ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith got more than he bargained for when he said on Friday that women should avoid provoking men into domestic violence. Since then, Smith abandoned his fervent defense of those remarks in favor of a fairly abject apology, but along the way, picked up a defender in The View's Whoopi Goldberg, who told her fellow View-ers that women who hit men should be prepared for men to hit them back.
While Whoopi's comments are the ones getting all the attention, Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski said something very similar Tuesday morning.
Brzezinski explained how Stephen A. Smith's remarks received an "incredibly huge, terrible reaction" that "completely outweighs exactly what he said," and that Smith was "trying to to have a constructive conversation."
"But the bottom line is, unfortunately, there is an unequivocal truth. Men cannot hit women, they may not in any circumstances. And within that, it is hard to have an honest conversation. But I do think that what Whoopi was saying had value, too."
The entire panel, with the possible exception of Willie Geist, missed the point for the same reason that Stephen A. Smith did. It is absurd to say that a man can never hit a woman under any circumstances, like, say, the woman who killed cops in Las Vegas, or that a man can't hit a woman unless she is going to kill him. What if a woman is breaking every bone in a man's face, or beating the shit out of a baby? What if a woman enjoys being struck as part of consensual sex? What if a man is minding his own business, throwing air-punches, and a woman throws her face at him?
There are, in fact, men who are victims of domestic violence at the hands of women, and even men who are murdered by their female partners. According to the CDC, 29% of heterosexual men report being victims of domestic violence. There are lots of men who are, in fact, not physically stronger than lots of women.
We don't teach men not to hit women because of "chivalry," or because we don't want men to defend themselves from bodily harm, we do it because men aren't hitting women in self-defense, or due to a lack of chivalry. They are doing it pathologically, and our society has systematically enabled them to do so for hundreds of years, as part of a systemic disempowerment of women. That's what's happening.
Therefore, the problem with what Smith and Goldberg said isn't so much with the relative levels of "truth" in their statements; it probably is a good idea not to hit or otherwise provoke a man. The problem, which Brzezinski accidentally identifies, is that they have no value to the discussion, they are not constructive. They place the fictitious or anomalous effects of domestic violence on empowered men on equal footing with the practical consequences of domestic violence on actual women, for whom the protections of law and society are woefully inadequate.
We don't want men to stop hitting women because it's somehow worse than women hitting men, or men hitting men. We want men to stop hitting women because men keep hitting women.