Chris Brown and Rihanna are singing about how they want to fuck each other, and everyone is talking about it.
She’s either a marketing genius who knows just what the media wants, the editorials say, or she’s a lost little superstar who doesn’t realize the impact that her choices are having on impressionable teenage girls everywhere.
It doesn’t matter which one it is, because we can’t look away.
Why? Because this latest musical collaboration is sexy.
The website for Jewish moms is talking about it. The Love Is Not Abuse campaign is talking about it. MTV and VH1 and every newspaper in the country is talking about it, and now, it has become something bigger than The Cycle of Domestic Violence.
Pain and love are easily confused.
When I was 21 I fell for Marine Sniper. We met at work, a residential treatment center for kids who had severe behavioral disorders. He was a counselor there, and we worked the same shift. And he was HOT. He was also batshit crazy. He had trained as a marine, but then apparently softened when his time was up, and spent his days working with emotionally disturbed 8 year olds. When I met him he had just broken up with another co-worker, who had the same short blonde pixie cut that I did, the same brazen feminist attitude, the same sweet college co-ed looking for trouble vibe. She had also just taken out a restraining order against him. But Marine Sniper was hot, and convincing, and charming. And I had spent the last five years with a pit in the bottom of my stomach that I was always looking to fill.
Our relationship was volatile. Marine Sniper was brazen, and cocky, and always careful to let his temper flare juuust enough so that I stayed on edge. Driven by my 21 year old fuck-you attitude, I thought his behavior was hot. So hot that I found him outside of my bedroom window one night when another friend was visiting. So hot that when I drove home at 11:30 after staying out with other friends he walked out from behind the bushes and pushed his way into my garage. Which was…..not hot. It was insane.
He lunged toward me as he asked where I had been. He said that the little tiny clip I always wore in my hair was missing. That it must mean I had been hooking up with another guy, if the hair clip had fallen out.
Crazy looks a lot like love, when you see it in the moonlight.
With hindsight, I know that the adrenaline rush of “crazy” is not sexy. But I’m 33 now, and I don’t have the world watching my learning process. By writing articles, and quoting their lyrics about “fucking”, and showing pictures of two hot superstars dancing together on stage, the media machine is making domestic violence sexy.
By choosing to have Chris Brown on her record, and choosing to court the media by baiting them with a ready-made story, Rihanna feels powerful. If she can show that she is in control, that the trajectory of her painful relationship is now being steered by her own doing, then she gets her power back. Isn’t that true? It’s spin, in it’s simplest form.
Actually, it’s The Cycle of Domestic Violence, rich and famous style. Chris Brown beats the crap out of her, she goes through the requisite stages of fear/anger/denial/hope, and then she leaves him. And then he
brings her flowers sings two tracks for her and suddenly they are falling down the rabbit hole of something that feels a lot like love….again.
Except the world is watching. And the only way that we can feel better about ourselves while we watch this train wreck, is by making it sexy.
Rihanna is not taking back her power. She is lost in a cultural maelstorm that tells girls that strong men who have power over you are hot.
Don’t believe me? Then why did you watch him on the Grammy’s? Why did he get an interview on morning talk shows? Why have you read every article that has been published in every tabloid?
Why is the media making domestic violence sexy? Because we are letting them.
They’re using the pictures of a leather-clad Rihanna bumping and grinding on stage, not the pictures where her face is torn up and bruised. If we continue to let these celebrities parade their choices in front of us, then we become immune to the truth about domestic violence. If we pay for the magazines, if we buy their records, if we tweet that we’d “totally let Chris Brown beat ME up” (don’t act shocked, some girls just did that this week), then we are allowing ourselves to be swept up headfirst into Chris Brown’s sick little “hearts and flowers” game.
The truth is that hot girls get hit too. The truth is that famous people make horrible, misguided choices sometimes. The truth is that our society values music, and money, and power, and Chris Brown’s handsome smirk more than they value protecting women. They will continue to invite him to perform. Fans will continue buying his music. Until we can finally bring ourselves to look away.
Rihanna is not your neighbor. She is not your friend. If she was, then of course I would be pleading with you to stage the best kind of intervention you can muster up. Rihanna is surrounded by a very tight group of women. She is protected by handlers, and record execs, and bodyguards, and friends. And if she is not ready to leave, she won’t.
How do I know this? Because when I worked for the police department, we had a saying. “If you don’t have a victim, you don’t have a crime.” Every morning the Domestic Violence Advocates would split up the police reports that came in the night before. I would get last names A-L. We would call each person listed as “v1” (victim) and attempt to do a fast and furious crisis counseling session by phone. Most of the time we were hung up on. Most of the time we were calling victims who we had called before. Most of the time when someone did talk to us, they said “thanks, but I’m really ok”. The report would go in the shred pile that lived in the cardboard box underneath my desk. It was department policy to call twice, and then move on. I get it. I don’t blame the women that wouldn’t talk to us. That is what domestic violence does. Abusers are GOOD at this. If they hit you once and then were complete assholes after, then no one would ever stay. But they’re professionals. They are well-trained. They know how to make-up, how to be charming, how to make you fear for your life while telling you how fucking pretty you look in that dress. And then you let them sing on your record, because they really can’t be all that bad if they’re still winning Grammys.
It usually takes multiple times of being abused before a woman tries to leave.
So it might sound counter-intuitive for me, who a few weeks ago told you about all of the things that you can do to help a woman leave, to now tell you this:
Look the other way.
Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t let Rihanna and Chris Brown and the media machine tell you what is sexy. Don’t buy their records. Don’t buy the magazines that they’re in. Send a letter to the morning talk shows that give him a platform. Support Rihanna and her process by not glamorizing the fact that she is fully entrenched in the “make-up” part of the domestic violence cycle. Do not add to her false sense of security, her mistaken attempt at proving her power, by becoming her audience.
And please, teach your sons and daughters what sexy really is. Boys who shake your father’s hand are sexy. Boys who slow down when you tell them to are sexy. Guys who are gentle and kind are sexy. Husbands who sit down with you to get your opinion about parenting and bills and dinner menus are sexy. Men who respect your body and listen to your voice and ask you questions that exercise your mind are sexy.
All the leather pants and club music and sweet soulful back-up singing in the world can not make domestic violence sexy. So don’t let it.