Good Girl Gone Bad? The Rihanna Debate Rages On.
September 22, 2012
By: Sarah Roberts
Last week pictures surfaced of a disturbing new tattoo on Chris Brown’s neck. It seems to depict the face of a badly beaten woman and, even worse, similarities between the tattoo and former girlfriend Rihanna are not difficult to come by. Needless to say, the tasteless and downright offensive tattoo has caused a stir. The public reaction has been overwhelming, with a hate storm brewing on Twitter and other social networking sites. Comments such as ‘Chris Brown gets the only possible tattoo that could make you hate him more’ have been thrown around the site, leaving him to persistently claim that the tattoo bares no resemblance to a battered woman and instead represents a ‘Mexican Sugar Skull’. Even with his disputes of the tattoo’s symbolism this latest furore still begs the question that surely a man so attached to the theme of domestic violence and so publicly charged with the assault of his girlfriend would think twice before getting a tattoo which alludes to the image of a beaten woman? Why would somebody whose career has been so tarnished by an incident of domestic violence ever want to bring it back into the public’s attention? And especially in a way as brash and unforgetting as a huge tattoo on his neck. Or is this behaviour to be expected of somebody guilty of assaulting their girlfriend so brutally? Mexican sugar skull or not, the choice of tattoo is so obviously provocative its connotations must have occurred to the singer.
In the years following the incident after the VMAs in 2009, Chris Brown has been depicted as a wholly unlikeable character. He has used the negative attention to create a bad boy image for himself, having accumulated dozens of tattoos, his branding is a far cry from the v-neck and bow tie wearing Chris Brown we saw in earlier days. But while the representation of Chris Brown is negative and uncomplicated, Rihanna’s depiction by the media has been far more ambiguous since the incident. She has rarely played the part of the victim and her über-confident persona seems to be almost in resistance to the abuse she has suffered. And, despite having the opinion of the world standing between her and Chris, she has somehow found a way back to him. While the possibility that Rihanna and Chris Brown are back together as a couple remains disputed, it is no secret that they are still friends and musical collaborators. In a rare and emotional interview, Rihanna told Oprah that she has forgiven Chris and that she was worried for him after the incident in 2009. On the one hand, this seems admirable and strong, surely her desire for him to get help is more productive than her feeling angry, hateful and self-pitying? However, Rihanna has become pop culture’s female poster child for domestic violence, answering questions about the incident openly and releasing the song ‘Love the way you lie’. This adds weight to her every move and although what’s best for her and her state of mind may be to reconcile with her assaulter, does it give a good message to women in similar, vulnerable positions? No, probably not. Research shows that women in abusive relationships often stay in them because they find it difficult to accept there is anything wrong or they believe that they cannot do any better. Surely having an overtly sexualised pop princess singing about a dirty birthday cake with her former boyfriend and assaulter sends out the wrong message? It seems a little light-hearted considering what occurred only 3 years ago. And sometimes you have to wonder whether were in not for the public pressure to stay away from Chris, would this have been the first but not the last time he assaulted her? Would she have stayed in that relationship?
It’s difficult to decide whether we should chastise Rihanna for reconciling with Chris. In the past she has said that she dislikes the title ‘role model’ as it makes her feel uncomfortable and suggests a kind of perfection which is unachievable, it adds huge pressure to her situation and casts it in a brighter light. But even though she is shaking off the title it is a natural side effect that comes with fame and one she cannot escape. Rihanna’s actions are imperfect and her behaviour, like her image is neither sugar coated or vanilla. In some ways she is admirable; her strength and refusal to submit to being a victim since the attack sends out a positive message to women in abusive relationships and with shattered self esteem, Rihanna is telling the world that you don’t need to be shaped by your abuse, she has always continued to make music and never broken down publicly. Therefore I think that it is wrong to chastise her, but can we call her a role model? Definitely not, but then again, neither can she. In the weeks to come, it will be interesting to see how Rihanna responds to Chris Brown’s tattoo and until then, those sitting on the fence about Rihanna will have to wait with baited breath.