What we can learn from Ev & Ocho: re-framing intimate partner violence

A SYTYCB entry

About a week ago, I logged onto Facebook and this image popped up in my news feed.

My brain almost exploded trying to process all of the rhetoric wrapped up in this image and its contextual story.  Before I go on, I need to say: I do not watch Basketball Wives (or any other reality show with the word “Wife” or “Love” in it). In fact, I secretly judge people who do. And usually the sight Evelyn Lozada makes my head hurt. Her destructive and unhealthy relationships with other women, and people in general, are quite frankly the most brazen displays of fuckery I’ve seen in a very long time. But I digress…

For those of you who do not know who Chad Johnson (formerly Chad Ochocinco) or Evelyn Lozada are; first and foremost, consider yourselves lucky. Then stay with me as I fill you in. Evelyn is the former fiance of NBA player Antoine Walker, a relationship that  ironically confirmed her eligibility for the VH1 reality show, “Basketball Wives”. Less than 3 months ago she married NFL baller Chad, former star of “Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch”. Earlier this month (less than 2 months into their marriage), Chad was arrested for head-butting Evelyn. She has since filed for divorce and he has been released from the Miami Dolphins. Their upcoming show “Ev & Ocho” was cancelled as well.

Their public domestic violence case has sparked much debate around the legitimacy of his actions and her credibility as a victim of them. Because this is Feministing, I’m going to assume that we all know the slogan: There is NO excuse for domestic violence. However, that has not changed the minds of many who insist that Chad is the victim because he lost his job, his upcoming show, and received divorce papers.

This event reminded me that as a society, we find it impossible to legitimize intimate partner violence unless we can specifically identify a victim and a perpetrator. Not only do we look for these players, we expect them to play their roles. On her show, Evelyn is, as the image above suggests, repeatedly violent. And because we are also trained to victim blame in cases of domestic and sexual violence, Evelyn became a perfect target by being physically aggressive and angry. We (us feministy folks) understand that this doesn’t mean Chad was the only casualty.

Furthermore, the image itself is misleading. Simply being on the receiving end of intimate partner violence does not make one an “advocate”. Evelyn did not donate to a battered woman’s shelter after the incident. She did not stand up and organize survivors. She simply called the police and got a divorce: a decision that many women are not financially privileged, or able to make. But despite it all, it was still within her rights. For those reasons I think this image is actually a direct response to those advocating on her behalf and reminding folks that there really is NO excuse for intimate partner violence. The supporters of this picture are urging us not to “allow” Evelyn to be identified as a victim when she has been violent against so many other people. They simply can not accept it… #nothankyou.

But the truth is, they don’t have to. What we need to learn from Evelyn and Chad is that abusive relationships are not always the result of a good guy/bad guy combination gone wrong. It’s rarely ever so clear cut. If you’ve seen one episode of “Basketball Wives”, it’s disturbingly clear that Evelyn does not know how to have healthy relationships with anyone. But it’s also pretty obvious that Chad doesn’t know how to communicate with his partner in potentially high stress situations. A logical conclusion is that this connection was about as unhealthy as they come.

Instead of trying to identify who deserves what, we should be using this as an opportunity to have an open conversation about healthy relationships and partners. Although domestic violence continues to be a women’s issue (as women still represent the majority of victims of physical violence at the hands of partners), unhealthy relationships are not. Ev & Ocho can show us that intimate partner violence wears many hats but is rooted in a cycle of unhealthy relationship practices. Practices that we ironically tend to support directly and indirectly. Week after week we flocked to our television sets to watch and be entertained by Evelyn without questioning why a grown ass woman might feel the need to jump across a table, barefoot, to attack another woman. We loved it when Chad had physical contests to decide which of 12 women would be his lover on his reality dating show “The Ultimate Catch”. And when he changed his name to “Ochocinco”, we only chuckled.

We ignore unhealthy relationships practices and define domestic violence through a binary lens. We can not continue to be silent until the time comes for us to ignorantly take sides. By then it is almost always too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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