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Intent vs Impact of using violence as humor

July 30, 2018

It would seem unnecessary to say that the brutal murder of a young mother should not be the punchline of a joke on social media meant to sell gasoline at a local chain; yet a Kenosha station owner chose to create this post, even while our community was grieving over the murder trial of a local teenage girl.

It would seem unnecessary to say a woman’s head injury which led to her being hospitalized, traumatized and losing her job, shouldn’t be the butt of a series of jokes by the owners of a Kenosha restaurant where the perpetrator worked; to say a depiction of this incident shouldn’t be featured on the menu slate of that restaurant — complete with a photo of the victim’s head under the tire of the perpetrator’s vehicle, with the perpetrator at the wheel. It would seem unnecessary to say it shouldn’t be recreated in a photo on social media with the restaurant owner at the wheel of a vehicle with multiple female victims strewn on the hood and on the ground. It would seem unnecessary to say these things aren’t funny, yet here we are ...

The people who posted these “jokes” and those who participated and encouraged them seem unaware of the #MeToo movement. This movement has raised awareness not just about sexual assault but about acts of violence, oppression and intimidation against women.

In our culture women are belittled and undermined, pushed out of the industries in which they work, advanced more slowly and paid less. In the incidents described above, the women were valued so little that the violence against them was considered acceptable humor. It shouldn’t be necessary to say these things aren’t funny.

The businesses involved were contacted by people distressed at their use of violence against women to sell gas or get some laughs. As a result, the owners apologized: “I didn’t intend to…”, “I don’t support violence…” “I have daughters/sisters/aunts/wives and a mother…so I couldn’t have meant…”

Apologies like these focus the conversation on the person who did the harm, rather than focusing on the hurt caused to others. If you cause a car accident, while the punishment varies depending on your intent, you are still responsible for causing the accident. To a victim of a crash, the damage is the same whether you meant to do it or not.

People in our community were impacted by the casual use of violence as humor by the parties involved in all of these incidents.

In addition, the apologies all included the writer’s relationships with women as a shield from criticism (“I didn’t mean harm because I have a daughter/sister/aunt/ mother...”) Harvey Weinstein has four daughters of his own but has been accused of scores of egregious acts against women over decades in Hollywood. This illustrates someone may love their wife/daughter/sister/mother and still inflict harm on others, intended or not.

Realizing that violence is harmful, even in the form of a joke, shows empathy. Apologies should come without qualifications. Even better, when apologizing, include a plan to do better in the future and reconcile the harm that was caused.

In Kenosha, we are fortunate to have Wisconsin’s oldest shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Women and Children’s Horizons serves over 2,000 clients a year; providing shelter, healing, education, and training to survivors of violence and sexual abuse. Yet the number of people served there doesn’t illustrate the full impact of violence in Kenosha because family members, friends, employers and community members are also affected.

There is good news: when these jokes were brought to light, there were people in Kenosha who recognized how inappropriate they were and spoke out. The people who were responsible for the jokes listened — they apologized.

I hope they will reflect on the impact of their actions and develop empathy for the victims they mocked. I hope that people who tolerated this casual treatment of violence against women will speak up next time. I hope more people will value the work done by agencies like Women and Children’s Horizons and support them.

One of my favorite quotes is by Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

I hope that these errors in judgment will result in the people of Kenosha knowing better and doing better for victims and survivors of violence.

Women and Children’s Horizons 24-hour help line: 800-853-3503 (toll-free); 262-652-9900 (local); 262-656-3500 (office-direct services and donations); website: https://wchkenosha.org/ .


Kenosha News Article


Jodi Muerhoff is a former special education teacher and currently serves on the board of Forward Kenosha. She lives in Kenosha.



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