Friday saw the last day of term. I love the school holidays. No rushed mornings and lazy days. They suit my personality perfectly.
In preparation for the holidays, after I picked up Master J from school, I decided to clear out the pantry. It was such a mess and my anxiety levels rose every single time I opened the door. Something had to be done.
To make the onerous task more bearable, I had the TV going and in a completely uncharacteristic move, Master J decided to join me in the lounge (it’s an open plan house). As I was emptying bucket loads of food I’d had since around 2008, Mr Phil came onto the screen.
I used to love Dr Phil – when I was much younger. I quickly outgrew him though. I found the pop psychology in the name of entertainment excruciating to watch. People at their most vulnerable, pouring out their hearts in front of a live audience, in front of the world, all for television ratings would make me feel quite ill.
When it came on I was tempted to turn it over, but a) I couldn’t find the wretched remote and b) I was knee deep in plastic containers and rotting food, so it stayed on.
Before long I was yelling at the TV. The episode, first aired in 2012, was about a young woman, Hillary Adams, who had released onto You Tube a video of her father, William Adams, beating her with a belt a few years earlier when she was 16. Her father, a prominent judge in Texas, hit her no less than 16 times whilst she screamed for him to stop. The mother then took the belt and hit her as well. I’m not going to post a link to the video that she taped, but I will say that if someone goes to the lengths to tape her father beating her, that is a sure sign that regular abuse is going on.
Dr Phil handled it appallingly. He first of all attacked the mother for not only not protecting Hillary, but instead belting her as well. Hillary tried to defend her mother, with whom she clearly has a good relationship. The mother has left the father. Dr Phil refused to let Hillary speak in defence of her mother, instead insisting the mother answer questions about her complicity in the act and the fact that she didn’t protect her child.
In principle, what he says is true. It is our responsibility as parents to protect our children, of course it is. However, it is a known fact that women who are systematically abused in a relationship lose all sense of reason. They have been so systematically demoralised, dehumanised and emotionally abused that they firmly believe that they have no alternative than to stay with the man, and put up with the abuse doled out on a regular basis.
As ugly as it is to admit, they even partake in child abuse, believing that their abuse is better to the child than that of the primary abuser. Of course, they are wrong, and it does perpetuate the abuse, but the plain fact is that fear is a very strong motivator.
The mother had left the husband, admitted her role in the abuse, profusely apologised for it, had explained that she was ashamed and had worked hard to repair her relationship with her daughter.
Still, Dr Phil grilled the mother so much that Hillary, the abuse victim, felt compelled to defend her mother. Not content with the mother’s alleged complicity, he then turned his attention to Hillary. He demanded to know why she had waited so long to release the video, why she had mentioned that she had a disability (she was born with cerebral palsy), why she had downloaded illegal music from the internet (the reason she was beaten). He also asked if she had timed the release of her video on purpose to coincide with his campaign for re-election as a county court judge.
This is victim blaming at its worst. Hillary handled the situation beautifully. Her replies were insightful and articulate, belying her young age.
Incredulously, Dr Phil then went on to say that, in the name of balance, he had asked William to come on the show. Unsurprisingly he had declined, but had given a set of questions that he would like answered by Hillary. Dr Phil then admitted he had not in fact spoken to William himself, but would like to ask the questions anyway.
I could not believe what I was watching. Here was an alleged qualified psychologist asking a victim to answer questions from her abuser. All in the name of ‘balance’. Does he know nothing about the power differential between the abuser and his victim?
I was so glad that Master J had decided to watch this with me. He witnessed the perpetuated abuse by Dr Phil, the victim blaming. He got it. My 16 year old son with autism so got how wrong this was. He didn’t look at it and question the women, he questioned why Dr Phil did not believe these women.
Even with the video evidence (which was played repeatedly), these two women were interrogated as to their motives, the frequency with which the abuse occurred, whether the younger sister had also been abused, about the trauma that was caused to the father and how they felt about it.
Dr Phil had an opportunity. An opportunity to send a very clear message that any abuse, even if it is perpetrated just once, on only one member of the family is NOT okay. He had an opportunity, as a very public figure to send the message that violence against women is wrong and, more than that, should end now!
But he blew it. Instead he used it as an opportunity to humiliate Hillary’s mother, causing Hillary to feel even further guilt and victimisation. He used it as an opportunity to imply that these women were using domestic violence and the timed release of the video to bring about the downfall of William Adams. Rather than saying the man is getting what he deserves, he mentioned how children need to be disciplined, just not in such an abusive manner, implying that William Adams was perhaps a tad ‘heavy handed’.
We do not get to judge these women. We have not walked in their shoes. We don’t get to question them on the level of abuse they have endured nor the validity of it. Yet this is exactly what Dr Phil did. Constantly, systematically, methodically, whilst running the cold, hard evidence of abuse on a loop. The whole thing made absolutely no sense other than to further victimise Hillary and her mother.
Why is it that society insists on assuming that these women lie about their abuse to bring about the downfall of men? Why is it that society perpetuates the notion that the abuse isn’t really as bad as they say it is?
Is it hardly a wonder that women stay in these abusive relationships? Why would they leave when no-one believes them?
Dr Phil didn’t take note when Hillary mentioned that William presided over child abuse cases, yet was a child abuser himself. That fact didn’t seem relevant or important to his line of questioning.
At the end of the program, Dr Phil then went on to thank his guests and then asked Hillary how she felt about what she had put her father through. What SHE had put HIM through!! What about what HE had put HER through? Hillary was forced to say that she was sorry for the trauma she was causing him, that she just wanted him to get help, that she loved him and wanted a relationship with him.
My heart broke. I screamed in frustration.
I abhor Dr Phil even more now. The level of pop-psychology where highly vulnerable people are trotted across our screens in the name of ratings is highly repulsive to me. I know people will say that they ask for it, that they are aware of what Dr Phil does. I disagree. I think these people are so desperate that they truly believe he will help them. Instead he is laughing all the way to the bank.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please know this:
There are people out there who believe in you. They believe your story and will not ask you to justify it, prove it, or anything else. There are avenues by which you can leave your abusive partner and there are people who will support and nurture you whilst you try to build your broken life. It can be done. It is frightening and programs like Dr Phil help to reinforce the hopelessness of the situation, but please know, he does NOT speak for all of us.
I am setting up a resource section on my blog, please do look there for places where you can find help.
Dr Phil, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you have any self-reflective ability, I would look back on the taping of this show and seriously question what you were trying to achieve here, because from where my son and I were sitting, all you achieved was to further humiliate these women, and reinforce the notion that domestic abuse is not really an issue. And you are so very very wrong.
Until next time,