British tabloids recently published photos of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson allegedly being choked by her husband, Charles Saatchi, while the two dined at a London restaurant. Since the photos emerged, the story has become an international incident, with media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic rushing to assess the situation. As with many domestic violence incidents, people want to place blame; however, another disturbing pattern is emerging. Lawson has chosen to remain silent so far, and people are using her lack of public response to label her "subservient" and "weak."
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Saatchi has already taken very public action in response to the pictures. As for Nigella, her spokesman confirmed that she's staying somewhere else with the couple's two children, but beyond that, she hasn't issued a statement or spoken publicly. In a segment on CNN's New Day, entertainment reporter Neil Sean said that her look of distress in the pictures and subsequent silence is making her seem "sort of subservient." "She's always portrayed as a very powerful woman; a woman in control…I think this is a very telling story," Sean says. Later on in the segment, host Pamela Brown says that, "People are taking to Twitter saying she needs to come out and address this. That she's this powerful figure, and this makes her look weak."
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Here's the thing: Nigella Lawson may be a celebrity, but she's still a human being. Not only is there no requirement that she comment on a very private matter (a reminder that these are paparazzi shots that were an invasion of privacy in the first place), she's most likely still processing both the situation and the resulting media storm. If she has been the victim of domestic violence, calling her "weak" won't help the situation. Plus, it's a hasty judgment to apply to a woman who has in the past been extremely powerful and vocal.
Even strong women can be the victims of domestic violence. Implying that Nigella's silence should be interpreted as subservience to her purported abuser follows an incredibly outdated (and offensive) line of reasoning that this only happens to weak women. This kind of thinking is what has cast domestic violence in a curtain of shame and silence, which makes it even harder for victims to come forward and leave the situation.
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"Anyone that is going through this, who is questioning whether or not they can make it on their own: You can. The fact that you're still alive now; the fact that you've been through everything you've been through, and you're still there, I think is a testimony to the strength and resilience of your spirit," says Sil Lai Abrams, who shared her own story about "The Relationship That Almost Killed Me" in the October issue of REDBOOK.
The only people in this situation who do look weak are those hiding behind the anonymity of Twitter, casting judgment.
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