When I caught wind that Chris Brown and Rihanna are secretly back together I wondered what kind of response, if any, they would receive from the public. Neither of them owe anything to their fans. And as someone who purposefully changed the radio station every single time I heard either of their voices for over two years, they definitely don’t owe me an explanation. I instituted an all things Rihanna and Chris Brown boycott after he brutally attacked her and she went back to him.
Fools in love is the only explanation there is.
Maybe I was too hard on them. After all, domestic violence is often trans-generational. If you ask Chris Brown, he repeatedly witnessed such violence between his step-father and mother. Whether or not I accept his really convenient childhood accounts of abuse, it still doesn’t even come close to excusing what he did to Rihanna’s face, sense of security and dignity. But the data does tell a harrowing story. If every nine seconds a woman in the U.S. is victim to domestic violence, and men are twice as likely to be violent against women if they’ve witnessed it, and 20% of teenage girls have been in relationships with partners who at the very least threatened violence, then this isn’t just a black and white case. Maybe Chris Brown isn’t a villain. Maybe he needs help. Maybe most people need help addressing this concern as it trends among teenagers. (It also makes me wonder why we focus so much of our energy on other moral issues when over 90% of women’s number one concern has to do with making society a safer place for women.)
As time went on, I felt myself softening with compassion for Chris and Rihanna. At the time of the assault, they were only 21 and 19, no more or less mature than other young adults. I know now, having matured quite a bit myself in the past three years, that they were hardly the people they wanted to be back then. They were acting in roles they’d seen members of their family play out. And as wrong as the entire situation continues to be, it was also wrong that their shit was aired for the entire celebrity gossip following world to smell and judge. Most of us behaved in out of character ways when we were their age. And most of us grew better character, thankful that our finest scumbag moments weren’t all the buzz on Facebook or Twitter. When I was 21, I made decisions that left my friends shaking their heads. You’d shake your head, too. Actually, you’d probably want to slap me. But you know better.
When Rihanna broke things off once and for all with Chris Brown and vowed to never get back with him, I didn’t believe her. But only because I know it’s a cycle that’s incredibly difficult for women to break regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion, education, etc. There’s something about this dynamic makes women think they 1) deserved it or 2) that it would never happen again or 2) violence is really a mask for love. Nothing about why women stay with their abusers really makes all that much sense to me. I guess that’s true for much of life does, so imagine my surprise when they actually stayed broken up and appeared to really work on themselves as much as their careers. So surprised I was that when I heard them on the radio, I didn’t immediately change the station. I was able to separate them from their mistakes, enjoy their gift of music, and forgive them for showing us too much humanity. We all deserve as many chances as it takes to get life right, right? I couldn’t expect her to be above the domestic violence model just because she’s Rihanna, the popstar; when in all likelihood it was Rihanna, the young woman, who had to endure. I’m not surprised that she’s back with him, if she is in fact back with him. I hate it. I hate it because regardless of whether these two young superstars desire to be role models, young people still look to them as a model for how to live and how to love.
There is something very wrong in our society when people, particularly women, respond in jest about domestic violence. Frankly, I feel like it’s an injustice to women (and men) who come under assault from their loved ones to call it domestic violence. As if by naming it something other than what it is, by a less threatening name, it makes the act less hurtful, less violent, less serious. It has been almost three years since we saw the bruises on Rihanna’s face, the bite marks, the holding marks, the contusions, the look of directed rage between a man and woman so close and intimate and it couldn’t be any more evident that we dropped the ball. Twenty-five women said Chris Brown could beat them anytime he wanted.
Twenty-five daughters. Twenty-five sisters. Twenty-five cousins. Twenty-five friends. These are 25 women who either think domestic violence and sexual assault is funny or that it could never happen to them or that it’s not that big of a deal. Of the 25 tweets with identifying photo icons, it appears most of these women aren’t even women. They’re young girls. Most of them are white (not that that matters) but I wonder if it seems less real to them because they don’t perceive domestic violence to be an actual threat. I wonder if they know just how real it is for any of us. I wonder how they would react to something like this blog post. Maybe they’d think I’m overreacting or taking them too seriously. Maybe the tweets were suggestive in a sexual manner, prelude to the kind of sexually violent foreplay demonstrated in Rihanna and Eminem‘s video Love the Way You Lie. In which case, I’m even more confused and not at all sure where we start or how we start to educate one another about the perils of unleashed rage against intimate partners. The kind of fighting that went on in that video gave the impression of an all-consuming love that had nowhere to go but over the line into a violent and blind rage. For someone who doesn’t know any better, the racy video was sexy and exciting. It didn’t seem to be a caution against domestic violence but rather seemed to be an invitation to explore a more intense and passionate kind of love and sex.
There has to be a better way to teach love. We send the message that love is respect and that shows the contrary. We send the message that love doesn’t have to hurt and they cheer on a pop star who wailed on his girlfriend and jokingly invites the same kind of behavior on themselves. I’m concerned for our daughters and sisters who think this is anything other than tragic. I’m concerned for our sons and brothers who think this is anything other than unacceptable.