Tag Archives: domestic violence

“Maid” is Compelling, Precise, and Inconsistent

“Maid” is a series I like, but that I feel I should love. Its strengths easily outnumber its weaknesses, but a few things hold it back. It’s anchored by Margaret Qualley as Alex, who takes her daughter Maddy and leaves her abusive boyfriend in the middle of the night. She has no plan or place to go. Since her boyfriend essentially controls her money, she has less than $20 to spend. It’s a desperate situation, handled at times with a realistic and horrifying tension.

Alex doesn’t have anyone to trust. All her friends knew her boyfriend first; he hasn’t let her lead her own life. Alex’s own mother has schizophrenia, struggles with untrustworthy boyfriends, and regularly forgets feeding and caring for Maddy when babysitting. Alex is alienated from her father, a cost sacrificed for him to make things work with his new family.

At its heart, “Maid” is a unique intersection of custody procedural, family drama, and what I like to call wallet horror. The first episode even keeps a running tab of the little money Alex has, subtracting bit by excruciating bit in the upper-right as she tries to find a job, feeds her daughter, and pays for gas a few dollars at a time. Anyone who’s ever lived in debt, close to zero balance, or paycheck to paycheck will recognize that awful running tally. The right-side of the screen it takes up may seem heavy-handed, but it is nothing compared to the amount of space it truly takes up in your head.

To its credit, “Maid” is careful to journey around the pitfalls of poverty porn. It avoids the exploitative eye that objectifies people in poverty simply to generate cheap catharsis for viewers. Qualley is given space to act, not as an icon or object of pity, but as a full, complex person.

“Maid” also treats emotional abuse seriously. While her boyfriend hasn’t hit her, he’s screamed at her, controlled her, and hit objects near her. It even takes Alex a few conversations to understand this is a form of domestic violence, even if the state she lives in doesn’t.

In its very best moments, “Maid” focuses on the horror of procedure. The systems in place to help domestic violence victims and people in poverty have been routinely gutted, sabotaged, and under-resourced. At a custody hearing, the dialogue between the commissioner and her boyfriend’s lawyer simply turns into the two saying “Legal legal legal” back and forth to each other. When a question Alex can recognize is asked of her, she’s already lost.

As she thumbs through a stack of documents she needs to fill out for that custody hearing, their official titles turn into “You’re a bad mom” and “Go fuck yourself”. There’s a stark truth to this experience, where so many fail without a chance just because they’ve missed a line on a form or didn’t get a signature. Alex takes the failures of the systems that are supposed to help and serve her, and internalizes them as her own failures.

She has to ready herself for a custody battle, apply for benefits, and work a job she has no car to drive to, sometimes all in the same hour. If she’s late to one, it’s held against her, despite those demands being physically impossible. She’s awash in catch-22s. She has to have a job to prove she needs the transitional housing that enables her to get a job. She has to spend more than she’ll make in a three-hour tryout for a job in order to stand a chance of getting it.

In its overwhelming horror of procedure and a host of metaphorical cutaways (she’s surrounded by a flurry of papers, she sees her daughter receding on a beach), “Maid” is powerful in both content and composition.

Let me be clear before I say this. For me, “Maid” is on the border between good and great. My criticisms aren’t about whether the series is good or bad. They’re about an element in “Maid” that’s noticeable and can be frustrating to some viewers:

What can sometimes unseat you from its rhythm are regular tonal inconsistencies. The first episode shovels a lot of happenstance onto the already-numbing horror Alex faces. It doesn’t really need it. The premise is already compelling, but then more happens. The series is based on a memoir by Stephanie Land. I have no clue whether extra events are added or not, or whether their time frame is condensed. Yet just like so many fictional stories can be made to feel natural, a real story can sometimes present details in a way that feels contrived.

There are so many tense moments in the first episode, “Dollar Store”. That wallet ticking down a few dollars at a time is a piece of existential dread. An impromptu job interview where Alex is essentially steamrolled is a beautiful example of the cost those in poverty can face to even get a few hours of work. A scene where Alex has to set foot in her boyfriend’s trailer again, his initially kind exterior slipping toward extracting guilt from her…there’s a sickening artistry in its unflinching precision.

This constant encroachment of tensions is where “Maid” excels. It evokes a sense of witnessing both physical and emotional realities, but in a hands-off way. Instead of telling you how to feel, it simply relies on your empathy to do the work as you watch.

This is all done superbly. Where’s the inconsistency come from? The problem is “Maid” also includes more dramatic moments and situational set-ups. Sitting right next to that deft storytelling that relies on your reaction are moments that feel like they visit from a much more dramatic adaptation.

All those building tensions are enough to send our mind reeling. By the time a car crash is added in, it doesn’t ratchet up the drama – it detracts from it. Maybe this is what really happened to Stephanie Land, in which case I’m not saying to change it. It’s not that the event doesn’t belong. The problem is that it’s handled in a way that redirects the slow and steady creep of becoming overwhelmed into something more recognizably cinematic and even melodramatic.

There are times when “Maid” presents a dramatic situation in a way that presses pause on its sense of subtlety, realism, and texture. It’s played more broadly and its sense of direction suddenly feels much more intentional. “Maid” handles the small moments like an understated character study, and some big moments like a 90s drama where characters enter and act to the nines.

Neither is done badly, and both approaches have their place. They’re just difficult to fuse together tonally. In these broader moments, there’s a loss of that very precise, nuanced, and intimately personal experience that “Maid” takes such care in building. It gets swept away, and because it’s a tone that is built scene upon scene, it can take some time to build back up to where we already were.

In those more personal spaces, we recognize how a little detail can break a person, how a frustration that might be ordinary on any other day presses on trauma because of what a person is going through. We’re witnesses of something in Alex she doesn’t let others see, that people in the world rarely let others see. You can’t just hop back into that sense right away; it does take time to build into again.

Nowhere is this more present than with Alex’s mother Paula. She’s played by Qualley’s own mother, Andie MacDowell. The relationship between the two is difficult, and one of the most intentionally frustrating elements of the show is how little Alex is heard by her mother. Her relationship to Paula is chiefly one of exchanges and leverage. Qualley and MacDowell’s ability to play off each other in a way that feels real and fraught is exceptional.

MacDowell has spoken about the role’s similarity to her relationship to her own mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and dealt with alcoholism. MacDowell does an incredible job, but at times it can feel like one that doesn’t sync up with the rest of “Maid”. She sweeps in from another genre, a 90s drama where everyone’s playing it big and MacDowell’s sure to be on an awards shortlist. This is no less true a portrayal; it’s just tailored to a different era of presentation.

Nor is this the only departure. Alex is required to go to a class where a man lectures women – many of whom are escaping domestic violence – about the stability of a two-parent home. It’s a searing point that’s an example of the systemic gaslighting of women, and this should easily hold on its own just like so many other points “Maid” makes straight-faced. Instead, he’s played like an “SNL” character. While this may add to our ability to laugh at him and it could be a moment of disempowering him in the face of a godawful act, it’s a gigantic tonal shift from everything else the series does.

I won’t get into it because it intersects with important plot points, but this sense of being thrust out of the show’s tone and reality holds most true for a subplot about stealing someone’s dog.

When these moments occur, they strain “Maid” in two different tonal directions. Sure, there are ways to use that strain in a metaphorical way, but “Maid” isn’t pursuing that kind of storytelling. It’s not some Charlie Kaufman directorial vehicle using genre dissonance-as-absurdism to step us out of the story itself. The strengths of “Maid” rely on precision within the story, a keen eye for detail, and translating criticism of systemic misogynist oppression into natural dialogue about lived experiences. “Maid” has a deep sense of its own earned knowledge and emotional realities, so when its tone suddenly shifts away from that reality into more traditional drama, it can require some conscious redirection and re-commitment on the part of the viewer.

This isn’t difficult, but it is noticeable. Moments like these don’t lack power. They don’t undermine “Maid”. They do feel consciously, intentionally situational on a series that’s fine-tuned for building tension, character, and emotional rhythm as one big flow state. When that flow state is interrupted, it’s not a big deal, but you do worry about whether you’ll sync back into it. It’s less a criticism of quality and more one of presence. “Maid” is exceptional and I absolutely recommend it. It just gets interrupted every once in a while. The interruptions are OK, but because the flow of what happened before was so precise, it’s difficult not to be especially conscious that those interruptions are there in the first place.

It’s the difference between a really good series and a great one. I’m not so sure that difference matters much, particularly when either assessment recognizes “Maid” is vitally important. Just be aware that viewers are going to fall on both sides of that good/great line, and a large part of that will be how well you take these tonal shifts in stride. This all makes “Maid” a strong choice if it’s on your radar, provided you’re in a safe and comfortable place to deal with its subject matter.

You can watch “Maid” on Netflix.

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Men Need to Expect More from Men

by Gabriel Valdez

I went to look up more information on the Maryland school shooting, and the shooter’s motives in relation to an ex-girlfriend.

What came back was a host of articles going back the last year of men shooting ex-girlfriends. This search was limited to Maryland.

So I looked up Massachusetts. Mississippi. What about states with less population? Vermont. Wyoming.

Again and again, pages and pages, of men murdering girlfriends and exes. Pages and pages going back through time for each without even reaching incidents prior to 2017.

There is a significant, unaddressed problem with toxic masculinity in this culture. This is hardly the first time I’ve said this and I’m hardly the first person who’s said this. It’s been said for decades, and in different language for centuries across the history of our culture.

It doesn’t change unless men expect better from the men beside us. It doesn’t change unless we talk with men about this, even men we agree with, because it has to be normal for us to talk about it. It can’t just be something we bring up when we think there’s a problem.

It has to be something we bring up because it’s important and core to our culture and core to who we are as men, and who we want the men beside us to be as men, what we want our community and culture as men to value. When it’s a problem, it’s already too damn late, and somebody’s already getting hurt because our silence and complicity and avoidance of the topic has already been interpreted as license.

Higher expectations of other men doesn’t mean a damn fucking thing if we don’t voice those higher expectations, and make doing so a normal part of our lives, a normal part of their lives.

Otherwise our expectations are empty, and we only speak them to remain perceived as safe by women in our lives – and that kind of subtle politicking is so you can interpret the performance of ally-ship as your own license, as your own excuse, as your own fallback.

This is common with every privilege – whiteness, straightness, being enabled. If you don’t go out to other men and do the work of it, and vocalize your expectations of them, you’re simply politicking to the people around you so you can keep safe a harbor for your own privilege.

As men, we need to do so much more. We need to not just feel safe because we have a moral expectation, but we need to risk feeling unsafe because we’re willing to hold others up to the same. People are literally dying because too many of us aren’t willing to step outside the realm of ally-ship that’s most convenient and comfortable. We need to fucking get over that.

The feature image is from the ABC News story on the shooting here.

Silent All These Years — F*ck “Cinderella”

by Vanessa Tottle

What does Cinderella look like to a victim of child abuse? If you’ve been hit, or beaten, or terrorized, or tortured – what does Cinderella tell you? “Shut up, take it, know your place. God sorts out the rest.”

Or, in Kenneth Branagh’s latest re-imagining: “Have courage and be kind.”

“Courage.”

Courage is to not sit there happily like a dumb puppy glad even for negative attention, wagging her tail for more. Courage is to not stay silent and accept that being abused is your destiny in life. Courage is to say, God may get to it eventually, but if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and I’m here now.

“Be kind.”

Be kind doesn’t mean to take the slights of abusers like a whimpering simp. It doesn’t mean to knuckle under.

If you’re getting beaten, terrorized, tortured, enslaved, we don’t need a fairy tale or a movie or a Disney movement being sold to little girls telling you to shut up, take it, and know your place.

And don’t tell me that it’s just a movie or just a princess. It’s “just” part of a multi-billion dollar industry with more than 25,000 princess products, and “Cinderella” conveys messages to children seeing their first movies about what is and isn’t heroic, what is and isn’t courage, what is and isn’t being kind. What it teaches them about those values is wrong and dangerous.

I knew my place once and that was getting hit and having my life threatened day after day. I was Cinderella, told she was destined to be nothing and sit in her attic and think of why she deserved this abuse, who looked out the window and wondered what was wrong with her – just her – so special in all the wrong ways that she became determined to accept it, live it, suffer it quietly and cry and cry and cry, but only when no one was looking.

“Have courage and be kind.”

That’s what I believed. It sounds like a good message, but not to women, not to abuse victims, not the way it’s perverted and redefined by Cinderella and especially Branagh as, “Shut up, take it, know your place.”

I believed that courage was being quiet and kindness was to be forgotten. Branagh’s Cinderella – most Cinderellas – follow suit.

As Cleopatra pointed out, Cinderella – especially Branagh’s lavish but insane retelling of it – is at its heart a way of reinforcing the idea that if you suffer now and don’t complain, you’ll be rewarded later. Disney-brand Indulgences are on sale in the lobby.

Branagh’s Cinderella tells an abuse victim, “Have courage and be kind.” It tells her suffering is its own reward, so don’t fight, don’t object, just accept, and get locked in that attic with a stiff upper lip.

Others may watch it and see the pretty dresses and the handsome hair and the CGI slippers. I watch and I see myself as a child, not knowing better than to accept. Courage was being quiet. Kindness was to be forgotten.

I know better now than to think those are the marks of a role model, of a hero. These aren’t traits to emulate, this is a character to pity, and for most women in similar situations, no magic will arrive. They will have what they’ve been taught is courage, which is the courage to stay with their abusers. They will be too kind, forgiving every hit they take. They will have this courage and be this kind until they are broken, until they are abusers themselves, or until they are dead.

This is what Branagh teaches in a Cinderella more conservative and patriarchal than any other version: accept the abuse, but look good enough in public to hide it. Don’t breathe a word about it, just smile and be polite. If you sustain enough without objection, your reward will find you.

“Have courage and be kind.” Courage was being quiet. Kindness was to be forgotten…

Those weren’t the exact words I whispered to myself every night, but they’re close. I used to wake up drenched in sweat. I used to piss the bed. I used to hit myself to stop from crying because I was quieter that way. I took the long way home to weep behind bushes where classmates couldn’t see me. I believed myself courageous. I believed myself kind. Nobody taught me what those things really were. All I had were tales like Cinderella that taught me wrong.

And even if the magic does save you, and I was very lucky to get out, you don’t stop the screaming in your head, you never lose that urge to cause yourself pain to quell the wound that never heals, you never trust the way that you see other people trust, the way that you see Cinderella trust. You still wake up in the middle of the night. You still take the long way home.

Branagh’s Cinderella teaches that abuse leaves no lasting impression, that if you suffer quietly enough you will be rewarded, and it misrepresents courage and kindness as meekness and self-subjugation. It is the wrong message to send to abuse victims, to women, to children, to society. I don’t care how “classic” it is. I care how dangerous it is.

So fuck you, Kenneth Branagh. And fuck your dangerous, damaging movie, too.

Fans Have the Right to Be Hypocrites

Mel Gibson

by Gabriel Valdez

Fans have the right to be hypocrites. Michael Jackson shows us that.

I won’t watch a Roman Polanski movie, but I’m occasionally intrigued by what Mel Gibson’s up to. I’ve certainly forgiven American football a hell of a lot of dubious actions over the years. I can pretend these decisions are justified by moral absolutes, but they have more to do with my personal tastes.

I was never much of a fan of Polanski to start with. To me, he’s famous for a handful of good shots and a number of Hollywood friendships, which all adds up to critics overlooking his complete lack of narrative invention and inability to control pace. It’s easier for me to take a stand against him because I never liked him much to start.

Gibson, on the other hand, I grew up watching. I made my dad take me to see Braveheart three or four times in the theater. Even now, I find Gibson an absurdly intriguing lab experiment. Roles I thought had been acted one way as a child I can now see are acted in a completely different manner. I can see how he (and his directors) harness his sociopathy to make disturbing and fanatical characters feel charming and heroic.

Remember, we’re not arguing about whether what these people did was wrong (Polanski fled the U.S. to avoid a statutory rape conviction, Gibson abused his wife and has slandered Jews.) Their actions were awful and inexcusable. What I’m talking about is whether it’s right or wrong to continue watching their movies.

So you’ll listen to Michael Jackson and I’ll re-watch Mad Max and someone else will write about why Polanski’s such a great director, and we’ll debate the 80 things we don’t know about Woody Allen until the sun comes up the next morning.

Here’s what I want to say: it’s OK. Fans have the right to be hypocrites. For one thing, very few movies, albums, or photographs are ever created by a single person. Art, especially mass-market art, is the creative act of teams of people.

One thing I’ve enjoyed that Sony’s done is that they’ve added a line after the credits of their big-budget movies that specifies how many people the film employed. X-Men: Days of Future Past, for instance, employed 15,000 people.

After the film, I read news reports in which Bryan Singer was accused of having sex with a 17 year-old boy. It later turned out the boy was a model who accused a number of Hollywood figures of the same thing, so it appears to have been a hoax, blackmail, or a publicity scheme.

But in the moment, I was faced with a quandary – do I not see the sequel in opposition to Singer, or do I see it because Patrick Stewart is so outspoken about addressing domestic violence, and Ian McKellen and Ellen Page represent such milestones in normalizing LGBTQ acceptance? There was no wrong or right answer.

So, for the sake of our sanity, fans – and critics – have to be hypocrites. We can’t possibly go research the history of 15,000 people involved in a film, or even the few dozen most visible personalities, and weigh each person’s crimes or lack thereof.

At the same time, it’s important to voice your opinion and maintain your stands. When a friend asks me if I want to watch Rosemary’s Baby, I explain why I really don’t want to, and I expect that to be respected. When they ask me to flip away from a Mel Gibson movie, I’ll do so and, more importantly, listen to why.

It’s important to take stands, but it’s also important to recognize our own inconsistencies and hypocrisies. It’s in discussing our most passionate inconsistencies that we’re best able to understand the emotional perspectives of others.

So keep being fans of whomsoever you like, but don’t shut down someone who wants to tell you why they aren’t. Conversely, talk about the stands you take on art and viewership, and why. Understand when someone holds a different opinion. We all have our hypocrisies, the lines in the sand we can’t abide being crossed and the ones we’re willing to sweep away.

It’s not wrong for us to have these, but it is important that we recognize and discuss them.

I’d say the same holds true for politics and religion, but that’s for another article.

Regarding the NFL and Domestic Violence

NFL and Domestic Violence

by S.L. Fevre, Eden O’Nuallain, Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Vanessa Tottle, & Gabe Valdez

We’ve been asked a few times if we’re going to write on the NFL and its domestic violence situation. In truth, we’ve had difficulty finding the right words to apply to the situation.

First off, so you know where this is coming from, four of us are football fans: Cleopatra and Eden passingly; Vanessa and Gabe as die-hards (Vanessa’s been to Super Bowls, Gabe’s never missed watching one in his life); and S.L. and Amanda couldn’t care less about the sport.

We wanted to come up with a straightforward statement that, despite all our different perspectives, we could agree on and fully support, word for word. Here it is:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked in his single interview since he bungled the league’s approach to domestic violence and finally suspended domestic abuser Ray Rice indefinitely: does he believe the NFL has a domestic violence problem?

Let’s be clear. The NFL does not have a domestic violence problem. The world has a domestic violence problem. To contain this to the NFL is to once more exceptionalize it, to rationalize it away as something that happens to others who live a different lifestyle, to pretend it’s unlikely to happen to people you know because it’s the sort of thing others do.

The problem with the NFL is not that it has a domestic violence problem, it’s that it has THE SAME domestic violence problem America does at large. We overlooked it when it happened in boxing, baseball, and basketball, but football is America’s sport. We are not implying that the NFL should be excused. It should be nailed to the wall. We are saying that other sports, and not just sports, but other walks of life, should not be excused.

We didn’t care when Wall Street did it. We didn’t care when it happened in Hollywood. We didn’t care when politicians did it, so long as it was to their wives and not a mistress. We cared for a minute but got over it when Chris Brown did it. We didn’t care when a company we hired with our tax money to help run Iraq caged an employee in a trailer after a gang rape. We didn’t care – we are very good and very practiced at diverting our attention elsewhere.

It’s not that the NFL has a domestic violence issue, it’s that we have a blind spot a mile wide and suddenly, exceptionally, we finally had a story hook into us, and reporters who have pushed this issue for years finally caught our cultural ear at the right damn moment.

We are angry at the NFL. Their corporate headquarters should be swept out on its ass, because they deserve it and because it will send a message to other leagues and corporations. The San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and Minnesota Vikings are all hiding behind a due process excuse that teams and the league have been extraordinarily inconsistent about applying in the past. They need to shape up and get the message, too.

But we are angrier that this is only an issue when it happens to the famous. Our fear is that this is a moment, that we’ll move on. Our fear is that, once the media tsunami has passed, Goodell will find an “extenuating circumstance” to allow suspended players back into the league early as he’s so famous for doing (the NFL just rushed a new drug policy this week to get back two star receivers early). Our fear is that this issue will once more disappear in a few months, rather than be expanded upon and pushed into other industries. Our fear is that we’ll be able to go on thinking it’s been addressed because the NFL fixed one example of many in our lives. Our fear is that we’ll think those football players are so dirty and rotten, and that will be the out that allows us to ignore blatant domestic violence elsewhere.

Even ESPN continues to run Floyd Mayweather and Jameis Winston ads in between its Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice and Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy coverage. It’s a blatant and oblivious statement that we’ll care about abuse in one place because it’s too big to ignore, but we’ll turn around and ignore it somewhere else because we feel we’re already addressing it.

Our fear is that people really do believe this is a problem with the NFL, or with athletes, or with celebrities, and not a problem that happens every day, not a problem that happens to 1 in 3 women in their lives, not a problem at all because it happens to someone else, someone on TV, someone who you’ll never meet. Our fear is that we can pretend it’s a TV issue while we turn that mile-wide blind spot on our own lives. Our fear is that, like the league’s history of inconsistency, we have a cultural history of equivocating, justifying, and dismissing.

Our fear is that the public relations strategy the league is adopting to handle this, rather than understanding and changing, mirrors disturbingly the public relations strategy so many people adopt in their day-to-day lives. Rather than understand and change, it really is easier to ignore and exclude.

The NFL needs to be punished. But they’re not the only one. Our outrage and motivation should not stop where the league ends.

This is not a problem with the NFL. This is a problem. Period.

If Only She’d Had a Gun

guns-and-domestic-violence

On Tuesday, I wrote about a friend who was beaten and stabbed by her ex last weekend. It’s been suggested to me from several sources that if she’d had a gun, her beating could have been wholly avoided.

I’d like to think these suggestions come from places of concern, and not from the navel-gazing urge to use another person’s tragedy as an opportunity to spout one’s political viewpoints.

Let’s address guns first. Perhaps if she’d had a gun, she could have shot her abuser the moment he broke into her house. If someone you were in a relationship with barged into your home, would you shoot them off the cuff, no questions asked? Probably not.

Domestic violence escalates through phases. There’s no way to tell if this is the time someone’s going to apologize, say they didn’t know what they were thinking, and leave; or if this is the time they’re going to beat and stab you.

The simple fact is that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of a woman being killed by 500%. That means a woman is five times more likely to die if there’s a gun in that house than if there isn’t.

Who’s to say, if there had been a gun in her home, that an earlier instance of abuse wouldn’t have turned into his using the gun on her?

When people speak for some level of firearm regulation, it’s not because guns in themselves make someone violent. Violent people will find ways to be violent no matter what. Guns just make that violence far easier and more efficient. Where before you could maim, now you can kill. Where before you could kill someone in particular, now you can kill a dozen or more. He was always the violent one, during and after their relationship. If a gun had ever been present, I guarantee you that he’d have been the one more likely to use it at some point.

If only she’d had a gun? She might be dead, instead of in the hospital.

Furthermore, the idea that all that’s needed to fix the situation is a gun ignores the cause of domestic violence. It treats an effect of domestic violence, a symptom, and it does so about as well as applying leeches treats a flu. The problem isn’t that women aren’t armed to the gills, the problem is that men are brought up to understand that violence is a proper solution when they’re confronted or rejected.

Someone gets in your face? Violence. Someone challenges your authority? You’ve got to out-man him, be bigger and stronger and tougher. Someone rejects you? You’ve just got to push harder and be more relentless. It’s ridiculous. There’s always got to be a winner. Compromise isn’t something we’re brought up to value.

I say this as a 6’3” black belt in taekwondo, who’s also trained variously in ninjutsu, aikido, and kickboxing: I’m far prouder of the fights I’ve avoided than the ones I’ve had. Believe me, there are times I wish the world were run on Conan the Barbarian levels of violence. I’d do pretty well and those loin cloths look damn comfortable, but the problem becomes that the more violent a world is, the more it’s being run by those who lack control and can think of no other way to regain it.

The truth is violence comes from one place – Panic. When you resort to violence, it’s because you’ve lost control over something or someone other than yourself – a relationship, someone’s opinion of your manliness, even something as simple as how your day turned out – and you can think of no other way to regain that control but through exerting your will over someone else.

The problem isn’t that women and others who are put in subjugated or subservient positions in our society aren’t well armed. The problem is that too many of us are very well armed, and have it in our minds that our superior firepower – be it through guns or fists – is all the license we need to utilize it. The better our firepower, the more we rely upon it to resolve our problems.

It’s systemic, it’s cultural, and we see it in every level of our society. We see it in our militarized police forces, such as the one that recently fired on unarmed civilians in Ferguson, MO. We see it in administrations so fearful that public opinion will view them as weak that we send in troops again and again where we once would have exhausted diplomatic compromise. And we see it in the plague of domestic abuse cases, the vast majority of which involve men who feel they’ve lost the control they had or imagined they had over a woman.

I was lucky – I had an instructor who drilled into our heads that the fight was the last solution, only to be used when cornered and no other options were available. To fight without exhausting every other solution was deeply shameful. If it didn’t get you kicked out of the school, he’d work you class after class until you wanted to quit. The better trained we were, the more responsibility we had never to exert that training on someone else unless absolutely necessary. In other words, it’s sometimes better to lose control of something outside yourself than it is to lose control of what’s inside yourself.

But we raise a culture of men trained to never admit defeat. It’s intrinsic to the American spirit – Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone wouldn’t stop, so why should I? All the sidekicks on TV get the girl after years of rejection, just by virtue of staying dutifully obsessed (and showrunners running out of other ideas). That’s what we’re raised to do. Be relentless, not listen, and value rejection and pain as signals that we’re on the right path to getting what we want. One day, rejection will be a story we both laugh over, that pain will be a battle scar we pridefully show off as evidence of how relentless and unforgiving we were in pursuit of our prize. If it weren’t so real, it’d be hilariously absurd.

What I’ve just described is not assertiveness, by the way. Some will tell you it is, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. What I’ve just described is addiction.

Men need to understand that losing isn’t just what happens externally, what other people see. Losing can be internal, too, and it can do far more in damaging who we become. When we control ourselves, our own decisions, when we don’t panic in the face of adversity, when we calmly seek solutions, that’s assertiveness. When we have so little control of ourselves, we seek to control others to compensate, when panic overtakes us so much that our most immediate reaction is violence, we’re just seeking a quick fix, another hit to numb our real loss of control.

Yeah, if only she’d had a gun… How about if only someone had taught him that no means no, that over means over, that women have a right to their own lives, that it’s OK to admit defeat so long as you don’t lose control of yourself, that a relationship means compromise and not control, that rejection at most deserves, “Can we talk about it,” and not broken bones, broken teeth, ruptured organs, and hundreds of thousands in medical bills?

If only she’d had a gun. If that’s what you take away from this, if that’s the lesson you feel you need to impart on others who are going through pain, then you are not part of a solution. You are part of an arms race.