Thoughtful Thursday: Rice vs. Gore

I’m not referring to Condoleezza vs. Al — I’m talking about Ray vs. Lesley. Yes, as in the football player Ray Rice vs. the pop singer Lesley Gore from the 1960s. Where could I possibly be going with this? Down a dark path for a bit, I’m afraid.

I don’t have to think very hard or long to recall stories within the past few years that have relayed the outcome and explored the issue of domestic violence. Just this morning: a freeway standoff ends with four young sons released safely to CHP officers while the father is taken into custody as the most logical suspect in the murder of his wife, whose body was discovered last night in the trunk of the family car. Just a couple of days ago: the father who “may have deliberately” driven his car at high speed into the back of a parked semitrailer, instantly killing himself and his two children — most likely in retaliation against his wife, with whom he was going through a divorce and custody battle. Just last week: the rapper who murdered his TV star wife and then killed himself. Just a few weeks ago: the man who showed up with a gun at his wife’s clothing store, shot and killed her, and then turned the gun on himself. Just a few years ago: the enraged ex-husband who burst into a hair salon, gunning down his wife and eight others, one of whom survived. The other commonality is that these all took place in Southern California.

I could go on and on, working my way up the violence ladder till I got to the more famous examples: Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten, Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson, Scott and Laci Peterson, O.J. and Nicole.

I could also go the other way, listing instances where it was “only” a couple of punches in the face, as in Chris Brown and Rihanna.

It is not my intent to bash men here. I can also come up with instances of domestic violence the other way around, starting off with Brynn and Phil Hartman. This also extends to the countless stories in the news about children being beaten, abused or murdered by a parent. But I’m sure you’d agree that it’s mostly stories of men as aggressors. That’s just the way it is.

A couple of years ago, I became more aware of the facts of domestic violence when I attended a charitable event for Joe Torre’s “Safe at Home” project. As a child, he witnessed his mother being verbally and physically abused by his father. Joe Torre is famous and can draw crowds and donations with his story. But there are thousands of others out there, adults and children, who are repeatedly tormented physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Joe Torre can’t reach them all, but he is doing what he can to get the message out there. More people need to speak up though.

I do appreciate the recent NFL public service announcements, but am I the only one out there who thinks it’s too little, too late? A bit hollow-sounding? And self-serving?

In the Ray Rice saga, which has been going on very publicly for about six months now, his wife Janay has been relaying her side of the story and her perspective on things. I have to say that I was stunned to hear that she hasn’t seen the video of that infamous elevator ride, and that she refuses to. I don’t need a degree in psychology to tell me that we’re witnessing a major case of denial there.

For Janay Rice and all of the others, were there warning signals early on in the relationship? Was there a time to get out before it got too far along? Because it’s all about power. And control. And you don’t have to look too hard for the evidence.

During my college days, I occasionally hung out with a guy I had met in one of my classes. He was intriguing, cute, funny. Every now and then, as we’d goof around on the way to our cars, he’d grab me and tickle me until I was laughing and shrieking for him to stop, which he wouldn’t do. It made my ribs hurt. Sometimes he’d give me a kiss and then twist my arm up behind my back and hurt me a bit. But I didn’t really think anything of it — I’m the youngest of five kids, so I know personally that horsing around can quickly turn painful.

The first and only time I ever went to his house, I realized it was more than it seemed. And that was because of how he treated his…dog. She was a beautiful English springer spaniel, about two years old. She still had quite a bit of puppy in her, and I laughed as I watched the two of them rolling around on the carpet. But as they played, it became rougher and rougher until finally she was yelping in pain. She nipped at his hand, which aggravated him. So he smacked her hard — she yelped again and ran out of the room with her tail between her legs. I was embarrassed to have seen the whole encounter, and it made me very uncomfortable. But I didn’t feel I had the right to tell him how to treat his dog.

It was dawning on me that he treated me the same way he treated her — fun and games until it hurt. And he wouldn’t stop when he knew he was causing pain. He enjoyed that part of the game.

I started to feel the whole thing was a little creepy. And it wasn’t a deliberate move on my part, but that turned out to be the last time I ever got together with him. I hadn’t really gotten hurt, so I didn’t feel the need to tell anyone about it at the time. I was probably 20, a rookie in relationships. But I did know that it wasn’t right.

So back to Lesley Gore — what does she have to do with all of this? First of all, she came out with a number of hits in the early ’60s, starting off with her most famous song, “It’s My Party.” She sings “I’ll cry if I want to” because her birthday party is spoiled when she realizes that her boyfriend Johnny has wandered off with rival Judy. Soon they reappear and “Judy’s wearing his ring.” Lesley admonishes us: “You would cry too if it happened to you.”

However…the singer gets revenge in her follow-up song — “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” At a future party, she watches the new lovebirds kiss. In retaliation, she grabs a guy and kisses him. That’s not behavior I condone, and Johnny won’t stand for that either. “Johnny jumped up and he hit him, ’cause he still loved me, that’s why.” Wait. What? Johnny loves her? And he shows his love for her by dumping her for another girl, provoking jealousy by openly kissing the new girl at the next party, and then hitting an innocent boy? Really! So Lesley sings that it’s Judy’s turn to cry because “Johnny’s come back to me.” Wow, Johnny. You’re quite a guy. You “proved” your love through betrayal and by punching some unsuspecting guy in the face. Except now that you’re back, who’s going to get slugged next time?

(I can hear my husband now: “Karen…they’re not real people! It’s a song!” Yes, I know, but we are influenced by what we see and hear.)

Just a year after Judy and Johnny and the crying, a remarkable thing happened: Lesley Gore released a song that was as much of a U-turn as you could possibly get. “You Don’t Own Me,” from 1963, has been covered by other artists over the years, sung by actresses in movies such as The First Wives Club, and it even appeared in a PSA a couple of years ago. Evidently, it was an anthem in the ’60s for the women’s movement. In case you’re unfamiliar with the song, here are the primary lyrics (and a link) to “You Don’t Own Me”:

You don’t own me; I’m not just one of your many toys

You don’t own me; don’t say I can’t go with other boys

And don’t tell me what to do

And don’t tell me what to say

And please, when I go out with you,

Don’t put me on display, ’cause

You don’t own me; don’t try to change me in any way

You don’t own me; don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay

I don’t tell you what to say

I don’t tell you what to do

So just let me be myself

That’s all I ask of you

I’m young and I love to be young

I’m free and I love to be free

To live my life the way I want

To say and do whatever I please…

I think it’s time for “You Don’t Own Me” to become our gender’s anthem again — for married women, single mothers, girlfriends, daughters learning from their mothers, any girl or woman in a relationship. Men: Get your power trip out of my life. (The rest of you men can stay, and we love you.)

You’re right. This song on its own isn’t going to change anything. But if there are enough PSAs and charitable organizations and songs and stories and movies about how women should be treated by men, perhaps it could change. And perhaps “she” will listen to you when you tell her that you think he’s not treating her right, or that she shouldn’t marry him, or move in with him. And if you are “she,” listen to the ones who love you and are trying to tell you something, for your own good. For your life, perhaps. Or for the lives of your children.

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Karen A. Hernandez, Editorial Manager at Wunderman WestWundermanWest.com

On Twitter: @Goofreader and @WundermanWest

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