Being an avid R & B fan, I’ve followed Rihanna’s career from the very beginning. Years ago, I remember watching a talented, unassuming 18-year-old from Barbados being introduced to the public by Jay Z and quickly going on to make it big in North America with “Pon the Replay”. It was easy to see that she had what it took to become a huge star and she didn’t disappoint.
A hard worker, Rihanna never seemed to be in the tabloids like so many of her less talented peers. The only time I remember her name even making the news was when she controversially decided to cut her long hair short – a move that was deemed too edgy and “rock star” by some of her handlers. Rihanna seemed to have it all. A strong head on her shoulders, a solid work ethic, talent to burn, natural gorgeous looks and a career that included Grammy nominations, numerous Top 40 singles and a legion of dedicated fans around the world.
When word came out that she was quietly dating multi-talented R & B sensation Chris Brown the match seemed made in heaven: two talented, hard-working, good-looking kids in love? They were on top of the world!
Until the eve of this year’s Grammy ceremonies, when, according to police reports and eye witnesses, Chris Brown attacked and beat Rihanna to a bloody pulp of a mess, leaving her with facial injuries so severe, they were described as “horrific” by those who saw them.
The instant the story broke, everyone was talking about it and shows like “Entertainment Tonight” had commentators talking about issues of domestic abuse right alongside reports of that week’s fashion faux pas. There is something unsettlingly strange and disturbing about a culture that seamlessly lumps together serious social issues like conjugal violence with pop trivia and Perez Hilton’s off-the-cuff comments about celebutantes, but that’s a subject for another column.
While genuinely shocked at what was reported, I shook my head and just stayed quiet the first time I heard this make the news. While surprised, I wasn’t really surprised. Domestic violence happens everywhere – in the most privileged of places, and victims and perpetrators are sometimes those you least expect to play those roles.
Conjugal violence is insidious and silent; it’s like a bad secret that people don’t want to share and prefer to shove under the carpet. Just because these two kids looked like they had it all, didn’t mean that they did, right?
I even stayed quiet when I heard that the two of them had reunited in Miami and had been seen together. But now I’m pretty sure I’ve had about enough! Rumour has it that Rihanna and Chris Brown are busy recording a love song together! I nearly threw up my lunch when I heard this.
Here’s a guy who has been charged with two felonies making criminal threats and assault, recording a song with the girl that he beat up, like nothing ever happened! Here’s a guy who, by all accounts, has been violent before, and when faced with criminal charges, issued a moronic (and most importantly, cowardly) statement that he was “sorry and saddened”, like he was talking about something that had nothing to do with him at all! Where was the accountability? Where was Chris Brown’s attempt to own up to what he did?
I’m not one of those people who believe that artists and athletes have a duty to be role models to the rest of us. I’m not one of those fans who get upset if stars fail to live up to my deluded expectations of what they should be, but the Rihanna - Chris Brown situation annoyed me like few things have lately.
I know that things are rarely black and white and the public may not be privy to all the details, but it bugs me that someone who has the unique opportunity to show young women how they should be treated, is missing out on that chance and choosing instead to go back to someone who barely shows remorse, has no time for counselling because he’s busy recording love-sick songs with the women he beat up and has his lawyers negotiating some sort of plea bargain to keep him out of jail. Most battered women stay with their abusers because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their self-esteem in shambles and their sense of self-worth destroyed, they cling to the man who alternates between loving them and hurting them, somehow confusing his violence with passion. How many times have we heard the media refer to domestic abuse being played out as “just another family drama” instead of describing it for what it is: a crime, plain and simple? Some would say it’s just semantics, but it’s not. Calling it a family drama fails to place the blame where it belongs and minimizes it as something inconsequential.
Thousands of women die at the hands of the men who claim to love them every year. Thousands of women reduce themselves and their lives to something less than they could be because of the violent actions of men who somehow think that it’s okay to lay a hand on the woman who let them.
Rihanna could have sent a message – loud and clear- to all her teenage fans who listen to her and idolize her and want to be her. She could have showed them that a woman who believes in herself and her self-worth does not allow the man who claims to love her to beat her and reduce her to something of no value. She could have showed them that a strong, self-reliant, independent woman walks away and doesn’t look back. She could have forced Chris Brown into treatment and refused to accompany him to a studio to sing a love song together.
But such is life and people have to sometimes reach their own conclusions – even when they are crystal clear to the rest of us watching from the sidelines.
As the adage goes, if you can’t be an example with the life that you lead, then be an example with the mistakes that you make. Sooner or later, Rihanna will learn what all domestic abuse victims learn: love does not have to hurt, violence is not a crime of passion but of domination and everyone is accountable for their own actions. Even the victim.