Exploitative Fourth of July peg of the day!

Women should celebrate the holiday by not being so abusable?

Published July 3, 2008 7:15PM (EDT)

Back in January, there was a New York Times article about my little blog (among others), and a producer from the "Today" how saw it and invited me to come on the show the next morning. I said yes and started frantically packing and running errands so I could get on a plane to New York that night. Then I got the second call: Heath Ledger had just been found dead in his apartment, so I was bumped. Fair enough. At that point, though, I had to call or e-mail everyone I'd called or e-mailed about the appearance an hour before and tell them to unset their DVRs -- which inevitably led to the question, from all but my journalist friends: "So, are they going to have you on on another day?" No, of course not. On that particular Wednesday, I would have been "Kate Harding, who was in the New York Times yesterday." The day after that, in journalistic terms, I became "Kate Harding, same nobody she always was." Timing is everything.

So I understand the need to have a timely peg for a subject you want to cover. (Just last week, I jumped on a New Zealand Herald article about LaVena Johnson because it gave me a fresh reason to write about her here, three years after her tragic death.) But there's "timely" and then there's "desperately pushing it." Take, for instance, this Fox article, "Women Can Stop the Fireworks on Independence Day: Psychotherapist Offers Tips for Women in Abusive Relationships." I know it's Fox, but come on.

The article itself isn't totally objectionable -- it makes the important point that emotional abuse is often a precursor to physical abuse, and plenty damaging in itself -- but the "declaring independence" angle comes awfully close to making a mockery of the subject. Getting out of an abusive relationship takes a little more than throwing your hat in the air, Mary Tyler Moore style, and convincing yourself you're gonna make it after all. And "women can stop the fireworks"? Really? In addition to being an especially cringeworthy effort to tie domestic violence to the upcoming holiday, that skirts the edges of victim blaming, and they wouldn't do that, would they? Oh, wait.

"[Psychotherapist Melanie] Wells contends that the most difficult sign to spot is when women blur the lines between acceptable vs. abusive behavior. When this happens they have become abuse-able and are actually participating in the abuse by tolerating it or lying to themselves about it."

Are you kidding me? Somewhere in there is a valid point about setting boundaries and standing up for yourself early and often, but this just makes it sound like domestic violence would disappear altogether if you ladies would quit being so darn abusable! (Never mind the men, straight and gay, who find themselves in abusive relationships, of course.) I guess maybe we just have to wait a few months for the follow-up article, "A Holiday Gift That Costs Nothing: Don't Abuse Your Partner."

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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