digging up the roots of gender-based violence

Brad Ausmus and Men Joking about Beating Their Wives

Yesterday, Detroit Tigers’ General Manager Brad Ausmus was asked what he does when he gets home after a lossImage (the Tigers, if you haven’t been/don’t care to pay attention, have been in a tailspin from the top of the leader board for the last few weeks), he said:

I beat my wife.”

Then he said: “I’m just kidding,” and “Sorry if I offended anyone.”

He was quick to say it. He was also quick to say he was kidding and faux-apologize.

What we find funny, what we joke about, often indicates our values. In particular, sexist humor is likely to be appreciated by folks who hold sexist values. The quickness with which he answered is also telling. Why did that even cross his mind as an answer to the question? Men who don’t think about beating their partners tend not to, you know, think about it as an answer to a question at work. Why was he so quick to make this “joke”? Why would anyone be so quick to make such a joke, unless doing it actually crossed their mind? And, even if Brad Ausmus had the best of jocular intentions, thousands of people heard him, batterers and survivors among them. Which group is bolstered and supported by his “joke”? Certainly not the battered women he claimed to not want to make light of, but rather the batterers being validated by those words.

Batterers and rapists do actually believe that most dudes are like them, even though we know they are not. And when jokes like this are told, and other people laugh at those jokes, batterers and rapists have their belief that “everyone does it” confirmed. Further, and even more awful, survivors feel more isolated, more to blame and less likely to seek help.

Let me start this next bit by saying that I have no idea if Brad Ausmus is a batterer, or if Liz Ausmus is in danger from him.

But, hypothetically. If a batterer were to be asked, on camera, about how he manages some feelings when he gets home, and he answered exactly the way Brad Ausmus answered, we can be assured that it was a direct threat to his partner.

Batterers don’t make threats they aren’t willing to follow through on, and they can be clever in how they deliver those threats. I once worked with a woman who walked out to her car from the shelter to discover a dozen red roses in the front seat with a big note in the middle that said, “I’m sorry, baby, please come home.” She was terrified, because if the man who was hurting her could put roses in her car, what else could he put there? How did he get in her car when she had the only keys, and how did he know where to find her? Batterers will often use tactics that look innocuous or even sweet and kind to the casual observer, but are clearly threatening to their partner. Passing off “I beat my wife” as a joke leads us to overlook the very real danger in such a comment.

Ausmus’ joke wasn’t insensitive or in bad taste. At best, it was sexist mockery of the real harm batterers do. At worst, it was a credible threat of violence. Liz Ausmus, I hope you are safe. If you need help, you can contact HAVEN any time, day or night, at 248-334-1274.

Cristy Cardinal is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has worked in the field of ending gender-based violence since 1997. Cristy has three kids, all of whom she is happy to share (gross or funny or weird, whatever) stories about any time. She is an avid fabric artist in addition to being a loudmouth feminist. Cristy is the 2012 winner of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence Wave of Change Award, honoring excellence in social change and prevention of gender-based violence.

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