Open Letter : On media trivialization of the domestic violence experienced by Élisabeth Rioux
Original Open Letter translated by Karen Ghazal
Last Tuesday, first on LCN, then on QUB Radio, a host and her colleagues decided to attack a domestic violence survivor who happens to also be an influencer.
You may already know about it, maybe not.
If you are between the ages of 15 and 35 years old, and have and Instagram account, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with Élisabeth Rioux and her situation. For the others, here’s what’s happening.
Élisabeth Rioux is an influencer on Instagram, particularly known for being the head of a bikini company. She has over 1.7 million followers on social media.
This is how she could have been described. With facts. Achievements. Without judgment.
On LCN as well as QUB radio, they decided to describe her as a young scatterbrained girl, as a girl that has nothing left to hide, as a girl that owes all her success to the fact that she posts pictures of herself in bikinis in which appears her butt. As an insignificant girl that would have had plastic surgery and would be posting edited pictures.
One might wonder if these statements are true, if the people who made those comments on air did actual research before talking about Élisabeth Rioux. One might also wonder whether it was pertinent or necessary to describe her the way they did. Also wonder if denigrating her for these reasons might not be a clear manifestation of ordinary sexism and rape culture.
Let’s move on. How come we’re talking about this influencer in mainstream media?
Élisabeth Rioux publicly denounced the violent behaviour of her ex-partner towards her and their child, on her own Instagram page. She shared a supporting photo of bruises on her neck and chin and stated she had already filed a complaint with the police.
Relatives also confirmed the situation. In short, she had the courage to expose her story of domestic violence for all to see.
This is how the situation could have been described, but again, the chronicle would lack context.
The story of the entrepreneur could have been used to address the issue of domestic violence. Especially in these times of lockdown, where, as we know, violence against women is on the rise. What could have been talked about is how organizations are overwhelmed by the lack of places to accommodate women that are victims of domestic violence. But no.
In the media, it was deemed more pertinent to talk about Élisabeth Rioux’s butt, her assumed superficiality, the said “negative impact” she has on young people. It was deemed more pertinent to make fun of the name of her child or to talk about her filmed childbirth.
it was also deemed more pertinent to bash the lifestyle of influencers, to bring back up the debate between mainstream media and social media, instead of talking about her domestic violence situation.
The host who calls herself usually feminist, worries about the values that these influencers could pass on to our daughters. Couldn’t we rather wonder about the values that mainstream media could also pass on to our daughters? Because an assertive survivor who’s building herself back up isn’t an inspirational role model?
Couldn’t we rather be worried that the only victims of domestic violence who are considered valid by our society are those who match our notion of the « good girl »? Couldn’t we rather be worried that women have to be “perfect victims” to be believed? For their stories to be heard?
To deserve the support of others, one would apparently have to be dressed reasonably, not to have drank, not to have shown « too much » on Instagram, not to have spoken openly about sexuality on Facebook.
Couldn’t we be worried instead that by posting photos of their butts on Instagram, women are automatically labeled as non-credible victims? Because this is the case with Élisabeth Rioux. She puts her body forward to sell swimsuits and automatically her story is discredited.
How many waves of denunciations will it take for us to stop examining the past and the actions of victims of sexual or domestic violence in order to judge the veracity of their testimonies?
« What do you post on your Instagram page? » Is this the new question being asked of victims in addition to the, just as problematic, » What were you wearing that night? « or » What did you do to provoke him and make him violent? «
Is “What did you say on your story? » becoming the new « You should have expected it, with your attitude!”? On what are investigators, lawyers and judges going to base themselves on now? Are our Facebook and Instagram accounts going to be searched and our selfies examined for reasons to question our denunciations? Is this already common practice? Will our use of peach and eggplant emojis be cited in court?
Also, the host’s dull apologies do not erase the message sent. The disrespect for the job of influencer (another belittling of a predominantly female job, by the way!), The trivialization of domestic violence, the reaffirmation of the rape culture make it very difficult to take victims seriously, even more so when they do not represent the « perfect victim ». Despite the apologies, these messages have been heard and remain in people’s minds.
What this host and her colleagues tell us is that as women we will never be truly free. We will never be really able to wear what we want. We can never really say what we want. We will never be capable, never credible enough. Because it is not the victims who choose what is acceptable and what is not. It is others who choose whether the violence that we experience is worth listening to. And that is really not a message we would like to send to our daughters.
Because we may not all be influencers, but the continuum of violence against women, unfortunately we all know what it is.
If you or someone around you is a victim of domestic violence, get in touch with SOS violence conjugale.
Letter translated by Karen Ghazal