Rihanna going back to Chris Brown doesn’t make her a “bad girl”

The cover of RIhanna’s 2007 album, “Good Girl Gone Bad.”

I’ve noticed a theme emerging in the mainstream media of late.  Namely, the idea that singer Rihanna is a “bad girl.”  Yes, she has an album called, “A Good Girl Gone Bad,” and certainly is living the “rock star” lifestyle of late night partying  and traveling all over the world, but all too often these are not the types of things that are being discussed in the context of her “bad girl” behavior.  Instead, she is being labeled “bad” for returning to the man who abused her.

The most recent example of this trend, is a piece in BuzzFeed titled, “What Chris Brown Will Cost Rihanna.”  The piece details the myriad reasons why Rihanna risks losing lucrative endorsement deals but makes the mistake of focusing on her reconciliation with Chris Brown as the catalyst.

BuzzFeed cites Jo Piazza who says:

Piazza thinks Rihanna could salvage her appeal by steering her career in the direction of Madonna’s. Madonna is the rare star who’s been able to successfully reinvent herself with each scandal — but the difference between Rihanna and Madonna is that Madonna is controlling and manufacturing her scandals. “Rihanna’s playing a little too fast and loose with her brand right now,” said Piazza. So that bad girl image, captivating though it may be, “is not necessarily a good business model.” 

Let me be clear: Rihanna’s reconciliation with her abuser does not make her a “bad girl.”  Rihanna returning to her abuser makes her just like many other women who have been victimized who return to their abusers multiple times before they are able to walk away completely.  And while there is certainly negative publicity surrounding Rihanna returning to Brown, that shouldn’t then be conflated with her being “bad.”

Rihanna was beaten by Chris Brown and then blamed for it.  Rihanna decided to return to Brown and her brand is being damaged because of it.  Certainly, Chris Brown’s brand has been damaged substantially – and rightfully so – but we need to stop saying that Rihanna being back together with Chris Brown is some form of rebellion.  It’s not.  It is a clear reminder that the cycle of domestic violence is sadly very real.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/gratuitous/ Patrick

    Can someone help me understand this situation? I find it almost inescapable to conclude from the facts on the ground that Rihanna is making a colossal mistake, one that could cost her her looks, her voice, perhaps even her life. This despite having the financial wherewithal to stay away from this man (and keep him away from her); supportive people around her to inform her decision; objective evidence that her abuser is abusive; and so forth.

    Am I guilty of judging her? Am I too old and too white and too male to comprehend the situation? There’s some deservedly good fun poked at the phenomenon of “mansplaining.” I promise not to object to having this “womansplained” to me, because I am totally at sea.

    • http://feministing.com/members/elo11/ ELot

      I think what you’re missing here is what Zerlina pointed out at the end of the article, that the cycle of domestic violence is what allows a victim to return to the abuser. It is not a “mistake” the victim makes. It is a physiological and psychological bond to the abuser, also called a trauma bond, and it is common to all mammalian species, including humans. Another way of saying it is the victim develops a psychophysical bond to the abuser born out of fear and oppression, which enables the victim to survive the abuse.

      When certain conditions exists within the context of abuse, the trauma bond is very likely, if not inevitable, to occur. These conditions are: 1. a perceived threat to survival (Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are all threats to our survival in that they engage the same survival parts of our brains.) 2. Victim’s perception of small “kindnesses” from abuser within context of abuse (Also called the “honeymoon phase”; apologizing, taking out for dinner, etc.) 3. Isolation from perspectives other than the abuser to any degree 4. Perceived inability to escape, which our culture overwhelmingly intensifies through victim-blaming.

      It is important to consider the physiology and psychology, as well as the various and interrelated layers of stigma and oppression Rhianna *and* Chris Brown face, and how this influences their relationship. Racism, sexism, the stigma of being abused, and stigma of being an abuser influence the conditions I named above.

      And all of this is to say nothing of the familial backgrounds and experiences these two people had before they met, and how this has shaped their interpretation and expectations of romantic relationships. This isn’t just psycho-babble. Interpersonal neurobiology calls these mental models, and they are neurologically encoded in us since birth based on the relationships we had with our caregivers.

      I hope this makes sense and answers your question. Thanks for asking it with curiosity and openness. If you’d like to read up on any of this, I can provide you with some great references.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lamech/ Lamech

    Gha, what the frack? His argument is that her scandal is that she got punched in the face? How is that a scandal? *facepalm*

  • http://feministing.com/members/agirlforallseasons/ Laura Thomas

    I feel like this article adopts an unnecessarily patronising tone towards Rihanna. In criticising those who label Rihanna’s decision ‘bad’, you have equally unhelpfully painted her as a victim. While overwhelmingly, abusers continue to abuse, it’s a massive stereotype which is not helpful to both victim or abuser. We can be concerned, and articulate these concerns, but passing judgement on Rihanna’s actions helps noone.