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Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: Abusing the Abused

[Trigger warning for discussion of domestic abuse.]  The domestic abuse suffered by Taylor Armstrong of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is getting some attention, and rightly so; DV-surviving women should not hide in shame! I applaud Taylor for courageously opening up about the physical, psychological, and emotional pain her late husband Russell Armstrong inflicted on her and their young daughter.

But I’ve yet to see an article, or even a mention, discussing the inexcusable treatment Taylor received from her Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHBH) cast mates when she first shared with them glimpses of the abuse she suffered at home.

Before I unleash my anger on the women of RHBH, let me first say this: Rule #1 of supporting a woman who is being assaulted at home ““ don’t blame her for the abuse!

Though there might have been hints throughout this and previous seasons of RHBH, the first actual mention of Russell assaulting Taylor was at a lunch filmed at the home of one of the cast members, Lisa Vanderpump. In the footage, while Taylor’s “friends” begin to quiz her down about her marital troubles with Russell, Camille Donatacci (formerly Grammer) mentions that all of the women on the show have been protecting Taylor by keeping Russell’s abuse a secret. “[We protect you] because we don’t say that he hits you!” Camille says to Taylor. After which she begins to shout to Taylor that she needs to come clean about the abuse, stating that Taylor’s choice to keep the details private amount to some sort of deceit. “That’s [Taylor not talking about Russell hitting her] not cool! That’s not cool!” Camille shouts to Taylor, while pointing at her. An invasive, self-serving, and, I’ll say it, abusive act.

Even taking the aggressive and demeaning tone of Camille’s actions at the lunch out of the equation, the intent alone was disturbing. If Camille really believed that she was protecting Taylor by keeping private the details of abuse that Taylor had shared with her (and I’m not saying that this actually was a form of protection, though certainly the details were for Taylor to share or not share publicly, not a decision that belonged to Camille), then by “outing” Taylor on television, Camille’s intent was to do the opposite of protect; her intent was to attack, or at the very least, to leave Taylor vulnerable. And, being as generous as I can possibly be, if Camille didn’t overtly intend for Taylor to be made more vulnerable, she certainly acted with wanton disregard.

At the Vanderpump lunch, the other “housewives” piled on, expressing that they’d each heard something from Taylor about the abuse and either doubted the veracity of Taylor’s claims or, in the alternative, couldn’t possibly figure out how Taylor could stay in a relationship in which she was being abused. “˜Cause, you know, if you’re getting the shit beaten out of you, and you don’t (probably because you can’t) leave, you’re tacitly responsible for the beatings; that’s apparently just the kind of thing that makes sense to housewives in the 90210 area code. In my area code, however, the housewives’ reactions were outrageous. That nearly every one of them concluded that either Taylor was strong, in which case she must have been lying about the abuse; or she was weak and allowed Russell to beat her by virtue of choosing to live in the same home as he, stunned me. And then when the show never addressed the stunning reaction, I was stunned again.

More stunning behavior followed. Since Camille started the let’s all jump on Taylor, who’s already being pummeled (LITERALLY) at home wagon, it’s only fitting that her psychotic hanger-on friend, DD, should continue it.

At yet another soiree hosted by yet another housewife, Taylor expressed her anger and frustration with Camille for announcing on TV that Russell had more than once hit Taylor. When Taylor added that doing this put her in danger, DD (apparently on behalf of Camille who, despite being an adult woman who never ceases to speak her mind, needed a mouthpiece) went fully off-the-rails and proceeded to verbally attack Taylor.

This was excruciating to watch for two reasons:

First, when Camille announced on television that Taylor had shared with her “friends” that her husband beat her, she did in fact put Taylor in a dangerous position. This is not the same as saying that Camille caused Russell to punch Taylor in the face, because, of course, only Russell (and whatever devil lived inside him) caused that. But what Camille did do is announce to everyone, including a violent man looking for any and every “reason” to commit violence against his wife, that that wife had been, not only airing his evil deeds, but might be looking for an escape route.

Rule #2 of supporting a woman who is being assaulted at home ““ NEVER forget for one moment that a woman who is being domestically abused is never in more danger than when she starts seeking support and planning her escape.

The second and most prominent reason DD’s “defense” of Camille was so excruciating to watch,  was that DD became abusive with a woman who was already being badly abused at home.

Let’s be clear about this: violence encompasses more than physical actions, and DD was violent with Taylor. She screamed at Taylor, physically lunged at her, pointed at her, and shook her arm at her, all the while lobbing tearful accusations at Taylor about Taylor having somehow victimized Camille.

And what Taylor did in response, screaming and lunging at DD in return, was not the act of a “crazy person” (which is what Taylor later called herself when once again badgered by her Beverly Hills “friends”), but the act of a person who had been violated and backed to into a corner. Fight or flight. With howling beasts disguised as spray tanned faux-cialites surrounding her, Taylor did the least surprising thing possible, she tried to self-protect.

After the dust supposedly settled, and despite being treated like a wild animal by the hanger-on DD and everyone else, Taylor planned to attend yet another soiree at yet another housewife’s home, Kyle Richards’ “white party” (by the way, “white party” was meant to signify that all the attire be white, though it might as well have meant that all the guests be white). There, Taylor wasn’t even allowed in the door. Her husband, Russell, had apparently sent a threatening email to Camille (because, FYI, that’s what abusers do, they threaten!) and the housewives rallied to protect Camille’s legal rights above all else, including Taylor’s feelings and safety (great priorities, ladies), which, of course, meant protecting Camille from, not just Russell, but Taylor. The party’s hostess first attempted to scramble to un-invite Taylor from the party, but since there wasn’t time for that, instead Taylor and Russell were met at the door with an impromptu dis-invitation; punishing Taylor for the deeds of her abusive husband, angering the abusive husband whom Taylor then had to go home with, and humiliating a recently humiliated woman who already had enough fucking troubles to deal with.

The housewives then proceeded to talk about how there was just noooo way Taylor couldn’t have known what her controlling, abusive husband was up to (e.g., writing a letter to Camille threatening legal action). Because the kind of thing that makes sense to housewives in the 90210 area code apparently also includes thinking that controlling abusers regularly confide in their partners or even treat them like human beings rather than chattel.

Fast forward to Taylor’s appearance at Lisa Vanderpump’s club opening (another day, another soiree). Lisa noticed Taylor’s black eye immediately. She offered Taylor support, but sadly, not without judgment, asking, “Is this what it took for you to leave him?” As if, once again, Taylor could have, should have, easily left with her daughter at any time. As if Taylor wasn’t living a life of constant fear, control, and manipulation. As if Taylor wasn’t living a life in which a trip away with her girlfriends would result in a violent husband punching her in the eye socket for some imagined offense she’d committed while away.

Taylor then gathered the housewives with the assistance of her counselor and explained to them that Russell had been abusing her and that she had left him.

It was at this moment that I expected all of the housewives to apologize to Taylor for how they’d doubted her, offer whatever support they could, and tell her, above all else, that none of what had been perpetrated against her had been her fault.

Instead, Adrienne Maloof (another Beverly Hills housewife”¦who’s, by the way, not an actual housewife at all, neither is Lisa, but that’s for another day) wanted Taylor to acknowledge the awkward situation she, Taylor, had put all of the housewives in. Excuse me?! WTF.

Once again, the housewives piled on, wanting Taylor to own up to her behavior which had, apparently, made them all uncomfortable. I looked around my living room wanting to shout, “Is anybody seeing this?!”

I can’t say that I expect reality television to be dignified or even decent. After all, the Bravo network exploited Taylor’s situation, making big dollars I’m sure off of airing the episode in which Taylor has a badly bruised eye socket, as well as the episode discussing Russell’s suicide. But do the rest of us have to let these “housewives” off the hook?

Women, listen up, we need to stick together.

3 replies on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: Abusing the Abused”

I had the opportunity to attend a talk at my school yesterday about the Lisak research on undetected rapists; the talk focused on how the research has been practically applied to address sexualized violence. One of the biggest points made was about the role of bystanders in supporting victims and calling out predatory behavior.

Perhaps not surprisingly, at the very end of this talk, one participant demanded to know why they weren’t insisting that anyone who hears a story of relationship violence/sexual assault go right to the police to report. Yikes. Victims have enough on their plate.

And yes. I think we all know reality TV is exploitive.

Blargh. I’m sadly not suprised by the actions of these women- I’ve been doing survivor work too long for people flailing horribly about DV issues to phase me. It’s still super horrible, and it’s super shameful that the show failed to recognize how full of fail that the other house wive’s reactions were. Boo.

I also worry that seeing her leave after being attacked by her “friends” will send a message that this is an effective way to get a friend out of an abusive situation. Boo, hiss.

I like this article, and you raise great points.  I don’t know how much I trust reality TV to show what’s really going on – not in terms of Taylor being abused, but in terms of the producers setting up uncomfortable situations.  Which doesn’t make it right, at all, AT ALL.  But do you think any of this is the fault of the network using the women as pawns to get ratings?

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