Rihanna and Chris Brown: Is it Fair to Judge?
I had one of those moments the other day.
You know, one of those times when you’re so outraged about something you read that you just have to… tweet?
OK, so maybe it’s somewhat unique to Generation Y (although both my baby boomer parents involved in the Twittersphere may suggest it’s not) but regardless, I was steamed and determined to express myself as completely and eloquently as possible in 140 characters or less.
The source of my disappointed was admittedly unorthodox: Rihanna. If I’m being honest, I hadn’t really ever taken much time out my day to consider her from a critical sense until that moment. While hardly a Saturday night has gone by in many years in which I haven’t done my best impression of capable dancing to one of her numerous hit singles, I wouldn’t say I’ve ever pondered the wider cultural repercussions of “Rude Boy.” But earlier this week I read something about Rihanna that caused me to view her in a different light and quite frankly, troubled me.
On Monday, Rihanna released a song in which she collaborated with Chris Brown, who, as many know, pled guilty to assault charges when the two were dating more than three years ago. The release of the songs (Brown also released a remix featuring Rihanna) have begun to spark rumors that the Grammy Award-winning artists may be getting back together.
Upon hearing the news, my immediate reaction was to tweet about what a disappointing example the singer was setting by getting back together with a man who brutalized her, particularly after she made a lot of money singing songs relating to the instance. What if these previous recordings had indeed just been a twisted marketing ploy? In addition, I explained how I was disenchanted that we lived in a country that would likely popularize these new remixes and in doing so, support a person who was, in my opinion through her actions, condoning domestic violence as a forgivable act.
I tweeted my peace, then happily stood on my moral high ground (Have you been? The view is great — you almost can see all the way to narcissism!), but, fortunately, I was interrupted.
One of my good friends, who I respect not only for being a fantastic stand up comedian, but also for being amongst the most intellectual people I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with, took great issue with my sentiments, which I had honestly assumed were mostly universally accepted — Rihanna was in the wrong here, right?
My friend explained to me that Rihanna was not condoning domestic violence through her actions, she was merely a victim of domestic violence acting as many victims of domestic violence do by returning to their abuser.
This is absolutely true, as Steven Stosny, counselor and founder of the anger and violence management program CompassionPower, told CNN in 2009. Stosny explained that abuse victims will “leave [their abusers] out of either fear, anger or resentment, but then, after the fear, anger or resentment begins to subside, they feel guilt, shame, anxiety, and that takes them back.”
As Ellyn Loy, director of clinical services at the House of Ruth in Maryland, further iterated to the New York Daily News, “Statistics show generally that half of women leave and half go back a number of times before they make a final decision about the relationship”
My friend also expressed to me that she didn’t think it was right to make a victim of violence and oppression into a spokesperson just because they were abused.
The sentiments forced me to do some soul-searching and examine some real questions I hadn’t considered regarding the situation. First, it’s objectively a bad decision for someone to return to an abusive spouse, but does Rihanna forfeit her right to make a bad decision that many women in her situation have made before by virtue of her public standing? Secondly, why was my immediate reaction to pass blame on Rihanna rather than Chris Brown? And finally, and probably most importantly, who the hell am I to pass judgment on a woman dealing with a trauma I’ve never experienced?
My main disappointment — which is likely one that many share — at the prospect of Rihanna getting back together with Chris Brown is the disturbing precedent I feel she is setting as a woman who is involved in the most high-profile case of domestic violence in the past decade. If someone like Rihanna, who is considered universally to be among the most charismatic, powerful and, needless to say, beautiful women in our society can find a way to forgive a man who beat her, perhaps it could have an effect on how other women in violent relationships treat the idea of forgiving their abusers.
But how is it necessarily fair to expect someone to move on when their entire career and fame is directly attached to one extremely traumatic incident. Should we be disappointed in Rihanna for releasing this remix, or should we be disappointed in ourselves for, years later, still elevating Chris Brown to such iconic status that he is relevant enough to win Grammys and appear atop charts years after this incident? The media and society have clearly forgiven Chris Brown by virtue of not giving him the disgrace of being completely forgotten, so is it fair of us to expect Rihanna not to eventually forgive him as well?
Even if the collaboration was reportedly her idea, if Chris Brown had any character or dignity, he would have refused to participate, if only because he had to know that Rihanna would be the one who would feel the brunt of the backlash for it.
I can’t stand by Rihanna’s decision to release this song — if she’s indeed going to get back together with this guy, she shouldn’t attempt to immediately cull a profit from it — but I will say that I think this situation is more complex than I, and perhaps many others, initially considered.
I’m still quite conflicted in terms of my thoughts on this matter, but the situation as a whole has caused me to re-evaluate the reasons why I rushed to certain judgments so quickly.
Because I still don’t have an answer to it, I’ll pose this question to you: Do you feel that Rihanna has a responsibility to act in a certain way in regards to this situation because of her public standing?
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