Last year during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wrote my first article publicly disclosing my own story in an abusive relationship as a way of sharing and supporting other victims through my experience. The article was titled How Did I Get Here? because for a long time I felt shame, thinking that as an outwardly confident, college-educated woman (running a youth organization about social justice and empowerment of all things at the time), I should have “known better.” I didn’t realize how deeply scarred my self-esteem was from those fateful teenage years, but now I realize I was willing to endure whatever kind of treatment as long as it meant I was getting attention. The response to my story was positive, and I was most touched by a woman who said it was almost exactly like her own, and felt compelled to open up about her experience, breaking her own silence. It showed the power of sharing these kinds of stories as a means of greater empowerment and healing. And thanks to social media, contemporary culture has ever-changing ways of communicating stories, supporting one another and sharing important thoughts, like the above tweet-turned-shareable ecard that’s making the rounds this week. *sarcasm*
The tweet, which was copied by a few different accounts like this one, has seen over 4,000 retweets and 500 people have made it a favorite. While these numbers are peanuts in the Twitterverse, people actually took the time to tag the message as the best thing they’d read all day. Some even LOL’ed in response. @prettyboi_draye replied “Ihh, that’s too funny but real..,,” which I found representative and telling of the overall response and treatment of the issue via that quote: funny first, something real to reflect on second. I’m pretty sure the person who wrote the “these hoes” card didn’t have October’s Domestic Violence Awareness focus in mind, instead he or she was just trying to illustrate their cleverness by connecting the three stories of Chris Brown and Rihanna’s pre-Grammy altercation, Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada and former husband Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson’s car fight and the now-infamous abusive bus driver’s uppercut through using the word, “hoe.” I’m sure they were going for cheap laughs drawn from some of the most recent and memorable acts of relationship and interpersonal violence we’ve seen play out in the public, because Evelyn being head-butted by a grown football-playing man is hilarious, right?
You know what’s not funny? 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and 1 in 3 women will be murdered by a current or former partner, according to Safe Horizon, the largest victims’ services agency in the U.S. That’s where I get frustrated, when a life-and-death issue is reduced to a meme and jokes paint women as “hoes” who “act up” and thus somehow deserve to be put in their place. In that culture, students like those at a high school in Waverly, New York don blackface and re-enact the Chris Brown-Rihanna beating as entertainment during a pep rally, you know, because it’s funny. And others tweet about how Chris Brown “can beat me anytime,” you know, because he’s an R&B star and it’s so sexy when he’s abusive.
I will not go into the semantics of the “these hoes” quote because I don’t need to explain how all women aren’t “hoes,” and perhaps we shouldn’t use that language, etc. In addition, plenty of thoughtful discussions have gone on with regards to the private dynamics of the Chrianna and Ev & Ocho relationships. What continues to need attention though, is the way we handle these kinds of incidents in the public discourse. The way we treat subjects like domestic violence, and use tools like social media to address them, or to simply escape and laugh to keep from crying. Just because we’ve adapted to communicating in 140 characters, Facebook posts and texts these days, does not mean we should also trim down our ability to think about serious issues and show compassion. It’s clear we don’t need just better media literacy anymore, but social media literacy, as well. Especially for the sake of our next generation, whose discussion of domestic violence and relationship dynamics is increasingly becoming resigned to numbly looking at TMZ-leaked photos, checking the latest WorldStarHipHop viral video, and writing “SMH” next to ecards like that one and clicking “share.”