In the past week, there have been two high-profile cases of successful, educated women who have remained in relationships with violent men. In New York, local TV anchorman Rob Morrison was arrested after choking his wife in a drunken rage. According to the New York Post, Morrison had a history of this behavior, having also "previously threatened to murder his 7-year-old son in front of his fellow-journalist wife Ashley, and then kill her." Indeed, there was a long pattern here. "Morrison was also arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife in 2009 in New York -- and that cops had gone to their city apartments seven other times for verbal disputes."
In the international headlines, track star Oscar Pistorius has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. According to police, he had previously been arrested for slamming a door on a woman and police had been called for other domestic disputes. Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, was a law school graduate and a successful model.
Like Ashley Morrison, a successful news reporter, Steenkamp had absolutely no reason to get into a relationship, let alone stay in one, with a man who abused her. I will leave it to others to psychoanalyze these women. But it does occur to me that feminism has not been the cure-all for these women that its advocates claim. These women have careers and money and education. There is no stigma in leaving men like Morrison and Pritorius. Certainly not for Steenkamp who wasn't even married. But even for Ashley Morrison. Who would have faulted her for divorcing a man who was choking her and threatening their son? I doubt anyone would have questioned such a choice 50 years ago either.
These women have been liberated. There is no paternalistic society telling them to stay with these men through abuse. And yet they do anyway.
These incidents are also a reminder that gender is not a social construct. Men still physically have the upper hand. Morrison is a 180-pound ex-Marine. Does anyone doubt that he could kill his wife (even with a restraining order now in place). And Pistorius, too, has managed to inflict plenty of physical harm on both men and women around him. There are those who will argue that this is just another reason that women should be able to carry guns. Maybe so, but the actions of these men are a reminder that female empowerment does not preclude the need for civilizing men. Why should it matter to women that Hilary Clinton was secretary of state or that Sheryl Sandberg made it to the top of Facebook. Equal pay for equal work will not protect us from the less fair sex.