Former NFL quarterback and football commentator Terry Bradshaw's "Fox NFL Sunday" rant about the NFL's continued domestic violence problem made headlines earlier this month, completely understandably. It is a story that can feed into multiple media angles on the subject of domestic violence: the NFL's continued inability to address domestic violence perpetrated by players, or the internal tension between NFL personalities -- players, coaches, managers, executives, etc. The story seems to show how far things have progressed; for such an important figure as Bradshaw to publicly condemn domestic violence in the sport seems an improvement over sweeping silence and the refusal to acknowledge that it exists.
Yet the story also raises many questions about media portrayal of domestic violence itself, and whether that has changed in the face of increasing condemnation of instances of domestic violence by public figures. The question of whether the media normalises domestic violence, and even turns it into entertainment, is not new. The 2009 coverage of Chris Brown's violence towards pop culture icon Rhianna was a particularly notable example, and it still is in 2015. Why exactly Brown's violence is media fanfare while allegations of domestic violence seem to slide off other celebs like Mel Gibson, John Lennon, Alec Baldwin, Nick Cage, Michael Fassbender, and Sean Connery is far too complex to discuss here, but equally interesting is his recent transformation into anti-domestic violence advocate. It got a fair bit of coverage, likely because it fit so neatly into a comforting story in which Brown, shown the error of his ways, now relishes in the opportunity to share his redemption with other young men, polishing his tarnished image in the process (let's not forget, Brown's promises to raise awareness of domestic violence were meant to ensure that his show would go on).
It makes sense that media outlets would be so quick to share evidence of Brown's transformation. A 2014 study by the Chicago School of Professional Psychology highlighted evidence that news outlets' coverage of domestic violence "tended to portray the offender positively and to characterise the victim in a negative light", distorting public opinion about domestic violence. The same study noted that high profile cases of domestic violence often bring with them an increase in articles about domestic violence overall, but that these numbers then fall once the case is no longer in focus.
In recent years it certainly has seemed that there has been an increase in awareness of domestic violence, if media coverage is anything to go by. Even if this awareness is due to a rise in the availability of information in an age of social media, it still means that more people -- particularly young people -- are educated about domestic violence and given access to resources that support those who experience it. And that is hugely important. But it is equally important to remember that media platforms also influence how that awareness of domestic violence is presented and framed. Sandra Stith's 2006 book, reprinted in 2013, Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence, pointed out the importance of examining media portrayals: "What... are the accounts 'saying'? Who is doing the telling? What is the underlying message being conveyed?" Simply seeing a rise in the number of articles about domestic violence will not itself bring about a world where domestic violence no longer exists. The coverage may increase, but the content is not undergoing any significant change.
Returning to Bradshaw's rant, his heartfelt condemnation of domestic violence is revealing: the image of a high-profile, middle-aged white man denouncing the striking of women is comfortably wrapped up in ideals of masculinity with which we are familiar, in which strong men stand up to protect women in peril. Rather than attacking an image of masculinity that is founded on power, dominance, and with that, violence, Bradshaw's rant actually supports it. If anti-domestic-violence messages overlook the structures within which domestic violence flourishes as well as the complexities of domestic violence itself, they won't work. Violence is not always a physical strike; domestic violence does not only exist in heterosexual relationships; domestic violence is just as much about gender identity, race, disability, and sexuality as it is about gender norms. To bring about a world without domestic violence, we need to demand not just more coverage of the issue, but better coverage. Domestic violence is not a good story. It is not a crisis on a man's path to redemption. It is not a case of 'bad' men trampling poor, fragile women. Domestic violence is a part of a larger system defined by power and by the labeling of some people as less equal, less human. And that is what should always be front and centre.
Ally Crockford is the Digital Media Officer at YWCA Scotland. YWCA Scotland is The Young Women's Movement. They envision a world where every woman can shape her own life journey and fulfil her potential, where the voices of women are heard, respected and celebrated. YWCA Scotland helps to bring this about by creating empowering spaces for girls and young women to meet together in groups and clubs, activities and conversations.
YWCA's Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and in communities across the country to end violence in all of its form, wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence -- NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit www.ywca.org/wwv and join the conversation with #endDVnow. Read more great Week Without Violence blogs!