A recent post from CNN discusses the abuse charges raised against MTV‘s “Teen Mom” star Amber Portwood for her physical abuse against her male partner Gary Shirley. Portwood faces felony domestic violence charges in her Indiana hometown because of abusive incidents on her reality TV show — where she is seen shoving, punching, slapping and choking Shirley, a police spokesman said. Two of the three charges are felonies because the couple’s 1-year-old child apparently witnessed the violence, according to Anderson, Indiana police spokesman Mitch Carroll. The investigation began seven weeks ago after MTV aired an episode of the reality series “Teen Mom” showing incidents captured over the summer, he said.
Is this article really sufficiently newsworthy to merit CNN’s attention? In thinking about why CNN might have paid attention to a story like this, it’s important to look beyond the obvious, sensationalized story of teenager mothers. And, while Portwood’s actions are undoubtedly abusive and wrong, it is interesting to note how much the media has focused on these actions seemingly because it is a woman abusing a man. The abuse of a woman by a man happens all the time in the media and has become so normalized, that it takes sensationally gruesome acts of violence for us to pay much attention to it. Institutionalized avenues in American media like pornography and other forms of “men’s entertainment” which function solely off of the portrayal of violence and degradation towards women.
Another facet of the CNN article is that two of the charges against Portwood are felony charges because they were done in the presence of her child. While the severity of these charges may be warranted because of the damaging after effects of domestic violence on children, children witnessing violence inflicted from one parent to another is not unusual. What is more unusual is that it is the mother hitting the father instead of the other way around. Again, what makes this story newsworthy? The fact is that more men than women are abusers than women are and their children witness this violence on a regular basis.
None of this is written to take away from the emotional and physical trauma suffered by Gary Shirley. Rather, we want to focus on ensuring that all cases of abuse receive equal attention and that violence towards one group is never normalized. FVPC and other relationship violence prevention agencies focus on the prevention and eradication of all forms of abuse. Until we start seeing every case of abuse with equal importance and dedication to believing and advocating for victims, domestic violence will continue to happen in all types of relationships.