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Making Sense of Violence (While Getting a Pedicure)

12 May 2010 4 Comments

Pillar of Peace: Conflict Transformation, Health and Well-being
Commentary by Alicia Simoni

“Psshht. He is so good looking. It would’ve been one thing if she was the beautiful one. If he was a dud and she’d left him for someone else. But, look, they’re both so beautiful.”

The faces on the screen look familiar. The all-American young man and woman. Him with disheveled, longish, dirty-blond (read: sexy) hair and don’t-mess-with-me (read: confident) eyes. Her with a brimming smile (read: friendly) and big, blue eyes (read: stunning). White skin, lacrosse uniforms, University emblems. They have the makings of perfection (read: privilege).

“Look at him. I think he must have a mental illness. Or a drinking and drug problem. He must. He probably slapped her around and this time it just went too far.”

Too far? Yes. She is dead. That is too much. Far less would have been too much.

*     *      *

Last week I ventured to the nail salon for a pedicure. As I’ve mentioned before, these types of “womanly” activities tend to make me nervous. While my feet relish a good exfoliation, the rest of me is listening to a barrage of judgmental women, all in my own head, saying, “Are you really going to pick that color polish? You’re not supposed to sit there. Not like that. How can you not know this?” The commentary convinces me that my fears are in fact true – there is some secret to being a woman and I don’t know it.

Typically, I welcome the friendly banter of co-pedicurees to interrupt my inner dialogue. This time, however, the interruption was more disturbing than anything I could conjure up in my head.

Photo Credit: UVA Women's Center

The TV above our heads was broadcasting the 5pm news. On this Friday afternoon it was filled with commentary about the murder of a 22-year-old woman. Yeardley Love, a senior at the University of Virginia (UVA), died on Monday after her former boyfriend, fellow UVA student and lacrosse player George Huguely, allegedly attacked her at her apartment. Hours after Love was found dead, Huguely was arrested and admitted to entering Love’s apartment, kicking down her locked bedroom door and attacking her, shaking her so that her head repeatedly hit a wall.

My heart goes out to everyone who was touched by this tragedy.

My mind wonders what this young man was thinking and feeling in that moment, and what is he thinking and feeling now. What causes such violence?

I, like others, want to somehow make sense of this incident. People, including my co-pedicurees, discuss alcohol and a history of violent behavior as factors in Huguely’s actions. I read an article about the hypermasculinity and exclusivity of male sports culture as a cause of increased violence among athletes. I’ve heard discussions about Love and Huguely’s privileged background, often expressing surprise that something like this could happen among the well-to-do. What do the conclusions we come to, in our attempt to find understanding, say about us as a society?

Violence Awareness

Whether alcohol was involved or not, whether this was the first time Huguely hit someone or the hundredth, and regardless of if they are privileged or not I think there is a straightforward factor that isn’t being discussed. George Huguely, like the rest of us, is surrounded by a culture that condones violence. A culture, as I wrote previously, “where violent rhetoric, death threats, and racist, sexist, homophobic slurs such as ‘nigger,’ ‘faggot,’ and ‘bitch’ all seem to be part of democratic politics.”

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, on average three women are murdered by their intimate partners in the U.S. every day. Intimate partner violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly against women who are between the ages of 20 and 24 without regard to race, ethnicity, economic status, or education.

Generally speaking, people are culturally conditioned to dismiss violent and jealous acts perpetrated by men with a “boys will be boys” excuse. Discussions of alcohol and athletics fall into that category.

I wish I’d asked my co-pedicurees why they thought beauty mattered or what it would look like for an incident like this to not go too far. I was in the midst of a small circle of women—young, old; black, white, brown; all of us with our feet soaking in Epsom salts—and I stayed silent. All I could do in that moment was think to myself, “I, like any of these women, could be a victim of violence.” I guess that too is what it means to be a woman.

I am left wondering if the day will ever come when violence—regardless of who it involves and what the circumstances—is just simply unacceptable.

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4 Comments to “Making Sense of Violence (While Getting a Pedicure)”
  1. Pallavi Kaushal says:

    Hey Alicia,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue. The questions you’ve asked are extremely pertinent to young people today. Relationships are fast becoming a highly complex territory to navigate and negotiate, especially amongst school going adolescents. Your post got me thinking of all the psychological manifestations of violence that go unnoticed or unaddressed because the children aren’t aware.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Pallavi :)

  2. Mary Ellen Latela says:

    Dear Alicia,

    Violence against women is certainly related to our current societcal views: “where violent rhetoric, death threats, and racist, sexist, homophobic slurs such as ‘nigger,’ ‘faggot,’ and ‘bitch’ all seem to be part of democratic politics.”(quoting you)

    But really VAW has been occurring since people lived on earth. The sacrosanct role of the “head of the family” and the dedication to keeping family events “in the family” run through our history.

    What really distresses me is that the secret is out. We know the ubiquitous nature of VAW. We know about women who are killed by the “charmer.” We are stunned, but I think that dazed condition makes us more likely to adapt that victim mentality of “learned hopelessness” (remember Lenore Walker). In Kansas last year a young woman who’d been in a sticky relationship ended that and went on to be a spokesperson for the End Domestic Violence project, and became a sad remember of the people who think “it couldn’t happen to me.” She was murdered by the guy. Even if you know that experience and know that the danger lingers, you need something more to move beyond your own experience.

    As a person who survived, then decided to live, and now thrive (well, except for the times I stumble),I have met all kinds of obstacles (don’t let me get started). My question is, “Why don’t we listen to the stories and think, “There but for … fortune/accident/fate/providence – whatever holds you together – go I”?

    It can happen to you and me and our daughters and sisters. Our society feeds into a sick-silent-obscene reality. Stop!

    With passion, Mary Ellen Latela

  3. Onni Milne says:

    I just read the above article and feel sad that we are dealing with the same issues we were supposed to have solved years ago. I wrote a poem for a psychology paper in 1979. I leave it here now: THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONING OF WOMEN OR WHAT HAVE WE GOT TO LOSE BUT OURSELVES/“Why did it happen?” we asked ourselves./“When and where did it begin?”/We wondered as we awoke from the sickly sweet nightmare of being feminine.”/ Instead of the superkalifragilistikexpialodotious experience we were expecting, we felt fear, shame, humiliation, helplessness, alienation and dissociation from our bodies./All these had penetrated the illusions of romance and security./We wept with sorrow for our lost and unknown selves.

  4. alicia says:

    Thank you all for such thoughtful comments.

    Pallavi – It never stops shocking me when I am told of the amount of abuse that occurs in adolescent relationships. I absolutely agree with you that it is such complex territory to navigate. I wonder what we can do to help young people deal with the violence they face both directly and indirectly.

    Mary Ellen – Thank you for sharing what you did. In many ways I think it is as simple as you said it – the sick-silent-obscene reality just needs to Stop!

    Onni – What an incredible poem. There is so much about it that resonates. It is both comforting (to know that other women before me have felt the same way) but also disheartening (where is the change that should have come for women in the years since 1979??).

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