Rice, Knox and who gets to speak

May 23, 2014 Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife, Janay, during a news conference at the team’s practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Things seem to have finally calmed down on the Ray Rice imbroglio, and as I look back, I ask: why was it that the only person we never seemed to hear from also the only person that the events really mattered to? It takes very little to suspect the Ray Rice scandal was never chiefly about what Mr. Rice did to the future Mrs. Rice in that New Jersey elevator. Now let’s be clear: I’m not making any sort of excuse for Mr. Rice’s deeds or any assumptions about the health (or lack thereof) of their marital relationship. Sometimes relationships are simply toxic and pathological.

But if that was the case here, why was so little actually done to hear the side of Janay Rice, the woman in question? Why, at the end of the affair, was Mrs. Rice turning her finger accusingly at her erstwhile saviors in the media?

The simple fact is that Mrs. Rice’s anger at the media and the NFL (specifically, functionally ending her husbands career) doesn’t require reducing Mrs. Rice to a puppet or thrall of her husband. Instead a very logical and pragmatic reason exists: she lost a metric truckload of money.

To those that say “well, our media would never celebrate a women doing a morally questionable, potentially dangerous and degrading thing for money!”, I would reply, “In fact, they do!”

Belle Knox (Miriam Weeks), Student, Pornographer, (self-proclaimed) Feminist Icon
Belle Knox and Whoopi Goldberg after Knox’ interview on The View (March 17, 2014).

For those blissfully unaware, above are some of the many, many pictures of Belle Knox (Miriam Weeks), the Duke freshman who (as an observant classmate discovered) was acting in pornographic movies, ostensibly to pay her tuition.

I’m not (well, not just) bringing her up because the blog could use a little Rule 5: the stories of Belle Knox and Janay Rice have more in common then one might think, but the reaction in the media, and specifically the interest (or lack thereof) of the media in hearing from the women in question, is very revealing.

Where Mrs. Rice found herself buffeted by a media that claimed to act in her interests while depriving her (through her husband) of millions, Ms. Knox faced a very different media response. While there was plenty of criticism for her stance of female empowerment through debasement, she also found her share of defenders.

Mrs. Rice? Let’s just say that I haven’t noticed anyone saying (as they said of Ms. Knox) that “This girl seems wise beyond her years”, nor is Conde Nast likely to do a 5-part series on Mrs. Rice to accompany the one they are doing on Ms. Knox.

The argument might be made that you cannot compare these women because, while Ms. Knox’ motivation can be reduced to money, suggesting that Mrs. Rice’s actions reflect a callous mercantalism cannot avoid the specter of mental infirmity. It seems ever present, the whisper that “oh, those women, they always take the abuser’s side…”, that Mrs. Rice is, if not fit to be a ward of the state, at least not a rational actor.

Which is all the stranger for the fact that Ms. Knox is a clearly troubled women. Consider this fetching Not-Safe-For-Work picture of Ms. Knox. Nothing you haven’t seen at the beach… except for something you hopefully haven’t seen before: a mass of scars on her upper thighs. These are the results of (as the article linked above notes) “Like man[sic] young women grappling with depression, I used to take it out on myself”, which is made even more troubling when she claims that she stopped cutting 5 years ago. Making the peak of her self-mutilation the tender age of thirteen.

Now this could go on forever, but there are really two issues that need to be touched on; First, the visceral. There are no two ways about it, watching the video of Ray Rice striking his then fiancee is… distressing. In the interest of intellectual honesty I should now link to the video that brought Ms. Knox to fame… but I can’t. I can’t not only because the video is pornographic, but because it is debauched. Ms. Knox may view her “enjoyment of rough and dirty, nasty and filthy, saliva-dripping and name-calling-filled sex” as sex-positive, but… well, let’s just say most people will find their gorge rising, rather then anything else.

Second, the lynchpin of the comparison: the legal. What transpired between Ray and Janay Rice however much one might object to pornography in general or the intensely violent extreme pornography in particular, it is legal. But this leads us to the stickiest problem of all: Ray Rice was no fugitive from justice, but a man that had gone through the criminal justice system and been pronounced fit to walk among the citizenry. One of the most interesting, and telling, elements of the coverage that I observed was how there was seemingly no weight given by any of the commenting class on the way the legal system adjudicated the situation. The idea that the criminal justice system worked in this case seems to be almost always be regarded with skepticism.

The ultimate fact remains: if the point of the whole affair was to help Mrs. Rice, then why is it that by all objective measures she seems to be so much worse off then if the media had respected her privacy? Why is it considered fitting that an Ivy League pornographer is invited to an in-person interview on national TV, but not a woman who’s private life is the center of a media circus?  Why is it that the media did a much better job of respecting the limits and privacy of a woman that takes her clothes off for a living then the victim of a deeply personal crime? In all honestly, I don’t have a good answer.

Of course, might one advance the idea that the media is deeply, passionately, interested in the integrity of the sacred bond of marriage, and any person that desecrates the connubial vow will feel their wrath? Well

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Hillary Clinton looks on as President Clinton discusses the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 26, 1998.

Yeah… I don’t think that’s it.

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