She cheated, y’all. Before you start making any judgment calls, let’s take a moment to remember that she cheated! That seems to be the reaction of many people to the video of a man forcing a woman, who he just assaulted, to parade the streets in broad daylight wearing only a towel. As she does this, he berates her with an interminable list of sexist slurs and eventually, he pulls off her towel. The woman tries to cover herself with her hands and the cover of a motorcycle.
The video has been publicized enough so it won’t be linked here. What is worth addressing, though, is the public reaction to the video. Some seemed to revel in the humiliation that the young woman in the video experiences. The perpetrator, Jason Melo, has received countless supportive statements on social media (and gained about 10,000 new followers on Instagram), many of which were a response to the dozens of videos he posted justifying his actions. According to him, this abuse was a response to “her cheating” and, in true perpetrator lingo, “she is lucky it wasn’t worse.”
Male violence against women is always justified as retaliation – often to womanhood itself. Whether a woman cheats, and with how many men, isn’t the point. “She cheated” is no different than “the dinner was cold” or “you are getting fat” when it comes to excuses for violence against women. It simply makes us even more accepting of the abuser’s narrative.
The man behind the video was arrested and then released, now pending trial. Melo, a United Nations employee from Harlem, was arraigned on the evening of January 20th on charges of choking, endangering the welfare of a child, coercion, and assault. He is due in court on February 10th. The woman in the video describes being threatened and forcibly confined. Eventually Melo turned himself in, but not before leaving an extensive trail of abuse on social media.
How did the public respond? COED.com, a website devoted to “all the great things about college, without the classes,” titles its coverage, “WATCH: Man catches girlfriend ‘cheating,’ forces her to walk NYC streets sans clothing,” “Jason Melo photos: boyfriend of cheating NYC girlfriend gets arrested: must-see pictures” and “Jason Melo, the man who forced his GF to walk around NYC naked, has been arrested.” One COED.com writer states: “It goes without saying that cheating is 100% f*cked up, regardless of the reasoning. All of the lying, deceiving, hurt feelings, endless bouts of crying (just us?) makes for the worst kind of breakup in the world.” This site makes it pretty clear who should be receiving public sympathy here.
Stephanie Petit of College Candy writes: “This is so wrong” and “so shitty.” Unfortunately she also writes “Cheating Wife” on all three articles featured on the site. Get it? She cheated. Before this woman was introduced as a human, she was introduced both as a cheater and her partner’s property.
Here are a few titles that would make more sense: “Woman forced to walk naked as man hurls misogynist insults at her,” or “Woman tries to cover herself while partner defames and humiliates her in the streets,” or how about “Woman forced to fucking freeze in -1ºC weather.”
As Jessica Valenti cleverly puts it: “What’s the difference between venerating women for being fuckable and putting them on a purity pedestal? In both cases, women’s worth is contingent upon their ability to please men and to shape their sexual identities around what men want.”
It’s a tricky pedestal, you see. We see man after man degrading women for doing the very same things they idealize — hypersexualization, objectification, and overall dehumanization. As Melo put it during that infamous video, “So pretty… yet such a whore.” None of these stories are narratives of cheating; they are about how men respond when their precious Madonna/whore complex is shattered — when they realize that “their” woman was a human being all along.