March 2, 2009

The Rihanna Conundrum

So, as you all know, Rihanna got back together with Chris Brown. This is a stupid decision, we all know. What I'm not sure about, however, is whether I should boycott her AS WELL as him. Of course she is not deserving of anywhere near the same censure as he is no matter what arguments we make, but celebrities are social constructs, and should we celebrate and make famous someone who is such a poor role-model? The decision to go back to a beater is never a good one. When a man beats you as badly as Chris Brown beat Rihanna, there is almost always a second beating. It's a risk only a woman who needs to work on self-love would take. No man is funny enough, sexy enough and sweet enough when he's in a good mood to make up for the fact that he could well beat you when he gets mad. We should make sure all impressionable young girls no this. Still, to what degree, if any, should Rihanna suffer because she doesn't seem to realize this?

If I consider a musician to be an irresponsible role-model, I don't always boycott. Lilly Allen, for example, has admitted to doing some reasonably hard-core drugs and says they're not that bad if you don't get out of control with them. I don't boycott her. She's an artist and her raison d'etre is to start artistic dialogue, not to be a role-model. At the same time, while some people might argue that a little bit of drugs aren't that bad if you choose to do them for what you think is a fun sensory experience, how can we argue the same thing about physical abuse? This wasn't S and M gone wrong. Chris Brown hit Rihanna when they were both angry and she did not want to be hit. While it is possible to have some control over one's drug use (until addiction sets in), one can never control an abuser. He will hit you when he wants to, so, in light of this, should we be celebrating as celebrity a woman who stays with a man who has hit her practically into a coma?

I'm not sure what to do. All I can really do when it comes to someone as lofty and important as Rihanna to express my displeasure over her example is not to purchase her music, which is what I plan on doing with Chris Brown, but I feel bad treating her the way I treat him. Isn't she different? She was beaten? She was injured. She was abused. And yet, I don't want to celebrate her example. I don't want young woman, or any women, to think that it's acceptable or even the mark of a passionate, glamourous relationship, to go back to a man who beats you. I think I'm taking a break from Rihanna's music for the duration of her relationship wit Chris Brown. I sincerely hope that won't be too long.


Lux said...

I think it's important to remember that she is a real person in a real relationship. While yes, she is indeed a role model, she is also a woman facing the incredibly complex emotions (trauma, self-blame, lingering love) and mixed loyalties that come with being abused.

While it makes logical sense for her to leave Chris Brown, there is undoubtedly psychological abuse and manipulation at work that only she understands. We don't know the nuances of the relationship. We don't know if and how he has threatened and battered her in other ways. We also don't know what kind of advice she's receiving from people around her. Perhaps it may have gotten to the point where she believes she would be irrelevant without him. Perhaps she fears for her career if she leaves him.

Or, depending on what Chris Brown has said/done to her, perhaps she fears for her LIFE if she leaves him.

Of COURSE it would make her a strong, applaud-worthy role model if she left him, but most victims can't and don't walk away. How dare we punish her for doing the same? And what kind of message does our scorn send to other people suffering domestic violence? "If you slip up and forgive him even ONCE, we will judge -nay, punish- you"??

We shouldn't be boycotting Rihanna right now, we should be using this to spark a frank and public discussion about the REALITIES of domestic violence: like that it's fucking hard to leave your partner. Victims need support, not a boycott. Yes, even if they're not 100% resilient.

Steph said...

Interesting original post; great reply, Lux. Hope to read more of your articles and maybe even see you in the future. Hope everything is going well!