Are We Actually Still Joking About Domestic Abuse?

On Wednesday night at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey won the "Best Fighter" award over professional boxer Floyd Mayweather. After receiving her award, Rousey called out Mayweather's domestic violence history on the red carpet, saying, "I wonder how Floyd feels being beat by a woman for once." Yes, the comment was pointed and she really stuck it to him, but given the amount of women who suffer from abusive partners each year and feel like they can't ever come forward because of a culture of victim blaming, it isn't OK to joke about the issue at all.

Mayweather has been accused of violence against women in a number of instances since 2002. He plead guilty in two of those instances. He was also convicted in a third, but the charges were dismissed four years later. Most recently, he served two months of a 90-day prison sentence for hitting his ex-girlfriend, Josie Harris, in front of her two children in 2010.

In football, domestic violence is also pervasive. Most notably, Ray Rice was caught on video dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator, according to SB Nation. What punishment did he receive? Rice was initially suspended for two games. Only after TMZ released new footage of the incident, where Rice was allegedly shown punching his wife, did the NFL suspend him indefinitely, SB Nation reported. Rice hasn't faced any criminal charges.

The outcomes of these cases and the difficulty of prosecuting other domestic violence cases makes the prevalence of the violence that much more perverse, and seriously unfunny: about one in three women in the U.S. have been the victims of some form of physical violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime; one in five women have been the victims of severe physical violence at the hands of their partner. In domestic violence homicides, women are six times more likely to be killed when there is a gun in the house, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

All of these facts are why Rousey's comment wasn't funny to me. Because saying "He finally got beat by a woman," makes a joke out of his actions — it normalizes beating — in the same way "Check your bitch," or "Discipline your woman," said as jokes mistakenly attempt to lighten the issue of domestic violence. But domestic violence isn't a light issue, and, sure, maybe I'm being the PC (politically correct) police. But if the costs of a joke are that it allows more people to get away with hurting their intimate partners or walk away from convictions with little to no prison time, then I'm totally fine with being "lame" and PC.

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There are two possibilities in the realm of making bad jokes about violent crimes like domestic violence and rape: either they don't normalize the crime and they do successfully "stick it to the man," or they do hurt real victims by making the crimes seem less extreme or worthy of critique. There's clear evidence that our jokes have helped normalize racism and stereotypes, and they've definitely made rape a less serious issue on college campuses. I would say the possibility of normalization is also more of a concern in professional sports, where news from the past year has shown time and time again that we do not treat violence as seriously when it involves our favorite sports players, whom we compensate better than most other jobs across the country.

Being able to say "I raped that exam" or "He fucked her up" desensitize us to the crimes that we're talking about. Because, in the end, that's what they are — they're violent crimes that are occurring disproportionately against women, and they aren't often prosecuted.

Though Rousey's joke was well intentioned, she could have called attention to the fact that Mayweather may not have deserved the award because of his history with domestic violence without making it funny to "beat" someone physically. Our jokes matter when they have effects on real victims who might have more trouble escaping domestic abuse because of its normalcy.

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