In March, we at RH Reality Check covered the high-profile domestic abuse story involving R&B stars Chris Brown and Rihanna, analyzing how the story played in to larger cultual tropes surrounding abuse, particularly sexist ideas about women’s bodies and women’s place in society and within relationships.
When the story broke, Brown was a pretty-boy singer with great dance moves and an angelic face, and it took the public and media a long time to come around to the idea that there was no "other side to the story," that there was no way to reconcile Brown’s image with his actions. First grizzly pictures of Rihanna’s face immediately after the incident, later a plea bargain, and now Brown’s rather remorseless, embarrassing and callous public appearances–including criticizing Oprah for being one of the few media personalities to talk in-depth about patterns of abuse– have now put the nail on the coffin which should have been shut months ago, as soon as we knew that Brown’s actions that night caused an unassuming passerby to call the cops.
Too many people treat Chris Brown
as if he is some uniquely monstrous villain; instead of recognizing that abuse is often rooted just as much in cultural norms as in individual psychology (specifically, those cultural norms that say men should be dominant, and respond to perceived threats to their dominance with aggression, and that women’s bodies and lives should be subject to outside control) they make it a conversation about whether he is a bad person. He just might be! But, to minimize or eliminate abuse, we can’t focus on saving each and every individual soul. We have to focus on changing the culture.
Although it’s a relief that the public has finally stopped victim-blaming with Rihanna, there’s little extrapolation of the lessons we’ve learned in this case to the larger social patterns that affect gender-based violence everywhere.
Media and public reactions to the Pittsburgh Steelers rape accusation and the Tila Tequila domestic abuse accusation reveal the same patterns of shock, disbelief and victim-blaming every single time a woman–in the public eye or private realm–is abused. If public examples like this don’t teach us, it’s hard to imagine how we’ll ever learn.