I’ve written about the Rihanna-domestic violence dichotomy before, and how no matter what the public persona presented in her music videos and interviews is, it’s consensual and it’s her prerogative. What Chris Brown did to her wasn’t.
But what role do her songs play in the unfortunately common perception that she “deserved” to get beaten by Brown; that she must’ve liked it if she sings about “S&M”; that she might have been egging Brown on in the form of “Breakin’ Dishes”.
We’ve heard a lot about the former two assertions. What I’d like to focus on in this post is her lesser-known single from the Good Girl Gone Bad album, “Breakin’ Dishes”.
Personally, I love the song and it’s one of my favourites from her. But, ashamedly, until recently I’d never put two and two together: the lyric “I’ma fight a man tonight”, the disbelief that female-on-male domestic violence exists, and Brown and Rihanna’s altercation three years ago.
Now, just to reiterate, I don’t think that what Rihanna sings about has any bearing on what goes on in her personal life (hell, she doesn’t even write her own songs). “Whips and chains” in the bedroom does not mean biting and punching in a car. But what does the lyric “I’m not gonna stop until I see police lights” mean coming from the mouth of Rihanna? That hitting a man and destroying his property is okay if you suspect he’s cheating? That it’s okay because he hit her first (yes, I am aware that “Breakin’ Dishes” was recorded well before the 2009 assault)? That it’s not really domestic violence because a woman hitting a man doesn’t do as much damage as opposed to the opposite occurring?
I’m not going to pretend that there are right and wrong answers to these questions, but I do know that intimate partner violence is never okay, no matter what the gender of the people involved. This is a message that we need to be getting across to everyone, so that those who are victims of it are better informed and equipped to leave the situation, and that they won’t be blamed or questioned for their role in it.
By the same token, and again, I’m not condoning or excusing it, sometimes the partner who takes the brunt of the violence is somewhat guilty of baiting their lover. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Someone might start saying things that they know are sensitive subjects for the violent party; maybe they’ll slap or shove them to see how far they can push them. Sometimes they thrive on the aftermath; having their partner comfort them and tell them how much they love them and that it’ll never happen again. But this is part of the cycle of violent relationships and the “grooming” that is done by the perpetrator. I don’t know what’s going on in the heads of those involved, but I can certainly sympathise.
I remember reading a comment on someone’s Facebook post about Chris Brown at the Grammys last week or the week before. The comment was saying that yes, what happened to Rihanna was bad, but her music and sexy image is also bad and is sending the wrong message to our children. (Will someone please think of the children?!) I’m sure the commenter wasn’t aware that what they were writing was essentially a domestic violence apologist statement, but that’s certainly how it came across to me. Like they were sorry Rihanna got hit, but what does she expect when she acts so sexy and independent all the time?
In 2012, we should be able to understand that “art” (however loosely that term is applied) is not always an imitation of life, and that humans are capable of critical thought to separate the two. Singing about consensual sadomasochism and a hypothetical violent fight between lovers, however tasteless and closely related they are, is never an excuse for actual intimate partner violence.
*Trigger Warning: This post deals with domestic violence and may be upsetting to some.
Related: My Thoughts on Chris Brown.
Image via MamaMia.