Teen Mom has been so busy slogging through criticism that it's glamorizing teen pregnancy lately, there hasn't been a whole lot of talk about what MTV has been doing right:
Showing Amber Portwood beating on her boyfriend, Gary Shirley.
Watching Amber deliver a roundhouse punch to Gary's face, trying to push him down the stairs, and throwing things at him, what you're seeing represents at least 40 percent of domestic violence situations in America.
That's not what you see on Law and Order: SVU week after week. It's what actually happens.
According to one study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine:
"Men and women engage in overall comparable levels of abuse and control, such as diminishing the partner’s self-esteem, isolation and jealousy, using children and economic abuse; however, men engage in higher levels of sexual coercion and can more easily intimidate physically."
But the TV version of female on male domestic violence is generally played up for laughs like Debra Barone elbowing Raymond in the stomach on Everybody Loves Raymond (or twisting his nipple OR grabbing his hair and jerking his head back ... this woman had very real anger issues).
What America has been busy mocking, Teen Mom has been able to convey in scenes that are painful to watch because of their reality. They're scenes serious enough to have prompted an official police investigation into Portwood's violent history -- and RadarOnline recently learned the state's child services department is involved.
That Teen Mom shows these bursts of violent behavior does not change what happens in the Portwood/Shirley home -- they would and apparently do still happen. That the channel has opted to show them allows Shirley's suffering to do some good.
While he never responds in violence -- asking only if Portwood is done hitting him during one of her recent outbursts -- he also never reaches out for help. He even talks frequently about getting back together with her; all classic signs of someone who has accepted the fate of being "abused."
But men are a particular challenge for domestic violence investigators and counselors, because many can't be convinced that man can and are victims of domestic violence.
That Portwood is a woman, that she's shorter, and yet she practically pushes Shirley down the stairs blows the idea that a man can't be abused because he's "bigger" out the window. Similarly, the back-up he receives from friends and family -- both male and female -- conveys clearly that a man is not judged as less of a man for being victimized.
Both have stood as clear hurdles to female on male violence getting appropriate attention -- because the men are afraid to report the problem.
Teen Mom isn't perfect, but in opting to show the reality of domestic violence, it's doing all of America a service.
This they're getting right.
Image via MTV