But nonetheless, the way the domestic abuse issues in Taylor’s marriage were drawn out and discussed on last Monday’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills merits a bit of a chat.
I don’t want to do any scolding because I tend to think there’s a lot of misinformation about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, and the women of this cast seem to be trapped in the bubble of the misinformed. The entire episode was pretty hard to watch (nothing new there – look at what I put myself through just so I can analyze media!), not least of all the immensely uncomfortable tea party scene. It started with Adrienne and Paul (I’m sorry I can’t stop to explain every character, if you aren’t as fascinated by this as I, see bios on the BravoTV site), having a celebratory dinner and Adrienne broaching the subject of Taylor’s fragile state. The sincerity of this concern is hard to gauge, as is the sincerity of anything on these shows, but she seems to wonder why Taylor seems to be on the verge of a breakdown 24/7, and tentatively brings up that Taylor had told some of the other ladies that her husband, Russell, was physically abusing her. The revelations are, of course, greatly illuminated by Russell’s suicide this past summer, after which his history of abuse became more prominently displayed above the fold of tabloids. Paul’s response to this was “Nah…I know Russell. I just don’t believe it, he’s a great guy, he wouldn’t do that.”
The speculation continues at the tea party, which was so unsettling in no small part because it truly appeared to be the pinnacle of Taylor’s undoing. She seemed exhausted and overwhelmed, very much on the edge. She was breaking down, and it was painful to watch.
The women kept saying they didn’t know what to believe because they had never seen the abuse, they had never seen Russell hit Taylor. But moments later, Camille exclaims that they all knew of her injuries – at whose hands did they assume her jaw had been broken or her face smashed in, as they referenced? Not the man with two restraining orders against him from former wives and girlfriends, and with a record of beating his first wife when she was pregnant?
People generally don’t witness domestic violence. People generally don’t witness rape. We know they occur. Abusers frequently seem like charming, engaging, or friendly folks to the outside world. So do many criminals. This is a kind of control tactic, in which the victim’s testimonies can be negated by the public reputation of the abuser. Ted Bundy’s neighbors testified that he was a generous family man, but whoops, in his spare time he brutally kidnapped, raped, and murdered over 30 women. Appearances can be deceiving. We all know this, and we must get past the assumption that someone who presents themselves publicly in one way can’t have an entirely different private persona. Russell seems to have quite a violent history, and abuse allegations are rarely isolated. Personally, the footage of Russell I’ve seen has made me uncomfortable, as it always seemed controlled rage was simmering just under the surface. He didn’t like to leave Taylor with her friends, and I recall last season that when they were on a trip to Vegas he had her leave with him when he wanted to remove himself from the party instead of allowing her to socialize. Seemingly small actions like this can often be part of a larger orchestration of control that the abuser holds over the abused – particularly in regards to isolating them from their networks.
The tea party mock intervention continues, as Adrienne then claims she can’t get her head around someone who just doesn’t leave a man who is abusing her and putting her daughter at risk. She says this in a frustrated tone, as though Taylor is weak, weaker than them, because she didn’t stand up and walk out. She says, in fact, that she doesn’t understand where Taylor’s “willpower is.” This shows grave misunderstanding of the dynamics of partner violence; Adrienne is certainly not alone in thinking this.
People don’t leave because they’re terrified. Because they are not financially and economically independent. Because they’re worried the abuser will find them and the abuse will be even more intense, more vicious, possibly result in their death. Because they’re embarrassed and humiliated or are worried about more people discovering the truth. Because they have survived by protecting themselves with rationalizations and forms of denial, and leaving means confronting an overwhelmingly scary reality that often induces post-traumatic stress and requires a steady, uncompromising support system. Because they are used to a cycle of violence, followed by intense proclamations of love and dedication from the abuser, followed by manipulation, followed by violence again. Because they feel trapped. Because they have often been isolated by the abusive partner from their friends and family.
Taylor likely felt all of these things. She herself expressed that she had been a child in a home rife with domestic violence, and we know that children who witness abuse are more likely to have it replicated in their own marriages. She was married to an extremely powerful man in Los Angeles, and was likely worried that his status would aid in making her independent search for a job, home, and new social circle, exceedingly difficult. She appears to have no significant familial relationships to which she could reach out and seek refuge, her group of friends don’t have the reputation of being particularly warm and welcoming. She probably worried about what would become of her daughter – what if her daughter was targeted by Russell when they left? She may have been embarrassed, that’s not uncommon. She may have wanted to avoid being called exactly what some people seem to already assume – weak. She may have worried that people would wonder about her character and why she had chosen this person if he was abusive. She may have worried that, very sadly, she deserved it. Especially if it was a behavior she was used to witnessing as a child. She may have thought, concerningly, that no one would believe her. People aren’t believing her now, which likely confirms her earlier concerns; she may have thought she would be worse off if she were traversing a world by herself, 5 year-old daughter in tow, with everyone thinking she’s a liar. She probably was lured back into the relationship by the very cycle of domestic violence so many victims and survivors are familiar with.
Perhaps some individuals think if they were in Taylor’s shoes that they would be “strong” enough to leave. The reality is, domestic violence is a deeply complex issue, and it is very difficult to assume how one might handle the situation given how complicated it is.
An egregiously irresponsible “article” snidely remarked that Taylor didn’t want to lose Russell’s money, and that’s why she didn’t come forward. I’m the first to point out the materialism of this series franchise, but in the case of an abuse victim, it has less to do with fear of losing one’s jewels and furs than it does with fears of losing one’s life. And concerns about caring for a child on their own, concerns about the community siding with the abuser and icing her out, concerns about getting a protection or restraining order, concerns about being stalked. Her coming out and being more explicit with the abuse details after his death is indicative of how terrified she likely felt. If she had previously come out as publicly as she recently has, I’m sure she felt that the consequences at the hands of Russell could have been far greater.
In short (or not so short), this episode could have come with a Bravo TV PSA after its airing. But then I wouldn’t have been able to write this.
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