Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beat a Bitch

I, like most of you, I assume, like to think that I am always on the right side of any given argument. Of course, I know I'm not ... well, I suspect it ... or rather I concede that there might be some validity to the idea. Might. But I do know that people will always disagree with me, and, unlike in my youthful days, I hardly get upset if they do. But there are times, when I'm talking to someone, when I just can't figure out how the hell we are actually on opposite sides.

One such incident happened last week when I was talking to a sista about domestic violence. I feel that I'm a man of my age on this one. Domestic violence has gone from something that just happened that there wasn't even a term for to a private matter to a public embarrassment to an actual crime to actually a crime that authorities have been pressured to take rather seriously. It's not as though it doesn't still happen, but, in most segments of society, a woman beater is a bit of a pariah and is looked upon with contempt.

I have been raised to believe and do vehemently believe that it is gravely wrong to hit a woman. I could hardly even imagine putting my hands on a woman. It's just one of the most contemptible acts a man can commit.

But last week, when I expressed these sentiments, the sista simply shrugged, and said, "Bill, you've been out of circulation awhile. So you might not realize it, but there are a lot of crazy bitches out there."

A part of me wanted to be surprised by this, but it wasn't. Truth be told, this was not my first convo with an African-American woman where I was told that it may sometimes be necessary to "beat a bitch."

I wish there were some sort of discriminating factor--age, class, education level--that would easily allow me to disregard these females' disregarding the seriousness of domestic violence, that would allow me to say, "They just don't know no better." But these women were all highly-educated, at least middle class, and of varying ages. In other words, they did know better, and yet they still felt, under certain circumstances, it was OK for a man to hit a "bitch." As I was once informed, "There's a difference between hitting a woman and hitting a bitch."

Now, I remember back in the early '90s when Ice Cube tried to explain this false dichotomy to bell hooks. While a fanatic of both, I found this argument to be a load of horse shit. Not that I think that every woman is actually a bitch. It's just that we all look for justifications when doing wrong and there's probably not a single person who's about to do wrong to a woman who doesn't think she is, indeed, a bitch and deserves what she is about to get. To believe that this load of crap may actually be a prevailing sentiment--even among women--disturbs me to no end.

But I'm not at all sure how prevalent this sentiment actually is. I'm not sure. Maybe I've just stumbled upon a few outliers here. What are the odds? But if I have actually come across a common sentiment, how is it that, while most of society finds domestic violence reprehensible, some black women find it at least tolerable if you hit a woman if she's been designated a "bitch"?

Misogyny is an easy answer. Men who hate women will always feel justified in hitting them. Women are not immune to misogyny and may very well feel that some of their sisters do need to get knuckled down and learn a lesson from time to time. But why would it appear that misogyny has a greater hold in the black community than it does in many others?

One can point to racism, of course. Black flesh has historically been devalued and dehumanized. Black women have had little cultural value outside of the sexual gratification of white and black men. And what good is a sexual tool if she's also got a mouth on her? Sometimes she needs to be shut up and take her proper place at the base of this racial totem pole called America.

But I think that would be ignoring all the gains of the Civil Rights, Black Power, feminist, black feminist, and men-against-violence movements. It would say that all the very real social, economic, and educational gains made by black women have had little to no effect on the collective black psyche (if we can say there is such a thing).

We can blame that reliable, old bugaboo, hip-hop. After all, I think it's now a law to have at least 1,297 references to "niggers" and 4,315 references to "bitches" on every mainstream rap album. And, as the Queen Latifahs and MC Lytes gave way in the mainstream to the Foxy Browns, Lil Kims, and "hoochie mamas" spitting on the mic about how often they swallow, strong female presences within the genre have been replaced by self-admitted "bitches." We often say that parents can counteract such cultural influences, but these influences are powerful. Two decades of these images can affect how little girls see themselves.

I'm perfectly willing to blame Tyler Perry.

The ever-pervasive stereotype of the "sassy" black woman who's always looking for a fight.

Whatever you like.

But I would really like to find out why.

Now, I know essays like this usually conclude with a nice, pat answer. A solution to the problem. But I admit it--I don't have one. I've written this as an open question--because I've got lots of 'em. I don't know how pervasive this sentiment actually is. I don't know if I keep running into the exception or the unspoken consensus on this issue.

Hell, I could just be talking out my ass. Lord knows it wouldn't be the first time. But this is something that gravely concerns me. I'm raising a little girl here. The very idea that she could one day be tagged a "bitch" and then tagged in the eye and folks be relatively cool with it, that she was somehow "asking for it," simply terrifies me.


Darius Whiteplume said...

All I can say is that ignorance knows no social class. While the feminist side of me sees not hitting a woman because she is a woman an equality issue, that same side also sees hitting anyone you disagree with as stupid.

I was surprised to see that a sizeable number of young women polled (by MTV, I think) thought the "Rhiana had it coming." Of course then you can find numerous videos on Youtube with a bunch of girls dancing to Bust It Open... Maybe I am out of touch?

As far as racial lines go, I wonder if it really is more of a class issue? How long has there been a sizeable black middle class? 1964 wasn't that long ago in the grand scheme of things. I think you might find similar attitudes among rural or working class white women, and certain Latin American cultures (I'm looking at you, Columbia and Panama) have misogyny so ingrained that it is the norm.

Just thinking out loud here.

Karen said...

When this argument comes up, I try to put it in some kind of social context, but it's very hard. In my lifetime, I've only experienced racism a handful of times. But there are many times, even by women, that I am underestimated and dismissed because I have a vagina. I do feel like this idea of beating a "bitch" is not a 21st century idea that has been created by rap music. Our societies for centuries have been male centered, male dominated and dead set on oppressing women. And when it comes to relationships, like, Darius, I find that putting your hands on a woman knows "no class." (pardon the pun) I've been "man-handled" by brothas from the street and brothas from the classroom. Men filled up with degrees and men who lack formal education.

There is some sense that along with equality for women comes an ability to speak up and out for one's self. And there is no place i feel that is put down more than in the Black community. The idea of "knowing your place" i think is a distinctly African American social construct, as far as women is concerned. You can imagine, if you know me, that in my world, that's heresy.

So going toe to toe with a brother means dealing with his inabilities, depending upon who you're talking to, to truly articulate his FEELINGS. Having a son, I will tell you, men start out at a disadvantage. They are more physically in tune. It is there advantage. Im' not surprised when I challenge a brother, and he chooses to put his hands on me. What does surprise me is whether or not he justifies it. In my book, there is no justification for hitting, pushing, slapping, poking anyone, period. And I raise my son this way, too.

There is a quote by Gloria Steinem that I used to keep on my son's wall. "We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters."
Perhaps it begins with our African American families looking at raising more sensitive "girl-like" boys. Perhaps we need to start encouraging our sons to get in touch with how to express physically and verbally. Because I think that as long as we are women, we will have to deal with physical abuse in some form or fashion. And I will tell my daughter that as long as she knows herself and her own mind, speak out. Don't let any man tell anyone tell you that you can't. Even if they threaten you with a physical reprimand.

nunya said...


I will not comment on black issues, I am not black.

I can say that abuse is doled out by people of all colors, religions, creeds, education levels and socioeconomic circumstances.

The abuse cycle is hard to break and without vigilance, it gets passed on from generation to generation. I know this from personal experience.

nunya said...


Unless Poohbutt starts hanging out with women like you had the baffling conversation with, or is unprepared to deal with misogynists, I think she'll be fine :)

you can do it, dad :)

mjd said...

A great posting, Bill. My mother divorced my (biological) father when I was 5 or 6 and I really never saw him again because she was afraid to let him know where we lived. That was hard to understand at the time, but fortunately my mother remarried the man who is actually my father and it left little mark, I think.

At the risk of going off-topic and appearing disrespectful of such a serious thread, great picture of Pam Grier!