Use Reality TV to take domestic violence out of the closet

This great comment on my blog post Did Reality TV save Taylor Armstrong from author/ journalist Paula Kamen:

“A much-needed commentary, a refreshing alternative to the “Reality TV killed him” angle elsewhere. I think this is very much worth writing about because of the tremendous popularity of this show (and admittedly, its sheer addictiveness). NBC is even running other “Real Housewives” franchises during the day in its old soap slot, so it’s not limited to just cable (Bravo). It’s an opportunity to help take domestic violence out of the closet and focus on this root problem.”

Instead of wishing Reality TV would just go away, which it won’t, why not use its mass appeal to educate the public about domestic violence? Or suicide prevention? RHOBH could run PSAs, could help bring the issue of DV to light in a multitude of ways including where abusers can go to get help. Why not advocate for that instead of trying to get Reality TV off the air?

Did Reality TV save Taylor Armstrong?

After Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong, committed suicide this week, the internet was ablaze, pointing the finger at Reality TV, wanting to know: Did it kill Russell Armstrong?

Today on TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz writes:

It’s time to get real about reality TV. As your parents may have warned you, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. People are getting hurt.

Armstrong, the estranged husband of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong, commited suicide on Monday. Friends have said the show changed him, that the pressure of having his marital strains examined on national TV and the financial stress of keeping up with much wealthier cast members all contributed to his emotional collapse.

Seitz calls Reality TV a blood sport and likens it to a modern day gladiator’s arena. His analogy is brilliant, and I’m no fan of the trainwreck that is reality TV. But I also find it disturbing that so much media commentary focuses on the aberration of Armstrong’s behavior becoming so public. What about his behavior? Is the tragedy here that Russell’s violent past, his “marital strains,” became known? Or is it that Russell couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help he needed to treat his sickness?

Violence against women is epidemic but far too invisible. Most survivors are so mired in shame, they don’t talk about the abuse to their friends, family, or the media. Until more survivors choose to speak up, as I wrote about for Salon in 2002, the public, including our legislators, will remain apathetic about taking any real steps to stop the violence. And of course, as long as survivors stay hidden, so do the perpetrators.

Here are some scary statistics about how common and how secret violence against women is (from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

Taylor Armstrong bucked the statistics. She said she was abused, she said so publicly, and she left her husband. Two weeks after she left Radar online reported Russell had two restraining orders against him and had pleaded guilt to battery in 1997.

Historically, the time when women are most vulnerable to more violence is when they leave their abusive partners. Did being on Reality TV– the exposure, money, fame, and power, that came with it– help to make Taylor one of the rare women to speak out? Because she was not invisible but exposed, was she, on some level, more protected against further violence than the millions of other women? As the stats above cite, three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

Obviously, I have no idea what was going on in Russell Armstrong’s head or in Taylor’s. Obviously this is all sad on many levels, but Reality TV’s role in bringing public awareness to the ‘private’ issue of domestic violence is not the tragedy in this story.

Kate Gosselin’s ambition doesn’t make her a bad mom

Kate Gosselin graces the cover of People Magazine and US Weekly again this week. She wants fame, she wants power, she wants money– she’s a bad mom!

John Gosselin, the father of Kate’s eight kids is a deadbeat father, still out of a job, and giving no indication that he’s the least bit interested in finding a career to support his family. But John’s not choosing to exploit his fame to get a gig on a hit show, he’s only using it to attract young co-eds and crash out in their houses.

Kate  GosselinKate Gosselin 

I’m not saying Kate Gosselin is a model mom. From what I’ve read, she often seems selfish, angry, and narcisstic. I don’t understand why she had eight kids in the first place. But here they are, and she’s got to support them, otherwise your tax dollars will be. I suppose there are other jobs she could find, besides her stint on “Dancing with the Stars” and the continued money she’ll get from keeping herself in the spotlight. Kate was formerly a nurse, but her problem now is that you can’t support eight kids on a nurse’s salary. You can’t support eight kids without working your ass off, which is just what she’s choosing to do.

Past media coverage of contestants on “Dancing with the Stars” usually involves waxing effusively on their hard work, along with kudos for how their dedication transformed their bodies. For no other cast member, have I seen attacks about what monsterous parents they were for leaving their kids, or even much coverage about whether or not those contestants were parents at all. But in Kate’s case, Us Weekly reporters have become the mommy police, staking out Kate’s house and clocking the exact minutes she spends with her children. (I hope none of these reporters are moms, neglecting their kids while keeping vigil on Kate.) Certainly, people wouldn’t be directing this level of ire at John Gosselin if he were spending hours a day at rehearsals for the demanding show.

Kate Gosselin happens to be the breadwinner for her family; being a breadwinner is an essential part of being a good and present parent.

Yet, in the year 2010, our definitions of being a good mother and being a good father remain diametrically opposed. Today, when a father goes in for a job interview, his potential boss will usually think: “This guy has a family to support, he’ll be a good worker.” A mother interviewing for the same job is considered by different standards: she could be an unreliable worker, running off for school meetings or staying home if a kid is sick. Being a good mom is being a nurturer; being a good dad is being a breadwinner. But in reality, outside of the spotlight, plenty of moms work long hours to support their kids including lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. Sometimes I think we should take a break from these mom/ dad labels and just use “parent” to get across how differently we perceive these strikingly similar roles of raising and supporting our kids.

Kate Gosselin has eight kids so we think she ought to be “maternal” kind of like how Martha Stewart excelled at homemaking so she should be warm and fuzzy– it makes people dislike and distrust these women for their contradictions within the constrained cultural definitions of femininity. Clearly, Kate Gosselin is not a natural nurturer, but hopefully, she can still find some way to be a somewhat decent mom to her kids.