Feminists are not sure what to make of Rihanna – but who are we to judge anyway?

When women suffer violence they are supposed to become angry feminists, or timid little victims. They are not supposed to carry on letting themselves be sexualised, and sing songs about S&M. Why? Because it makes people like Hannah Pool feel like “bad feminists,” apparently.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely something unnerving about the way Rihanna is being marketed. Sexualised hurt sells records, and sexualised hurt from someone we know has suffered from domestic violence sells records in multitudes. As much as it gets on my nerves when media cuts and pastes women into tits and bum cheeks for the cameras, do I really have the right to assert that because one of those women in particular has been beaten by her partner, it somehow obligates them to behave in a particular way, just to make everybody else less uncomfortable?

Anyone who worries about marketing pros parading Rihanna around on a leash as part of a broader, slightly sickening narrative, where the media sexualises violence against women until no-one can quite remember what is supposed to entertain and what is supposed to disgust, may have a point. But feminists like Hannah Pool, who are fine with a video of Rihanna dancing in the rain in spandex, fine with Rihanna becoming famous largely by being talked up as a romantic threat to Beyonce, but want her to suddenly behave differently after finding out she has been violently abused, are surely a tiny bit patronising?

If we want women to be more than just sex symbols, surely by the same logic, women who have been unfortunate enough to be victims of domestic violence deserve to be more than just victims of domestic violence? Hannah Pool writes in the Guardian that she’s uncomfortable with seeing “a woman who became the overnight face of domestic violence” singing lyrics about S&M. Apart from the fact that consensual S&M play is clearly different to non-consensual violence, far too many survivors of all kinds of abuse are shamed into modifying their behaviour afterwards. Rape victims who feel guilty about enjoying sex or dressing provocatively again, for example, are not uncommon. Far too many women let these nasty experiences dictate their lives and desires afterwards – and all too often, it is actually expected of them that they do so. Not so Rihanna. Hannah Pool no doubt means well, and makes some good points in her article. But there is a cultural assumption that victims of domestic or sexual violence are supposed to fall to pieces, and it’s somehow either audacious or a sign of exploitation somewhere if they don’t. The idea that we might all have those expectations to a certain extent actually makes me an awful lot more nervous than the sight of Rihanna eating a banana.

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2 thoughts on “Feminists are not sure what to make of Rihanna – but who are we to judge anyway?

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  1. Liked this very much. You found nuance in a story that had been hijacked by alarmists and that was summarily knee-jerked to death (uh…perhaps a strange & evocative choice of words on my part..) Anyway, keep up the good work. ‘Compassionate Libertarianism’…I can dig it…

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