Some Thoughts On That Jay Z/Solange Brawl, Female-On-Male Violence & Fights Between Siblings

Like, oh, basically everyone everywhere, I’ve been totally consumed with thoughts about the fight between Jay Z and Solange Knowles following the Met Ball a few weeks ago, security footage of which was leaked online yesterday. I’m a fangirl of both Knowles sisters, and my belief in everlasting love is tied maybe a little too closely to the marriage between Jay and Beyonce, so as a Carter Family obsessive, this story is impossible to ignore. Given that Beyonce and Jay Z’s life is presented so flawlessly to the public — even their past troubles have been presented after the fact with a glossy veneer of hindsight and lessons learned — the elevator brawl between Beyonce’s husband and her little sister Solange reveals a rather large chink in the Carter Family armor, provoking loads of understandable questions and speculation.

Chances are good that we’ll never know the details, and even if anyone involved does explain what went down, it’ll be carefully worded. To be very, very clear though: Solange Knowles violently attacking Jay Z, for any reason, is not okay. It’s assault. How this will play out legally, now that the tape has been released to the public and thus to the attention of authorities, remains to be seen.

Whenever I do hear about a woman being violent towards a man, I’m forced to confront my own history of such behavior. I can count the number of times where I’ve “snapped” to such a degree on less than two hands, only three of which actually resulted in physical contact. They all involved men I was very close to and love/loved. (I’ve never been in a physical fight with another woman and very rarely verbally fight with other women.)

They were:

  • During the height of my parents’ separation when I was a sophomore in college, my dad did something that I interpreted as physically threatening towards my mom and before I even knew what was happening, I was screaming and flying across the room to shove him. Either my mom or a friend of the family pulled me away.
  • My temper has been known to explode when I’m been drunk, and such was the case 12 years ago, when a guy I loved rebuffed my advances after leading me on for, oh, eons, and I shoved him into (very, very, verrrrrrry slow-moving) traffic. He was totally fine, but it was one of the most regrettable things I’ve ever done. I’m grateful he forgave me (and we even had lunch not too long ago, though we didn’t reminisce about that bit of history over Reuben sandwiches).
  • And, during an incident I actually wrote about for The Frisky years ago, I was stone cold sober the time that I hit my ex-fiance repeatedly in the arms and chest — I can’t remember what we were fighting about, honestly — prompting the start of some much-needed therapy.

I regret all of these incidents of violence very much.

Every other incident I mentioned, where I didn’t get physically violent, but felt myself slipping over the edge, has involved my brother. It’s those few almost-physically violent outbursts that stick out to me now as I absorb all of the various rumors about Jay and Solange. While Jay and Solange are not related, Jay and Beyonce have been together since 2002 and married since 2008, and Solange has been a part of their small and tight inner circle for many if not all of those years; from what I can tell, Solange and Jay are family. Solange has also said that she is fiercely protective of her older sister and has admitted to popping off in her defense. Now that Solange has deleted all but one picture of Bey from her Instagram feed, it’s pretty clear that whatever beef existed between Solange and Jay has now extended to the two sisters. That bond between siblings and their significant others runs deep, and depending on a whole host of external circumstances, that shit can get ugly.

As a kid, I sometimes held the relatively common and, in retrospect, totally unfounded, belief that my parents loved my brother more than me. I’m six years older, so when I was going through my awkward, hormonal early-teen years, my brother was off being adorable and insanely smart for his age. I had a lot of held-in anger as a teenage — long story! — which resulted in me being pretty cold-seeming, often towards my little brother. Given that we had been close up until then — there had been many years there where I relished in his adorableness to the point where I think I’ve always wanted kids because of him — I’m sure this was confusing for him. I don’t think I ever took the time, until very recently, to put myself in his shoes and consider how that might have impacted our relationship as adults.

And then there was the whole thing that happened with our dad. In short, I went off to college, my dad developed a really bad drug problem that exacerbated what I believe were existing mental health issues, our parents got divorced, and the impact was huge for both my brother and I — but a chasm was formed between us because we had to deal with it in very different ways. I was an adult living hundreds of miles away when my dad went off the deep end. My brother was 12, living at home. He missed out on a lot of the stability I had during those formative years, but he also, by virtue of being around my dad a lot more, was able to adapt to the changes in ways I never could. This is not to say things were easier for my brother, because they weren’t. They were just different and it made it so we struggled for years to see eye to eye on things, big and small, personal and impersonal. The terrible tragedy that was the last 15 years of our dad’s life happened to both us, and while in a perfect world we would have been able to clearly see and act like we were on the same side, that is not how it played out for a very long time.

Of course, that tension between us has usually exploded over things unrelated. One Thanksgiving, we fought viscously about Roman Polanski and whether he’s really a rapist. Another time, when we were celebrating Mother’s Day I believe, we got into a huge row over what my brother considered my “sudden” interest in certain lefty politics. (Can you tell we were raised by politically-conscious hippies?) During both of these fights, it took all of my will power to resist an almost overwhelming desire to punch my brother in the face. It’s not that I wanted to hurt him. I just wanted to shut him up, I wanted to make him stop, I wanted control. I’m incredibly grateful I had the sense to recognize in the moment that no matter how badly I wanted to, doing so would only make things worse (and break my mother’s heart). Even still, my brother and I have hurt each other plenty with words that can’t be taken back but can be and have been sincerely apologized for.

Another almost-violent fight was actually about my dad, specifically my reasons for deciding to no longer speak to him. I was in a rage and remember wanting to take my brother by the shoulders and shake him hard, to shove him against a wall, to slap him for not being able to put himself in my shoes and agree that not only was I doing the right thing, but that I was doing it for the exact right reasons.

We didn’t speak for a little while, giving us both time to cool down, and eventually, having finally fought outwardly about something that was simmering beneath the surface of years, it allowed us to start chipping away at the resentment and tension that had been between us all along. As a result, we’ve come a long way towards recognizing that our differences make us unique and while we may not always understand each other and the choices we make, we don’t have to in order to love and support one other. My brother regularly calls me for advice and I trust him to take care of my dog when I’m out of town. I’m the person he can rely on to help him with his taxes and he’s the person I love to talk movies with, because I know he’ll have insanely smart insights I never would have thought of. I love my brother more than basically anyone on this planet. We’ve mended a lot of the hurt and anger between us, a relief since, with our dad’s death a year and a half ago, we’ve needed each other more than ever.

But my taking personal responsibility for my temper has been just as essential. I’ve always known that my words can cut deeper than my weak right hook, so what actually motivated my more violent impulses was not the desire to hurt but to control. Through therapy and 12 Step meetings, not to mention a healthier approach to alcohol, I try very hard to remind myself, during times of extreme frustration and powerlessness, that I cannot control the actions of others, only my own reactions. It’s still a struggle — I somewhat regularly hurl pens at walls and slam doors — but it’s something I’m getting better at. Not too long ago, my brother and I got into a fight, again over something totally stupid. Instead of reacting to him in a way that only escalated the argument, I focused on staying calm and, when that wasn’t working, removed myself from the situation entirely. I definitely still felt angry, but that rage, that desire to shake him until he saw it my way, never came.

So, to circle back to Jay Z and Solange because, oh yeah, this whole tale started with them. I recognize that the connection between what I just wrote about my brother and I, and what occurred between Jay and his sister-in-law, is somewhat speculative. It depends on whether you believe these two have a familial bond that both extends from and collides with the relationship they share with Beyonce, one that is sibling-like in nature. (And I sincerely hope that this incident going public compels Solange to address what appears to be major anger management issues.) But even if you don’t see the connection, I hope this essay can stand on its own, dissecting a dynamic between family members that, in my experience, can be both incredibly loving and confusingly volatile, and is not discussed nearly as openly and honestly as it should be.