This Recording


In Which This Is What We Should Talk About When We Talk About Love
March 17, 2009, 10:41 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Stop In the Name of Love

by Meredith Hight

The assault caused Robyn F ’s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle. Brown looked at Robyn F and stated “I am going to beat the s–t out of you when we get home! You wait and see!”

the police report on the night of Chris Brown’s alleged assault on Rihanna

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You want to say, this is unbelievable. How could he do that?

A few weeks later, and they are back together. How could she stay with him? You want to be surprised, but the truth is, you find this not altogether surprising. How it hurts to watch it all unfold, though — because you know what she is feeling. You know why she stays. She loves him, despite it all. And he loves her. They are young, they are confused, and they think they have found themselves in what feels like love.

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I waited for Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Naomi Wolf, someone, to write the seminal essay on the Chris Brown and Rihanna incident, about what it means. I wanted to hear a clear voice, to parse through the media’s breathless reaction to every report about Diddy’s beach house or the supposed duet, a primer on domestic violence, someone who will adamantly but not righteously condemn abusers. I haven’t seen it.

Oprah came close with her special on domestic violence with the sometimes obnoxious and occasionally insightful Tyra Banks. But I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the show, in part because the phrase “domestic violence” makes me cringe a little. Violence is violence is violence. Deeming it “domestic” seems to suggest that it’s a personal, private matter, of the home and to be dealt with by those in relationships.

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To start, Oprah was clear about a couple of things. Love doesn’t hurt, and a man who hits you once is going to hit you again. But she also did not condemn Brown directly or specifically, which I actually appreciated. Tyra explained how she became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, even at a time when she was at the height of her career as a supermodel.

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Tyra’s self-esteem was low, because a man had recently rejected her. She felt if she did not “win” this other man in particular, then, she was a failure —even though he was abusive and controlling.

The cultural expectation that you are not complete unless you are coupled, combined with applying a Type A personality to your personal life, is what can drive this feeling of failure, especially for women. I have held on to men, just for the sake of wanting to make something work. “Making it work” works for Tim Gunn on Bravo. This does not work in relationships. Especially when you realize you have been accidentally dating gay men.

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Regardless, the real point of Tyra’s example is that there is a reason women enter into these relationships. Lifetime movies would lead you to believe that this could happen to any woman, at any time. That entering into a relationship with an abuser can happen as easily as meeting the man of your dreams at your neighborhood grocery store.

I disagree, and though I have no psychological training, no personal experience in having been a part of an emotionally or physically abusive relationship, I want to explain why.

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As Oprah said, when you stay with a man who abuses you, it’s “because you don’t think you’re worthy of being with a man who won’t.” Most women (and some men), get involved in these relationships because they lack a sense of self, of worth.

But again, there’s a broader point. We have come to believe that most abusive relationships involve an abuser and a victim. But the fact of the matter is, an abusive relationship involves two victims.

Chris Brown talked about how scared he was as, from the impressionable ages of 7 to 13, he witnessed his mom being hit by a boyfriend. Asked what he learned from that experience, Brown said: “When a woman in love, she do anything.”

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What Brown took away, is that if a woman is in love, she is willing to be hit. She is willing to endure abuse. For some women, this is sadly true. They believe that love validates them, makes them worthy and renders them whole, and the idea of losing that love, is terrifying. So, they stay.

I sympathize with these women, but I also find this infuriating. I have had enough of “love” being cited as a reason by women for accepting and enduring abuse and neglect.
Those feelings are just feelings: they are not a reason, especially if the way a man has actually treated a woman is not taken into account.

As Brittany, who also appeared on Oprah, said of her abuser, “He was the first guy I felt like, really understood me. And that really, I connected with.” The same guy is in prison now because of the abuse he inflicted on her, which included throwing her out of his apartment, naked in the night and shoving a shirt down her throat to suffocate her. She is pregnant with his child.

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Men in these relationships seem to know the power of these “feelings.” But these men want and need love, too. Often they have not had a model for a normal, functioning and healthy relationship, but that doesn’t take away the very basic human need to be loved — and it is in this sense that they are a kind of victim, too. Not knowing the appropriate way to love, they seem to seek an all-consuming love. At the slightest threat to that love, to their control, they can become physically violent.

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Let me be very clear. Abuse is absolutely, never acceptable. But when I consider how or why it happens, it seems to come down to a power struggle for love, between the two involved in the relationship. Which neither of them can really give to the other, because neither of them even knows or understands what real love means.

It does not help that we are as a culture swept up in a hopeless romanticism that seems to supersede the reality of relationships. Which is to say, they can be hard, and it is a lot of work, to bring two lives together – and that feeling, the romance, is the easy part. Life is far more complicated than any of those feelings.

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We can judge Rihanna, or Chris Brown, or their publicists, the media, and righteously condemn violence. We can say, she should leave, he should be ashamed of himself, and he could have killed her. And we’re not wrong to say that. But what we should talk about is real love. How we need examples of that, in our culture, in the media, in our lives. Especially for those who grew up in an abusive environment.

Love means never needing to wipe the blood from your mouth after he’s hit you.

Meredith Hight is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.


“Bitch, I Love You” – Black Joe Lewis (mp3)

“Hate That I Love You” – Rihanna ft. Ne-Yo (mp3)

“I Do Not Hook Up” – Kelly Clarkson (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

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In Which Sometimes It Is Better To Be Good Than Great
February 23, 2009, 9:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Great and Elusive Men

by Meredith Hight

I was browsing at the Diesel Bookstore in Los Angeles when I came across a copy of The Great Man by Kate Christensen. It won the PEN/Faulkner award, thus enticing me further. But then I flipped the book over and sighed. The blurb on the back read: “Oscar Feldman, the renowned figurative painter, has passed away. As his obituary notes, Oscar is survived by his wife, Abigail, and their son, Ethan, and his sister, the well-known abstract painter Maxine Feldman. What the obituary does not note, however is that Oscar is also survived by his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their daughters.”

Here we go again, I thought: another story about some “great man” who is brilliant, talented, and successful yet constitutionally incapable of being committed to a woman, to a family, or even to friends. He’s deeply intellectual, he’s troubled, and he’s painfully aware of his own shortcomings. This awareness, however, does not keep him from coming up short, time and time again. He can’t help it. He’s just not capable of commitment. Or he just can’t seem to express his emotions. This makes the women in his life completely bananas and they often spend a lifetime just trying to “figure him out.”

I speak of the Great, Elusive Male.

Just like Big in Sex and the City. (Get ready, the sequel will almost certainly involve Big somehow, someway questioning his relationship with Carrie. The story depends on it.) Then there’s Steve Martin, the wealthy executive in Shopgirl. Oh, how he cared for Claire Danes and oh, how unable he was to be in a relationship with her.

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In Elegy Ben Kingsley is an esteemed professor, widely respected for his views. But he just can’t seem to love anyone, not even Penelope Cruz, until (spoiler alert) her very life is compromised. There was, for a short time, Aaron Rose on Gossip Girl. And how I could I forget Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’ Diary, widely known to be modeled after Pride and Prejudice, indicating the longevity of the Great, Elusive Male prototype? And I could go on.

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Of course, Great Elusive Males are not always merely the invention of artists, depicted in pages and on screen. The artists themselves are often Great, Elusive Males. As Daphne Merkin recently wrote in profile of V.S. Naipaul for Elle, “behind every great man peeks a long-suffering wife or abused mistress, and sometimes both at once…the list of writers who have killed their wives softly whilst producing their art includes Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Leo Tolstoy.”

Let’s talk about some others. I decided to finally check out some of Charles Bukowski’s work, after coming across his poetry inscribed onto a public restroom in Venice Beach. Yes, that’s right. But after reading Hot Water Music, a book of short stories that are essentially tales of individual sexual conquests, I am convinced that he is a just a womanizer who can write really well about womanizing. Also, he appears to have some kind of egg fetish.

Unfortunately, with age comes the realization that a proclivity for womanizing and misogyny exists among many male writers/artists. A coworker and I were recently discussing The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera of course, and she mentioned re-reading it recently and realizing that he is a total misogynist. Unfortunately, I think this is true, and something I did not quite catch on to when I was 21 and reading it for the first time.

I did not seriously object to the predominance of the Great, Elusive Male, however, until I realized that the Great, Elusive Male is in fact, not much of a man at all. And that is because the measure of a man lies not just in what material or creative success he achieves. The true measure of a man lies in how he treats all those in his life, from friends to family to yes, the women.

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This struck me while attending the funeral of a friend and former colleague, who is survived by a beloved wife, five children, eighteen grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Between the family, friends and colleagues, we barely all fit into the small, faded white church. I knew the service would be packed, because my friend was the kind of person who was a friend to anyone who crossed his path. He would always, sincerely, ask you how you were doing —never in that polite, “How are you? (Oh, please do not say anything other than “fine”) kind of way. He would always offer a warm hello, a kind word, and a helping hand, to all of us at the office.

And even though we worked for the same company for a number of years, all things considered, I wouldn’t say I really knew my friend all that well. But that’s the thing about men like him. You don’t have to know them that well to know their character.

I just didn’t have to know him that well, to know he was a good man. And sitting in the crowded church that day, it struck me that it is the good men, who quietly and honorably live their lives, that deserve more of our accolades. It is the good men who stand by you and support you. It is the good men who work hard and try to do the right thing. It is the good men who care about those in their lives, and and make sure they know it, in the smallest of ways. Sometimes, it’s better to be good than to be ‘great’.

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P.S. I read The Great Man, anyways, suspecting that the title may be an ironic part of the story. I was right. Read it.

P.P.S. I used to have a thing for Great Elusive Males in training. You know, the younger version. Not anymore.

Meredith Hight is a contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about her move to Los Angeles. She lives in Los Angeles, and she tumbls here.

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“It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way” – Phosphorescent (mp3)

“I Gotta Get Drunk” – Phosphorescent (mp3)

“The Party’s Over” – Phosphorescent (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

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Would be master of all forms.

elusive




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