Monday, 16 November 2009

How Rihanna Became a True, Real Life Role Model

This was originally written for BitchBuzz Go and look at their lovely website. I'll be writing a piece for them each week which I will cross-post here.

Following the coverage of the Rihanna and Chris Brown abuse incident has been almost universally depressing. First there was the harrowing photograph of her battered face that was leaked by police, Brown’s fans relentlessly blogging about how she must have deserved it and, most recently, people saying she’s using her ‘victim’ status to sell records. If there was ever an event that showed how wide-spread misconceptions about intimate partner violence are, this was it.

I was so pleased then that Rihanna decided that she felt strong enough to be interviewed. Commenters have said that they had admired her silence on the matter, that it is more dignified to keep quiet than to speak out. A lot of people would rather Rihanna remained quiet. Chris Brown beat her allegedly because she would not be silent, because she wanted answers about his behaviour. She should not have to be quiet now if she doesn't want to be.

Importantly, she didn't just have things to reveal about her personal experience. Although the details about what she endured in the car that night are the most immediately shocking part of all this, the fact that this experience is shared by so many other young women is the real controversy. Approximately one in four teenage young women experience violence and abuse from a partner. Clearly Rihanna is not alone.

And it seems she is acutely, painfully aware of this fact. A few weeks after Chris Brown beat her up, she flew to be with him. In the interview, she describes the confusion she felt about her feelings towards him. She wasn't able to cut herself of from him immediately, which is understandable. As Rihanna points out herself, women are often abused eight or nine times before they leave a violent partner for good. The problem is, Rihanna is a huge star, admired by millions of young women around the world, one in four of whom will experience violence from a partner. Concerned that other women will follow her example, Rihanna advises abused women to distance themselves from their relationship and act for themselves in their best interests, "...don't react off of love, eff love. Come out of the situation and look at it third person...because love is so blind."

Encouraging women to leave physically abusive situations is important, but it's also important to be able to recognise the early signs of an abusive relationship. Rihanna mentions that Chris Brown had 'shoved' her before this happened. Even now, after having been beaten by this man, Rihanna plays down the prior physical abuse because it didn't leave her bruised. Commonly, women see some of the tell-tale signs of an abusive partner as flattering or loving. Jealously is seen as romantic and rows are often off-set by charming apologies.

When people wonder why teenage girls stay with violent boyfriends, this is often the reason. Relationships in the media are often portrayed as tempestuous and arguments are just a sign of passion. But there is a fine line between passion and abuse and it's important that young women and men are educated as to where that line is. Hopefully Rihanna's bravery in talking so candidly about her experience will educate other women in her position and help them to see that they do not need to be ashamed or alone. As Rihanna says "I am strong...this happened to me, it could happen to anybody."


  1. This is a really good article, it's to the point and doesn't dwell on the negative media coverage. It is positive and progressive. Jess x

  2. I hate hearing about how people think that she deserved to get beaten. I can't even imagine what it must be like to go through this when you're that famous.

  3. I got beaten up by a previous boyfriend way back (I was in my late teens, I am 32 now) and it frustrates me to see that in my country (Spain) many women who have been victims of physical/emotional abuse feel still ashamed to report the matter to the police, hide the bruises & scars from their relatives and many keep on living with the abuser :S

    75 women have died in this country because of that so far this year and it makes me go aaargh! A friend of mine is a social worker in a centre where women can take refuge and escape from their abusive partners but she tells me it takes them ages to listen to their advice and accept support to finish once and for all with those relationships.

    Society plays a huge negative role on this, the stigma a woman who has been beaten up carries with her. When it happened to me I even got a female friend saying ´Uhm...maybe you replied to him in a manner that was not respectful? We should respect men´. Honestly hope people don´t say that sort of nonsense these days.

    Sorry for all the rambling, hope what I am trying to say is understood. Touchy subject for me; you never forget this type of experience.

    I am glad to see Rihanna was strong enough emotionally to leave that piece of s... and speaking out about it will help her heal and make others realize it can happen to anyone.

  4. Thank you so much for your comment. I have had the same experience in the past. Seeing Rihanna do what I never could (talking candidly about all the complicated feeling surrounding what she experienced) moved me to tears.

    It's disgraceful that so many women carry this secret. 1 in 3 women in the UK. It shouldn't be this way. The only people who should feel ashamed are the men who are abusing women.