Today the Internet almost imploded as a video was released of Solange Knowles physically assaulting Jay Z after last week’s Met Gala. You can see the surveillance video here, as well as every other place on the Internet. The surveillance camera shows Solange hitting and kicking Jay Z while a bodyguard attempts to restrain her. Beyoncé goes almost unnoticed as a bystander.
Though the video itself is disturbing, this incident highlights the unsettling way in which our discussions surrounding violence are gendered (in addition to being framed by race and class, which I hope also get discussed). Since our conceptualization of physical violence is enmeshed with our gender stereotypes, physical violence by women towards men is often minimized (not to mention violence towards LGBTQ individuals and within LGBTQ relationships). Gender norms are toxic for everyone, and the messages we send about gender and violence are among the most harmful. They influence both our violent behavior and our reaction to violent behavior. We often talk about how these gender norms play out in instances of domestic and sexual violence towards women; but how do they influence our bias when reacting and addressing violence against men?
Today, Twitter exploded with jokes regarding the incident.
These responses are reflective of the gendered and racialized way in which we talk about violence. Although this kind of flippant response is typical of social media following any sensational celebrity news—violent or not—the way in which it is written and discussed among fans, news sources, and media outlets reveals how we, as a society, view violence.
There are clear assumptions regarding violence and gender in our culture, and those assumptions influence our reactions when incidents like this occur. We assume that (1) Men are, inherently, violent; therefore, when men exhibit violent behavior, it is natural and masculine. It’s difficult to reconcile the contradictory message that violence is both unacceptable AND natural. So when men exhibit violent behavior, we deflect or silence the conversation as a way of avoiding this contradiction. In contrast, we assume that (2) Women are inherently not violent; therefore, when women exhibit violent behavior, it is framed as both hysterical and comical. It is difficult to reconcile the contradictory message that all violence is unacceptable with the belief that women are nonthreatening and weak. So when women are violent, we get around this contradiction by minimizing the violence and turning it into a joke.
It’s hard to confront our own biases about gender and violence. First, we have to ask ourselves how we would react if the situation was reversed, if it was Jay Z assaulting Solange in that elevator? But it’s time we take it a step further and ask ourselves why we are so quick to dismiss violence against men, and what messages that sends to both men and women, boys and girls? If we truly want to eliminate violence in our communities, it starts by understanding how we created a culture of violence in the first place. And with articles like "The Interweb's most LOL Solange and Jay Z fight memes and tweets," I'd say we have a ways to go.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.