The Corner

In Defense of Dana Perino

Over at ThinkProgress, Annie-Rose Strasser is hyperventilating over a comment that Dana Perino made yesterday on The Five:

Bush White House Press Secretary-turned-Fox News host Dana Perino asserted Wednesday night that women who are victims of violence should “make better decisions” to avoid being hurt.

Perino made the comment on Fox New’s “The Five,” in the middle of a discussion of Kansas City Chiefs Line Backer Javon Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend before killing himself over the weekend. While her co-hosts were discussing the merits of female gun ownership as a way to avoid violence against women, Perino was quick to blame women themselves for being victims.

And what, pray, did Perino say to invite this charge? 

PERINO: I think it skirts the issue that women are victims of violence all the time–

CO-HOST: They should have guns!

PERINO: Well, maybe, or make better decisions.

“Perino’s comments,” Strasser concludes, “are a reminder of the importance of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill that plays a vital role in protecting women from violence, particularly intimate partner violence like that between Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend.”

Not really, no. Rather, Strasser’s take on Perino’s comments is a vital reminder that conservatives are held to a double standard on issues such as these. If someone on the left contends that women should walk away from men who abuse them, they’re acknowledging that women are not helpless and pathetic creatures devoid of the requisite agency to refuse to go back to worthless men who abuse them. Sisters are doing it for themselves! If a conservative says it, they’re “blaming” the woman. This is fatuous.

Dana Perino — who, despite being a Republican, is a woman — was not “blaming” women who are the victims of abuse. She was accepting both that men who mistreat women are villains and should be prosecuted for their abuse to the fullest extent of the law and that women who choose to go back to men who abuse them are making a mistake. After all, it wouldn’t be a mistake if the man wasn’t a problem would it? If you choose to go into a war zone, do you not carry some of the blame if you get hurt? Sure, you didn’t start the war. And, yes, it would be much better if the people who did start the war were not choosing to run around killing anybody who gets in their way. But if you know that there is a war going on and you still choose to walk right into it, is this not a bad decision?

Contrast Perino’s statement, which treats women as capable of making good decisions in the face of men who do not, with those of Slate’s Amanda Marcotte, who wrote the following when Rihanna went back to Chris Brown:

Needless to say, this is going to set off another round of publicity-garnering hand-wringing over why Rihanna keeps returning to Brown, when she knows he’s such a danger. The answer to that question is in the asking of it. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but when we talk about domestic violence in terms of asking why the victim stays, what the victim hears is that we think she’s stupid and weak. This, in turn, causes many victims to become defiant, and to stick by their abusers in an attempt to prove that they are perfectly capable of making their own decisions, thank you, and that he can change. They bind harder to their abuser, feeling like he’s the only one who understands their love. I don’t know what’s going on in Rihanna’s head, but her actions are a very public display of how many victims of domestic violence feel while still stuck in their toxic relationships. 

Oh, I see! It’s our fault. Got it. Here I was, like Perino, thinking that Rihanna was an adult with the capacity to make her own decisions — and, given her wealth, availed of many more choices than most — but it turns out that she’s actually just an impotent piece of flotsam, buffeted around by society and the sensationalist media. Gee, if only people wouldn’t ask the blindingly obvious question of why any woman would choose to return to the scene of their abuse, then, well, women wouldn’t return to the scene of their abuse. In Marcotte’s mind, “hand-wringing” over domestic abuse is, it seems, harmful. I beg to differ.

In a related essay, Marcotte fleshed out her contention that women cannot be expected to do anything about domestic abuse because, by caring about the issue, society has created conditions in which it is impossible for them to do so:

Asking sexist, domineering men to f*** off is apparently too tall an order for this world; the only people who can ever be asked to change are women, even women who have done nothing wrong. Men are immoveable objects, apparently, and women soft playthings whose every move, no matter how innocent and non-harmful, is up for questioning. When a man hits a woman, the question we all want to ask is, “Why did she put her face in front of his fist?”

No, Amanda, it’s not “too tall an order.” Telling sexist, domineering men to f*** off was exactly what Perino was suggesting that women do, and what Perino was doing herself.  That’s what “make better decisions” means. My grandmother left her first husband because he beat her up. Who was the victim? She was. Who was at fault? Her husband was. But she got out. Good call, grandma.

Who is really painting a picture of women as “soft playthings” or as being “stupid and weak”? Is it Amanda Marcotte and Annie-Rose Strasser, or is it Dana Perino?

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