Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thinking of the Victims: Whitney and Rihanna

In the wake of the legendary Whitney Houston's death, the people I know are choosing to take the high road. I have not heard one condemnation of her drug abuse problems in the days following her death, only posts commenting on what a transcendent voice she had and how beautiful her songs were. This is as it should be. But perhaps it's not going far enough.
Because as society mourns Houston's death and acknowledges her to be a victim, it is also cheering on the return of Chris Brown, a talented musical artist and miserable human being. This article by Sasha Pasulka on Hello Giggles pretty convincingly elaborates all that is wrong with this decision as well as with many of the other responses that came after Brown physically abused his then-girlfriend Rihanna.
The incident certainly hurt Brown's reputation in the eyes of many, but what was shocking was the way in which Rihanna was vilified by many. When the incident became people, many felt that it was her own fault for getting hurt. When she chose not to press charges, so-called "feminists" called her out for it. They say she could have inspired many women to take action. That's certainly true. But no one has the right to criticize a victim of domestic violence for the way in which she responds. If she chooses not to press charges, that is her own decision. As Pasulka notes, Rihanna never signed up to be the "public face" of domestic violence. No one does. It's not the victims' jobs to become that face. Rather, people should make a public effort to condemn it.
And I think Rihanna's responded pretty impressively. She has turned out a number of musical hits where she has ventured into darker territory than she has before including "S&M", "All of the Lights", and "We Found Love", and the music video to "We Found Love" provides a pretty intimate look into her relationship with Brown. This kind of career bounce-back is certainly admirable.
But even if she were not to continue producing popular songs and Brown were to make timeless classics, Rihanna's is still the side we should take. As a victim of violence, she deserves all the support she can get.
Whitney Houston must not die in vain. While there are many reasons why people choose to engage in substance abuse, we must confront the ways in which domestic violence can destroy lives.
Some people say we pay too much attention to celebrities. We may indeed. But one of the benefits of following celebrities is that it gives up the opportunity to appreciate the goodness in people and speak up where we see the injustice. Rihanna is a strong, powerful, talented woman who has been the victim of things no one deserves to experience. Even if you are upset that she did not become a "role model" for domestic violence victims by pressing charges, she can be an example for victims in another way.
She is strong, beautiful, talented, and independent. And she was still abused. What victims can learn is this: what is being done to you is not your fault.

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