As Kim Davis remains in jail of her own free will, people are getting more and more wrapped up in her story and the martyr aspect of it. Some are reacting positively and protesting outside the prison whereas others are being more negative and drawing unflattering caricatures, sending death threats, and getting into flame wars about her personal appearance. While all of those reactions warrant their own post, what I really want to talk about today is this post on xojane, which subtitles as “We have to fight back against Davis and her actions and her ilk, but we also need to understand her because there are so many people in the United States who believe the same way.”
The purpose of the article basically seems to be that while we should still condemn Kim Davis, we as a society should nevertheless try to understand her viewpoint because it’s wrong to make fun of someone for having religion/the author could have ended up exactly like her. It’s not a focused thesis, and it disintegrates as the author tells her own personal story of inadvertently becoming an evangelical Christian, but it espouses tolerance, which I can never fault a person for.
However, it is absolutely inappropriate to tell a marginalized or bullied group to stop being upset and show compassion for their oppressor/bully. Not only that, but is also extremely psychologically damaging and contributes to our society’s victim-blaming complex.
Every time there’s a major story like this such as when Bill Cosby rapes over 35 women, a deranged man kills nine innocent black people in their church, two high school football stars rape and video tape the rape of a young girl, or a police officer shoots and kills someone, we as a society are asked to side with the perpetrator. We are asked to think about how the officer feared for his life or how the football stars will lose their scholarships and not get to be professional football stars or how the man must have been so frustrated at the changing societal attitude or how Cosby is so old now and shouldn’t have his “good name” dragged in the mud. Even in the case of Kim Davis, April Miller, one of the women who sued her, has stated that many in the community blame her for the unflattering media attention, stating that this wouldn’t have happened if she’d just stayed quiet. Moreover, telling a victim to emphasize with their abuser is 1) disregarding the victim’s pain, 2) damaging them psychologically by making them question the correctness of their anger and fear, and 3) leading to victim silencing.
A more appropriate response to these situations is not to side with the abuser (even if you have a shared history) but to side with the victim and try to get them to understand what they’re doing. Try to get Kim Davis and other evangelical Christians like her to understand how it feels to be denied basic rights, to have slurs thrown at them for doing nothing, to be harassed in front of their children, and to be told they don’t matter. Not every abuser is an absolute monster, and many of them can be reached and change if they are confronted with their behavior and develop empathy for their victims. Defending their right to be abusers does not create any positive change.
And in case you missed it, I want to stress this point: Kim Davis and people like her are abusers. No, they are not physical abusers, but they are emotional abusers, which involves “any nonphysical behavior that is designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish, or isolate another person through the use of degradation, humiliation, or fear.” Examples include discounting and negating, domination and control, accusing and blaming, trivial and unreasonable demands or expectations, isolation, disapproving, dismissive, contemptuous, or condescending looks, comments, and behavior, sulking and pouting, believing others should do as you say, not noticing how others feel, not caring how others feels, believing that everyone else is inferior to you, and believing that you are always right. Look at that list. Doesn’t it describe Kim Davis and her actions to a T? She is an emotional abuser.*
So, yes, let us defend people having any religion that they want and refuse to make fun of people for having a religion, but above all let’s stop defending abusers. Let’s stop turning the conversation to how terrible it must be to be called an abuser or a bigot. Yes, names hurt, but they can also let us know when our actions, words, and attitudes are unacceptable, and it is significantly more important that we stop aiding and abetting abusers than that we protect their hurt feelings.
* Source: The Emotionally Abusive Relationship, Beverly Engel, 2002, pg. 10 – 12