Lived Through Abuse: Leslie Morgan Steiner’s Story of Crazy Love
Dating back to a typical day in last winter break when I was lying on my bed watching news and all other random clips on YouTube, a recommended video showed up on the right side of my screen, which was a TED talk titled “Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave?” by Leslie Morgan Steiner. I do not remember how it captured my attention and led me to click on it, but I watched the full sixteen-minute speech, which became the one that impressed me the most among numerous TED talks that I have watched in my life. During the sixteen minutes of the video, Steiner as a very successful female told her own story of an unsuccessful marriage with an abusive man, and being a survivor of domestic violence, she tackled this social problem not by lecturing about its historical backgrounds or social effects but by addressing this commonly asked question. For me, domestic violence is more like an abstract thing which I learn from the news, so every time when I saw thrilling statistics and pictures of domestic abuse, or stories of women got beaten by their husbands for years, I had similar questions in my mind since leaving someone who abuses you sounds like a matter of course, especially when the victims are adults who can make independent decisions. Being a domestic violence survivor herself, Steiner gave her answers in the speech, but more importantly, she convinced me and revised my opinion of domestic violence victims. Here, I want to discuss some wise choices she made over the three rhetorical appeals carried out by Aristotle including ethos, logos, and pathos and how the use of these devices has contributed to the effective delivery of messages in her speech.
Ethos, or ethical appeals, concern the credibility and worthiness of the speaker from three aspects: intellectual, moral, and social. Steiner enhanced her ethos in a number of ways. Before she started off the talk, her initial credibility had already been established by her eye-catching degrees from Harvard College and Wharton School of Business as well as her reputation as a journalist, a public speaker, a business woman, and a bestselling author of the book Crazy Love, which is her memoir of the abusive relationship that she had fallen into. Therefore, Steiner had been believed to be credible and with good sense in the audience’s perceptions, even before her saying a word. Steiner tended to reinforce this impression in the opening story by emphasizing the elite education she had received and the career achievements she had made in Fortune 500 companies like Johnson & Johnson, Leo Burnett, and The Washington Post. At the same time as Steiner convinced her audience that she is a credible source and her talk is worth listening to, she also made efforts in building her moral character by being straightforward and honest. For example, when introducing her speech topic of domestic violence, she said, “I’m not a psychiatrist, a social worker, or an expert in domestic violence. I’m just one woman with a story to tell” (00:00:39 – 00:00:46). Steiner made her words more trustworthy by demonstrating that she was not hiding anything or tricking the audience, and she clearly articulated what she intended to say with proper use of vocabulary as well as simple and direct sentences which improved clarity and avoided confusions. In the last several minutes, after Steiner finished the storytelling, she reminded the audience of her cares about them and said, “Right now, maybe you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this is fascinating,’ or, ‘Wow, how stupid was she,’ but this whole time, I’ve actually been talking about you” (00:13:55 – 00:14:08). Steiner expressed her will of helping other victims throughout the speech, and these built up her social credibility of goodwill as the audience believe that they are respected.
During the speech, Steiner mainly focused on the female victims of domestic violence in intimate relationships, which might be her major purpose of giving a TED talk that was to acknowledge the audience about patterns of abusive relationships and help women stay from abuse. But still, Steiner worked hard on making herself sound fair and just. She reminded the audience of the fact that a large number of children and a few men are also victimized by domestic violence and suffer from long-term traumas brought by the abuse.
Different from ethos, logos are logical appeals associated with the power of the message itself including content, structure, and style. Domestic violence has long been a disturbing social problem which the audience care about, but most people are not able to notice and distinguish unhealthy aspects in a relationship. Steiner in her speech conveyed valuable information about the patterns and early signs of abusive relationships and acknowledged the audience of ways to step out of a bad relationship and save other victims from domestic violence. The structure of her speech was smooth and well organized, where every component perfectly fitted in and was easy to follow, and she connected all the information pieces with her personal stories and experiences of surviving from domestic abuse. For example, Steiner introduced four stages of domestic violence relationships in between her stories with a very logical organization, and the stories were vivid and detailed for the audience to picture. Thus when she illustrated what had happened at each stage in her own case, the explanations made a lot more sense and provided a more intuitive understanding. To convince her audience, Steiner cited several facts and statistics while telling stories, for example, “One in three American women experiences domestic violence or stalking at some point in her life” (00:09:57), and “The CDC reports that 15 million children are abused every year” (00:10:05). However, most statistical data that she used was absent of references which became unsupportive of her reasoning. In the latter part of the speech, Steiner gave her answers to the question she had in the title, and she broke it down to two parts – “Why did I stay?” and “Why didn’t I walk out?” — and answered them separately with logical reasoning. The two questions sounded identical, but Steiner’s answer to the first question was that she did not realize that was abuse since she thought herself as a “very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man” and wanted to heal him. But for the second question, she did not leave due to the concerns over the aftermath of ending a domestic violence relationship, such as murders, long-term stalking, and manipulation of the family court system. The cited statistics data showed that more than 70% of domestic violence murders occur after the victim decided to end the relationship since the abuser then “has nothing left to lose.” Steiner’s answers to the question were well organized to drag the talk back to her intro, thus the pieces were linked up an integrated talk.
Pathos refer to the emotional appeals of the speech that enable the speaker to connect with the audience’s feelings and values and influence their attitudes. Pathos are the strategies that Steiner used most frequently and effectively throughout her entire speech especially when telling her personal stories. Steiner captured the audience’s interests and attention at the very beginning with a hook. “I had just graduated from Harvard College,” Steiner said with smiles, “I had moved to New York City for my first job as a writer and editor at Seventeen magazine. I had my first apartment, my first little green American Express card, and I had a very big secret” (00:00:48 – 00:01:05). She utilized parallel sentences to emphasize her bright life as a Harvard graduate with an enviable job, which was surprising for the audience and thus aroused their curiousness about her story. The smiles on her face disappeared at the same time she paused, and then she took out a gun from her handbag, held it on her hand, and said, “My secret was that I had this gun loaded with hollow-point bullets pointed at my head by the man who I thought was my soulmate, many, many times.” Her pace while saying the last few words was very slow, which invoked sympathy. Steiner kept enhancing pathos in the storytelling, and the emotions cumulated to reach the peak when she depicted the details of Connor abusing her: “Connor first physically attacked me five days before our wedding…” (00:08:13), “…It happened twice more on the honeymoon, …he threw a cold Big Mac in my face” (00:09:20 – 00:09:43), “…he held those loaded guns to my head, pushed me down stairs, threatened to kill our dog, pulled the key out of the car ignition as I drove down the highway, poured coffee grinds on my head…” (00:10:26 – 00:10:40). During the three minutes, the cameras gave several shots to the audience, and I observed their reactions and saw some people frowned and some covered their mouths with a hand, which means their emotions, like sympathy, surprise, pity, and anger, were largely evoked. In addition, to build connection with her audience and prompt actions against domestic violence, Steiner captured what the audience all value: children, family, peace and love, thus she emphasized her current life that had been rebuilt after breaking the silence and walking out, which was free of violence, and she displayed a picture of her with her husband now and her three kids. With the picture projected on the screen, she took the gun again on her hands and said, “What I will never have again, ever, is a loaded gun held to my head by someone who says that he loves me” (00:13:43 – 00:13:54). “I promise you there are several people listening to me right now who are currently being abused or who were abused as children or who are abusers themselves,” she said, “Abuse can be affecting your daughter, your sister, your best friend right now” (00:14:09 – 00:14:30). The last several minutes of Steiner’s speech were the most impressive and touching, which Steiner appealed to empathy and made the audience know that she cares about them and they share same values, therefore the audience would act to end domestic violence by “shining a spotlight on it.” Extended to the more general audience of all people who were watching her talk, Steiner used pathos to connect with them and encourage victims to break the silence.
During the sixteen minutes of talk, Steiner wisely constructed a good balance between ethos, pathos, and logos which contributed to assist the delivery of messages and the communications with the audience. Pathos seemed to have the most power for Steiner’s speech as her main purpose was to call on the audience to know more about patterns and signs of domestic abuse and help survivors rebuild new life free of violence. Besides the application of the three rhetorical techniques, Steiner’s speech also provides me with intuitions of using a variety of tones and paces to capture interests, emphasize important information, and appeal to emotions.
Steiner, Leslie M. “Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave.” YouTube, uploaded by TED Talk, 25 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1yW5IsnSjo&t=849s