HONY excuses male violence, vilifies the victim yet again

Well now this is starting to look like a pattern. Last week, Humans of New York (HONY) published the story of a man charged with domestic abuse, allowing him to paint himself as the innocent victim of an evil, lying woman. Today, they’ve done it again, posting the following to the HONY Facebook page:

HONY

This was the last of four posts, telling the story of a man’s relationship with a woman named Stacy, who became his wife and mother to their five children. The couple had met in Pennsylvania and lived there happily for a while — she had a good business, they were doing well financially, had a house, etc. — until he decided he wanted her and the kids to leave that life behind so he could pursue a music career in New York City (a very responsible choice for a father of five!). This selfish choice brought money troubles and Stacy didn’t like living in the big city (something he presents as a flaw in her that she was unable to overcome):

“I think she regretted coming the moment we got here. The first time we rode the subway together, a man and a woman started slapping each other on the train. Everyone on the train just pretended not to notice. I remember that bothered her so much. She just wasn’t made for the city.”

They were both working all the time, barely surviving, barely seeing one another. He could handle it, the man says, but Stacy couldn’t.

“She saw all the homeless families on the street, and the families in the shelters, and she was convinced that was going to be us. She was always so worried. She was stressed all the time about the rent and the food and the bills. She was driving me crazy with the nagging. We kept getting in stupid fights.

I kept telling her: ‘Stacy, you’ve got to stop worrying about all this bullshit!’ We did have our little moments where we’d go to the beach or the park and forget about things, and we’d have a moment of peace. But those moments never lasted. Every morning Stacy would wake up and smoke a cigarette, and you could just see the unhappiness in her face. I should have left. I should have given up and moved us all back to Pennsylvania. Instead I started smoking too much weed, and trying some other stuff. And that made it worse.”

Finally, as the last post explains, Stacy left the man while he was at a dentist appointment. I imagine there is more to this story — there always is — but again, we learn plenty just from this one-sided telling.

According to this man, she took his kids, causing him to fall into a deep depression that left him feeling suicidal. For those who aren’t familiar with typical abuser behaviour, men will often threaten suicide in order to prevent their partners from leaving or in order to convince them to come back. It’s abusive behaviour. The fact that he mentions this is a red flag to me already. It also signals that he’s setting up an excuse for what is to follow.

He then becomes defensive, claiming he is “not a bad man” and “not a bad father,” but she’s not “allowed to take my kids like that.” He mentions that Stacy took out an order of protection against him, but fails to explain why… (Hmm, I wonder… She must be, like the previous woman HONY tried to paint as having driven a man to violence, just mean. And crazy.) We don’t have to do too much guessing as to why she may have done this, though — the man gives it away:

“She can’t look me in the eye and tell me that I’m an abusive man. I would never hurt her. But there was something that happened. We had an argument a week before she left. I got so mad and stressed that I grabbed a bat and started smacking the door and the wall. She was so scared. I’ll never forget the look of terror in her eyes. I immediately dropped the bat. I said ‘I’m so sorry babe,’ but she didn’t want me to talk to her or touch her. It took four days for her to let me kiss her again. Then a few days later she was gone. I haven’t seen my family for a year. I know it was wrong. I’m sorry. But I’d never hurt her or the kids, I promise. I was only hurting the wall.”

Are we to believe this doesn’t constitute abuse? Does HONY? There is no doubt in my mind that this incident was not the first like this and even if the man’s claims that he’d “never hurt her or the kids” are true (which I don’t believe for a second), bashing in a wall and door with a baseball bat still constitutes a violent threat and is very much abusive behaviour.

It appears as though Brandon Stanton, the creator of HONY, got some pushback on this story (and on the last one as well, after we covered it here) and responds in the comment section:

“I also wanted to quickly remark on the comment section. When presented with a complex story, where things aren’t always black and white, and circumstances can be as much to blame as choices– consider withholding judgment. This doesn’t mean you are condoning or validating a person’s choices. There can be a middle ground between ‘giving support’ and ‘casting judgment.’ You can always just listen.”

Oh really? Must we really “withhold judgement” when reading yet another story that excuses male violence and presents the “bad, mean woman” as the cause of said violence? Stanton goes on:

“…as the stories have become more detailed in recent months, it seems that the comment section has grown more judgmental. It’s perfectly valid to have strong feelings and opinions. And I certainly don’t want to suppress free speech. But remember that people choose to share their stories here. And they can just as easily choose not to. Extreme judgment stifles communication and discourages honesty. This holds true for relationships, households, and communities. Let’s not make this a community where honesty and self-reflection are punished with rebuke. Because without honesty, these stories will lose their power.”

The thing is, Brandon, this story isn’t honest. It is yet another manipulative account relayed by a violent man who wishes to excuse his own behaviour by blaming his victim. He does not tell the whole story and he does this intentionally. It is not “honest” or “self-reflective” to imply that his ex-wife (who, it sounds like, escaped an abusive relationship or a relationship that was becoming abusive), cruelly “took his kids” and kept him from his family, for no reason at all, leading him into uncontrollable violent rage.

“Storytelling” is not an excuse. I don’t believe that Stanton is posting these stories without consideration. He heard this story and felt it was one worth sharing. As I wrote last week, this kind of framing is extremely damaging and dangerous — it encourages victim-blaming and pretends that very real abuse is actually harmless. It is not kind or responsible to “just listen” to manipulative stories about domestic abuse, as told by perpetrators, who are telling their stories for the sole purpose of excusing their behaviour and vilifying their victims. It is wrong.

The fact that HONY has done this yet again concerns me. We’re asked to be unbiased and “non-judgmental” while we’re fed anti-feminist stories that teach thousands of people that abuse is not, in fact, abuse, and that when men do become violent, it’s the fault of the woman.

It’s beginning to feel like there’s an ulterior motive at play — a “bias” if you will.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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