Earlier this week, Baltimore Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti held a press conference to address allegations that the Ravens misled the public in order to protect Ray Rice and keep him on the field. Like much of what has unfolded in recent weeks as the NFL grapples with multiple domestic violence cases and its own history of sweeping similar violence under the rug, Bisciotti's comments revealed a lot more than just his own views and the mentality of his franchise. He also held a mirror to the rest of us, our culture's dim view of women and the distorted ways we talk about accountability when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault.
At one point, Bisciotti shared advice he had given to his players in the wake of the publicity around the Rice assault:
I spoke to the team and I said it is healthy to be paranoid. Every minute you’re out -- when you’re getting showered, when you’re getting dressed -- be paranoid. Say to yourself: tonight’s the night somebody is going to put me in a bad situation, or I’m going to [find] myself in [a bad situation].
He expanded on this idea in response to a question about increased penalties for domestic violence offenses:
You can bet there are some opportunistic people out there that are going to look at this zero tolerance place we’re getting to or going to get to, and they’re going to say, "Boy, this is really, really going to be easy to threaten and get some money, because the minute I threaten him in-season, he gets cut and suspended for six games" or, like I said, as far as I’m concerned it can be a year. But when other people are then motivated to do that, then you’re going to get to a point where some people are going to be very, very falsely accused.
Bisciotti's message: Watch out, because women lie. Watch out, because women are out to make trouble for you. This is a message we've heard before, and a message we'll hear again. Which is why I wasn't surprised when, a day later, Forbes published (then immediately pulled), an Op-Ed from the president of the Beta Foundation, the house corporation for the Chi Phi fraternity at MIT, making precisely the same point. (The headline: "Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities.")
Like Bisciotti, Bill Frezza is the man in the suit behind an organization of men often given wide berth to act with impunity. And he dispensed more or less the same advice to the members of his fraternity and other college men that Bisciotti shared with his players: Watch out for those women.
"As recriminations against fraternities mount and panicked college administrators search for an easy out, one factor doesn’t seem to be getting sufficient analysis: drunk female guests," according to Frezza.
And while he acknowledges that this sounds like he's blaming women, he's really not, he says, because there are already lots of rules that the men of his fraternity have to follow. (Related: This seems like a new trope in rape and domestic violence apologia. The, "Now I know that this sounds like I'm a misogynist, but ..." thing.)
"Before feminist web vigilantes call for my defenestration, I single out female guests for one simple reason," he explains:
Fraternity alumni boards, working with chapter officers, employ a variety of policies designed to guide and police member behavior. Our own risk management manual exceeds 22 pages. The number of rules and procedures that have to be followed to run a party nowadays would astound anyone over 40. We take the rules very seriously, so much so that brothers who flout these policies can, and will, be asked to move out. But we have very little control over women who walk in the door carrying enough pre-gaming booze in their bellies to render them unconscious before the night is through.
The piece is illustrated with this photo, by the way:
Bisciotti and Frezza share a few things in common. First is their concern for their organization's bottom line. Second is their lack of interest in exploring what men must do to learn about consent, interrogate predatory masculinity and prevent assault. (Frezza seems to genuinely believe his frat members do not drink alcohol to excess and would never lay a hand on a woman.) Third is their apparent disregard for women.
Bisciotti doesn't care about domestic violence as an issue that impacts real people's lives -- but as an issue that has consequences for the team and its profits. That's why so much of NFL parlance, prior to the last few weeks, talked about intimate partner violence in the same way it talked about drunk driving, as a "distraction."
Likewise, Frezza's concern is about the school's liability, not safety. He's clear about this:
Identify drunks at the door. I don’t care how pretty or flirtatious a young lady is; if she’s visibly intoxicated, don’t let her in. Although we were once reprimanded for turning away a drunk female student who ultimately required an ambulance when she passed out on our sidewalk, it would have gone a lot worse for us had she collapsed inside.
In addition to the usual bouncers, assign several brothers to monitor female party guests. If any appear out of control, walk them to the door and put them in a cab heading back to their dorm. You can send me the bill. If they refuse to leave, call for an escort from campus police.
No advice about helping women get home safely if it looks like they need it. No instructions to call one of their friends. Nothing about men's behavior. Their own binge drinking. Just, you know, get those meddling women out of the house so it becomes someone else's problem. Rape doesn't factor into Frezza's piece at all, just his concern about false accusations and all manner of trouble women create for his fraternity men.
This is how we talk about these things, most of us. We blame women. We talk around the actual issues as if modifying women's behavior is the real fix. It's why Frezza's Op-Ed was so predictable. It's been written a million times before. We don't like to talk about how the presence of a man who will sexually assault a drunk woman is the real danger. We don't like to talk about how for every one of Bisciotti's imagined women preying on his poor helpless players, there are countless real, actual women experiencing violence at the hands of the men in their lives who are not sure anyone will believe them if they come forward about it. Because men like Bisciotti and Frezza reinforce the idea that women can't be trusted. That they're out to ruin the fun, that they're out to ruin men's lives.
Bisciotti's press conference was an unmitigated disaster (which seems to be the conclusion Forbes came to about Frezza's Op-Ed, since they booted him after it went up), but the Ravens owner did manage to land on something true during his 45 minutes of chatter. One of the worst things Bisciotti said on Monday was also the most honest. When asked why he didn't take action to seriously address the Rice assault until the nation forced his hand, he said, "I think this is a society thing, so as much as I would like to tell you that I should have stood up and said that, 'The hell with the way the world views this; we’re going to take a stand above better and bigger than anybody else,’ I’m not that good. All right?"
Even though it was an act of cowardly deflection to make his failure about everyone else, Bisciotti was a least a little bit right. This is a "society thing." Suspending Ray Rice or firing Frezza does very little to change that.