And here comes the "but." I said it before and I will say it again. Raising awareness is not enough. It is very important, yes, absolutely. But it does not necessarily lead to social action. Moreover, raising awareness about an issue has nothing to do with raising awareness about systemic problems that people fighting against this issue are facing. The fact that somebody is creating such messages doesn't help activists who deal with the problem. In contrast, it often masks their struggles, while making those who create messages that promote social justice look good.
Let me illustrate. Remember the great actor Patrick Stewart? He is actually also awesome because of his passionate advocacy against domestic violence. He has a reason to be so invested in this cause. His father had fought in the war, and came home with a severe case of PTSD. However, at that time people knew little of this disorder. The connection between the psychological trauma of war veterans and erratic anger outbursts that some of them displayed was not researched. Patrick Stewart's father started to beat up little Patrick's mom. Again and again she called the police, but they would not help. "Mrs. Stewart," they would day. "Why would your husband hurt you? You have probably done something to anger him." That was their typical reaction. Victim-blaming, in its most classic form.
Now, years has passed. Causes and dynamics of domestic violence have been researched. Books upon books have been written about abusive relationships. Numerous activists have been fighting against it. People know about this issues, and many have a pretty good idea why it happens, thanks to education, media and general public awareness. So?.. Has the problem been eliminated? Not even close. Moreover, victim-blaming is alive and well, and I would even say, rampant. Do you know how many women are in prison because they tried to protect themselves and their children from a violent partner? Do you know how many women call police again and again and again, asking for help, and not getting any? A FREAKING LOT.
Read the story of Marisa Alexander, who was sentenced for years in prison for firing a warning shot (nobody was hurt!) to dissuade her abusive husband from attacking her. Read these stories:
“I recently interviewed several domestic violence survivors imprisoned for defending themselves. Each woman reported that she had defended herself only after repeatedly trying to seeking help – unsuccessfully. One woman recalled that police would drive by as her boyfriend beat her on the street. Most of the time, they ignored the violence and continued to drive. When she called the police, they arrived and did nothing. The one time police did arrest her boyfriend, it was not for attacking her, but for having illegal drug paraphernalia. He was held overnight, then allowed to return home to continue his abuse.
Another woman told me that she had called the police on several occasions. Each time, officers simply took her boyfriend out of their apartment, talked with him, and then allowed him to return. The beatings and abuse continued. She filed for and received an order of protection, which he repeatedly violated. She tried calling domestic violence hotlines. One told her that, to receive assistance, she would have to go in person to their organization. Another did not return her phone calls.
A third woman was in an even more precarious situation. Because her abuser was a police officer, she felt that she had nowhere to turn for protection. He repeatedly told her, "You can't call the police. I am the police." When she called a domestic violence hotline, they told her that she was in the worst situation possible; in addition to keeping guns in the house, her husband's profession meant that he could access records to find out where she was even if she did leave. They advised her to start saving money and to keep her important papers in one place in case she ever had to flee.”
Now, let's go back to the anti-violence Super Bowl ad. Some say that the NFL created it to cover their asses after the Ray Rice scandal. The NFL do little to punish their players accused of domestic violence, or create a real anti-violence policy. So, actually, they are part of the problem. They represent the system that does not want to change. They can raise awareness about the issue all they want. But do they raise awareness of how difficult it is to fight against domestic violence? Do they create an ad that will show that the system is fucked up? Do they advocate for changing the system? Not at all, and not surprisingly.
These $4 million or whatever they have paid for the Super Bowl ad slot could have been better used if, instead of writing "social justice" in big shiny letter across their name, the NFL actually started a real non-profit that would help thousands of women who suffer from the lack of the elusive thing that these shiny letter signify. Or gave all this money to people who actually do something to create a significant lasting change in people's attitudes toward domestic violence victims (hint, it’s not a 30 second long ad). They could have simply changed their own policies, and I mean really changed. But I guess that wouldn't be as glamorous as talking about the need to fight against domestic violence at the biggest sport event of the year. And here we are, with another media message telling us that domestic violence happens, and that it is bad. Another beautiful example of how social justice gets successfully co-opted.