Trigger warning: This article raises awareness about current issues around domestic violence.
The recent scandal with the Ukrainian-born celebrity, Regina Todorenko, made a lot of people talk about domestic violence.
During an Instagram-live with a journalist, Todorenko was discussing another celebrity who talked about being beaten up by his husband in her Instagram stories. Among other things, Regina started mocking the woman and said that she does not understand what is going on inside the heads of the victims. She suggested they should ask themselves why their husbands would beat them up. But what outraged the people the most was the phrase Todorenko used, when she asked: “What did you do to prevent him from beating you? What did you do so that he hit you?”
Consequently, Todorenko got criticized, the magazine Glamour Russia stripped her of her title as Woman of the Year, and a list of companies canceled their contracts with her.
It is worth mentioning that Russia, where Todorenko is now based, is one of the few countries, where domestic violence is decriminalized. Consequently, this decriminalization leads to an increasing number of women who are suffering from domestic violence.
On the other side, a lot of (prominent) women from different countries supported Todorenko, saying that women who suffer from domestic violence sometimes deserve to be beaten up, and that nothing holds them back from leaving such men.
And this is where the story gets complicated.
Domestic violence is a serious and complex problem. It does not only consist of the fact that people mangle their partners. Domestic violence is usually accompanied by psychological violence and emotional abuse, such as gaslighting. Domestic violence rarely happens during the first couple of months of a relationship. On the contrary, at first, everything may look perfect. Only when the emotional boundaries are established, and the victims are potentially tied to their partners, the first signs of abuse appear. Domestic violence victims are usually manipulated to the extent where they are no longer capable of distinguishing what is good and what is bad. They are intimidated and convinced that no one will help them, that they have nowhere to go, or will be found by their abusers wherever they are. If a couple has children, it is even more complicated to leave such a partner.
One of the aspects that makes leaving an abusive partner even more difficult is the culture of victim-blaming. The victims are afraid of hearing that it all is their fault, that they should have left their partners and that they knew from the beginning who their partners were. The victims usually already feel guilty after years of abuse, and when they decide to break themselves free, they face a lot of blaming.
Another problem is that a lot of this blaming comes from fellow-women. Of course, men can also be victims of domestic violence, but the vast majority is women. And when they try to find support from fellow women, they do not get it. After the scandal, some female celebrities blamed the victims. Some of them even blamed the women’s body and physiology for it. While others said that such women are guilty themselves since they have failed to be ‘real’ women. For them to be a real woman means wearing beautiful underwear, always cooking dinner, and “hiding in another room, waiting for him to calm down”. They call it being ‘a wise feminine woman’.
This reveals another problem, which is called internalized misogyny. It is hatred and sexist behavior by women towards other women.
One may think such women are wrong. In fact, there are no such things as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ women, since internalized misogyny has deeper roots than women blaming other women. Some psychologists claim that it is a women’s attempt to fence themselves off other women and to protect themselves. Women may feel safer when telling that some women are wrong, stating that they are not like them, and should be treated differently by men. It is an attempt to blame others in order to show that you are different and do not deserve bad behavior, contrary to those ‘other’ women.
Psychologist and coach, Bethany Webster, has come up with an idea of ‘mother wound’. For her, it means that it“is the pain of being a woman passed down through generations of women in patriarchal cultures. And it includes the dysfunctional coping mechanisms that are used to process that pain.” It may show in the form of comparison with other women, not feeling good enough, shame, attenuation, and feeling of guilt. One of the coping mechanisms is, therefore, competitive behavior towards other women. In accordance with Webster, such emotions come from the constant feeling of “‘less than’, not deserving worthy, which has been internalized and passed down through countless generations of women”. Putting it simply, those who were offended, judged, or criticized will attack in order to protect oneself.
Sometimes criticizing the public is needed, as in the case of Todorenko. But criticizing too should have its limits. If this story did not happen, people (at least in Ukraine and Russia) would not have started talking about domestic violence. They would not understand that one should think what they talk about, and what consequences it may have. The main point is, we always rush to judge or blame someone when, in fact, what we need is empathy and education.
What should not happen is hatred. For some people, it is clear that beating somebody is bad, regardless whether this person burnt the dinner or not. For others, it is apparently not that clear, and that’s why it should be explained.
It should be explained that anyone can get into such a situation, where there seems to be no solution. It should be explained that the victims of domestic violence are already vulnerable, and what they need is unconditional support and understanding rather than blaming. It should be explained that one in three women have experienced violence in their lifetime. It should be explained that blaming others will not get us anywhere, help and support will.
If you are going through something you cannot process yourself and you want to seek help, reach out to the people you trust or call a hotline, where you can get help anonymously. There is a way to overcome this.