Let’s Stop Misdirecting Anger Over Cultural Misogyny At Rihanna

Over the past week or so, countless blog posts have been written, and then deleted, about Rihanna‘s buzzy collaboration with the man who almost beat her to death. On the one hand, people are confused and upset as to why one of the biggest pop stars in the world would not only forgive, but appear, via amorous tweets and duets about rough sex, to be getting intimate again with her abuser. This is especially gutting, considering the fact that Rihanna has previously stated in interviews that she wants to break the cycle of abuse both she and Chris Brown grew up with, set a good example for her young fans in similar relationships, and take good care of herself. “Even if Chris never hit me again, who is to say that their boyfriend won’t?” she told Diane Sawyer in 2009 of her decision to stay away from him. “Who’s to say that they won’t kill these girls? These are young girls, and I just didn’t realize how much of an impact I had on these girls’ lives until that happened. It was a wake-up call.” What happened to that sentiment?

Then again, what, if anything, can we reasonably ask of a victim of abuse? None of this is Rihanna’s fault, and imploring her to be a better role model feels an awful lot like victim-blaming. Articles like The Hairpin’s “Why, Rihanna?” rub me the wrong way, because by judging a victim of abuse for not “snapping out of it” and cutting the guy from her life as quickly as we’d like her to, we are subjecting her to yet another attempt to dominate, even if we think it’s for her own good. Victims of abuse do not need to be shown “tough love.” They’ve experienced enough fucked up manifestations of love already. Even when you care deeply about someone, this is a hard line to walk. To do it to someone you don’t even know seems fairly indefensible, even if that person is a public figure.

This topic hits close to home for me, as I’ve tried to help a friend through a similar situation. Your friend needs you very much when this shit happens to her, and if you yell at her or try to shame her into doing what’s best for her, you are knocking a leg out from under her support system and increasing the chances she’ll get back with her abuser. You may feel powerless in this situation. You may want to kidnap her and feed her steady a diet of Xena: Warrior Princess and tell her she is awesome and strong and amazing until she no longer has any tender feelings for the asshole who sent her to the hospital, but you can’t. What you can do is less dramatic, but much more helpful in the long run: You listen. You help her work through her complicated feelings, again, by listening and understanding. You offer up advice in a non-judgmental way. You do the things you like to do together, to help remind her that she has a great life and will be fine without him. You do not act weird around her or treat her like a wounded animal. You do not let victimhood define her in your eyes, because that’s giving the narrative over to the abuser. She’s still the same rad person. He can’t take that away!

And yet, this situation feels different, because unlike most people in abusive relationships, Chris Brown and Rihanna are using this “controversial” reconciliation to promote their careers. From the forgiving tweets (“no pain is forever”), to the sexy lyrics, to the inevitable sexy photos, this collaboration seems intentionally designed to profit off the buzz generated by internet arguments. And, like it or not, it’s working. Both singles are getting a ton of attention. To make matters worse, the music establishment is apparently totally cool with Chris Brown now, as evidenced by a Very Chris Brown Grammy Awards. To illustrate how deep this goes, when I was writing for MTV, I had to cover Chris Brown’s music without mentioning how he was The Worst, because MTV wants to maintain a good relationship with his fucking record label. Ugh.

It’s okay to be mad about this stuff, but don’t be mad at Rihanna. Be mad at all the handlers and PR people who thought “abused woman gets back with abuser” was a great narrative to use to promote two singles. Be mad at all the music business types who are either going along with this, or actively pushing it, because it will make them money. Be mad at an industry that accepts an unrepentant abuser with open arms. Be mad at the misogynistic society that taught Rihanna’s young fans that if you get beaten up by your boyfriend, it’s partly your fault. Be mad at a culture that rewards a woman for making up with her abuser, and penalizes her for staying angry at him. Staying angry might have worked for someone like Lady Gaga, but Rihanna’s image is basically that of a sex object, and nobody wants their sex object to be pissed off. Rihanna is smart enough to know this.

People are acting shocked about this when they shouldn’t be. This shit happens all the time, and it’s only shocking if you’re really sheltered. However, you should indeed be angry, even more so because it’s so common. However, like I said, and I cannot say this enough times, being mad at Rihanna is a horrible misdirection of blame that would be more productively directed at the patriarchy. Then again, I guess it’s easier to berate a single person than it is to acknowledge that our society as a whole is still, in 2012, deeply misogynistic and in need of revolutionary overhaul. Easier, more complacent, and a total cop out.

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    • Wilma

      I think people are mostly disgusted that she would use the situation as an opportunity to capitalize on. It sends an ugly message.

    • sweetpea

      I agree Wilma. I also think that the author of this article comparing Rihanna to the average woman out there who`s in an abusive situation isnt fair. She has a choice: she has no children with this man, she`s not dependent on him financially or even emotionally since im sure they werent together for so long. She probably has a very large group of people looking out for her. The everyday woman in an abusive reationship is usually so intertwined with her abuser, and lives under the threat of death of herself or her children that getting out is very difficult. Rihanna has a choice. And if she really cared about her young listeners, which i doubt she does, she`d have turned her back on Chris for good and forever.

      • Katie

        I totally agree with you and Wilma. The fact that she is monopolizing on this is sickening and she could care less about how it affects young girls. Idealizing, fantasizing any abuse is sick and Rihanna has been crossing the line for a long time. She not only promotes abuse, but s&m. She choses her own music (just listen to her, she says it herself) SHE created her image (again, HER comments) and she could care less what any one thinks. She dresses her way, acts and does as she pleases and wants people to believe she “cares” about her fans and young girls. Bologna! She is money hungry, and if she did not agree with her label, she has enough to walk away and never sing again. SHAME on Rihanna and those that support her.

    • Fah

      Wilma and Sweatpea–yes.

      This article is a dog’s breakfast, overwhelmed with tired rhetoric.

      I have become so cynical with mainstream entertainment that I do actually wonder if Rhianna was actually beaten. Not having seen her doctor’s report and not actually having viewed her injuries in person, all I have to base my assessment on are internet images.

      You yourself make Rhianna out to be a victim “Be mad at the handlers and PR people who thought “abused woman gets back with abuser” was a great narrative…”. I suppose she had the metaphorical gun to her head?

      Also, one does wonder if Rhinnna was another woman on the street would she end up in an abusive relationship-or did fame play its part.

      • K

        I respect your point of view but I don’t think there’s any reason to question the validity of Rihanna’s claims – it would be pretty hard to see the injuries in person (why would one want to?). It’s really sad what Taylor Armstrong has done to increase the doubt surrounding DV victims even unintentionally.

      • Fah


        The point I made about Rhianna’s injuries was only to illustrate the level cynicism I have developed toward marketers/PR’s etc-I am doubting their ethics. Call me devil’s advocate if that makes it easier to understand.

    • Magda

      Maybe I’m looking at this situation the wrong way, but since I first heard of the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident it doubly emphasized for me that celebrities and public figures are human beings first. It may not be the right way, but they are real people with real human flaws.

      Cluster-fuck of label reps, PR people and adoring fans aside, Rihanna is still a 24 year-YOUNG woman with her own past and her own issues that cast a shadow over her life and decisions.

      We can’t judge the life/decisions of someone who we(as the public) only get very limited and highly edited snip-its of information pertaining to their “private lives”. Its hard enough to be part of/witness an abusive relationship with out having it broadcast repeatedly.

      • Katie

        Yes, BUT! That repeated broadcast, no matter how negative (in fact the more negative the better) PAYS well! As celebrities say, ANY news is good news. Just keep their name out there! Ever hear of celebs starting their OWN rumors to keep fans attention?

      • Magda

        I completely agree with all of that. I also agree with the argument that if she really was concerned about her public image/the impression she leave on her young fans and the example she sets, not to mention her own physical/emotional/mental well-being, she would walk away from her career and be satisfied with her accomplishments.

        My point isn’t that what she is doing is wrong, but that we can’t judge/understand her actions/decisions(well beyond financial gain, perhaps) any more than any other person. Again, because she is a human being with her own set of experiences and flaws and what not that influence her decisions. And if she really does have a “family history of domestic abuse”, maybe she’s just like any other girl that was never told that that’s wrong. It takes a lot of work to undo years of conditioning.

      • Magda

        sorry, “my point isn’t that what she is doing **isn’t** wrong…”

        I had to correct myself.

    • LCB

      What you are suggestion is troublesome: Be mad at the regime, but not the face of it.

      Rihanna’s sex pot imagery is totally fine and good with me — I’m certainly all for someone reclaiming their sexuality after something so tragic. But the fact that she is a complacent participant, someone who was very articulate and human with Diane Sawyer and is now profiting off her abuse is so upsetting to me. I mean, you go girl for turning your tragedy into money or whatever, but what she (or the PR machine, or her handlers, but for the most part it’s her face we are looking at up there, beaten or not) is doing is degrading what women go through with abuse.

      Look, if Rihanna can get punched in the face a few times and then get over it to the point that she can sing songs with her abuser, then why can’t you just let it go? I’m not saying that we should keep DOMESTIC ABUSE in caps lock forever, but watching Rihanna generate HYPE because of it makes me disgusted (and has effectively ruined “We Found Love” for me, which makes me doubly angry).

      • Jamie Peck

        How is Rihanna in any way “the face of” the regime? Really, you are going to choose her over Chris Brown or the people making money off her? She is not part of a patriarchal conspiracy. She is a messed up person in an abusive relationship and just because she’s famous or happens to be making money off of her self-destructive actions does not make her any less deserving of basic human decency.

    • Mommie with kids

      I can understand your obvious disgust with thi unfortunate situation, but understand my disgust in your writing. It is said that people use profanity because of an inability to expressed themselves with appropriate language. You are a writer. what is your excuse?

      Beware children read too!

      • Lauren

        The Gloss is a website for adults, not for children. If your child is reading this website maybe you should monitor your own child better.

        As a writer, she has every right to use whatever words get her message across the way she wants to get it across. I thought this article was great, and really helped people understand the situation better.

      • Chris

        there is so many things worst about a kid reading this page then the occasional f-bomb… if you filtered your internet they wouldn’t be on here… I’m not sure how i got on here… just thought id point out how stupid your criticism is.. i think ill log into my fav porn site and complain about the nudity. seeya

    • Jamie Peck

      The victim blaming going on in these comments is disgusting, and exactly why I wrote this article. You are all proving my point.

      • Angie

        We’re all proving your point? Really? If you are trying to blame your readers for missing your point, maybe your point is articulated very well??

      • Paul Rodriguez


        Your point is stupid! Very narrow-minded writing. congratulations!

    • Eileen

      Every so often, you write an article that makes me wish I had more time to read this site again. This is one of those times. Blame Rihanna because she isn’t strong enough to break out of a messed-up relationship while dealing with the pressures of her very public career? Yeah that makes total sense!

      I don’t mind Chris Brown having a career again – I look at/listen to a lot of art created by people who I think are or were jerks – but he’s still the worst, and HE, and the culture that implies that he is NOT the worst, are the ones to blame here.

      I’m just going to listen to “Love the Way You Lie” again.