or said something outlandish. Suddenly and without warning she reached back and in soap opera style fashion open hand smack me violently across the face. I was confused and mortified. The place went silent. She offered no apology or explanation. Within moments I was in the car, her chasing behind. I gave the option to stay there or leave with me. We drove home in silence. The next morning as the fog lifted on her memories, with the indignity still visible on my face, she apologized, begged for forgiveness, and swore never to do it again.

•♦•

The shocking assault by Ray Rice of his then girlfriend, now wife, is almost surreal. There’s been endless commentary on the incident. Sides are divided. On one are those asking why he isn’t already in prison, the other is asking why Janay Rice stayed and later married him? Watching a forgettable cable news program about the story, the host asks his guests, ‘Why aren’t we taking domestic violence more seriously?’ All I could think of in response was that night at the party and Christian Grey.

•♦•

Upon the news breaking that her husband had been released from the NFL along with his multi million-dollar salary, Janay took to Instagram:

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get!”

“If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.”

“To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked … for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”

•♦•

No one apparently saw this coming, especially with such venom. Not only was Janay defending her man, she criticized anyone supporting her. Critics scurried for an answer claiming this an example of how complicated domestic violence can be. Then undermining their argument entirely, they condemned any attention paid to her meltdown.

“The question is not, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ said Janee Hanzlick, a director of Safehome in Kansas City. “The question should be, ‘Why is he hurting her?’ We’re looking at the victim’s choice when we should be looking at the abuser’s choice to abuse.

•♦•

Everything about this story irritates our moral fiber. His violence is appalling and deserves the highest punishment allowable. The handling by the NFL demands further investigation. But we simply can’t ignore Janay Rice. To blatantly avoid her behavior, following the incident and the announcement, is insulting and prejudiced, but mostly it’s hypocritical.

The Fifty Shades trilogy is one part porn magazine one part domestic abuse playbook. The premise of the novels is widely known. By any rational definition Christian Grey is an abuser. Anastasia is routinely manipulated, humiliated, and threatened throughout the story. So why have these books garnered worldwide fame when they glorify the very motives and behavior now being condemned? Is it because they add to the eroticism; is violence only tolerable if it includes handcuffs and ball gags? Or, as I suspect, did his abuse weave itself so agreeably into the narrative because Anastasia consented to it?

Our culture says consent is the basis for human morality. Meaning, I can do what I please so long as the other person(s) agrees to it. The sexual revolution, gay rights, and assisted suicide each find their justification on that new platform. Yet what seems lost on those who preach this new morality is how the knife cuts both ways. By all measures, Janay Rice, like Anastasia Steele, consented to the treatment received; not while lying unconscious on the elevator floor, but Janay Rice certainly did so afterwards and has ever since. She consented to marry the man when everything and perhaps everyone said she should run. She consented the moment she went to social media condemning the critics of her husband’s behavior. She consents every minute she stays with him.

To simply overlook her flagrant indifference for her personal safety is intellectually dishonest and severely biased. To condemn anyone drawing attention to this reality only serves to validate her poor decision. Asking why Janay Rice stays is not a abnegation of her husband’s responsibility. In fact, it’s an indictment of it. Furthermore, it’s cheap and dogmatic to be charged that doing so implies she is complicit in the abuse, in other words, that somehow she deserves it.

Why then does it seem we may fail to take domestic abuse seriously? How can others take Janay Rice’s abuse with the gravity it surely deserves when she refuses to do the same? Under the morality of consent, how can one condemn what the victim has so openly agreed to? How can anyone save Janay Rice when she doesn’t want or believe she needs saving?

“Of one’s soul’s salvation we all know and must think before all else.” Tolstoy

•♦•

The morning was dark and somber. A tension rested in the air; an uneasiness noticed but not talked about.  I told her we were fine, but I knew better. Days later, whenever I thought on that night’s events I could feel the humiliation and sting on my face. Did I really want this? What if it happened again? Was that truly the last time or was it merely another stop along a journey I would later regret starting?

I stopped questioning why she hit me. She had no answer. All that mattered was she did. Within days I knew we couldn’t go on. A line had been crossed and there was no going back. I was raised never to hit women,that also meant never being hit by them. The dynamic had shifted. Harmony was forever changed. I knew it could never be the same. That trust was permanently severed.

I’ve never regretted not giving her another chance. I just pray Janay Rice never regrets she did.

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