Submitted by astateofimpermanence:
Have any of you seen the new Music Video for Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’ yet?
The video has been criticized and censored for its depictions of violence, but it also deals with assault and from what I can tell in the comments, victim blaming, slut shaming, and…
I come at this from the perspective of a sexual assault survivor myself, and no, I don’t think the video is sensationalized for controversy, and I don’t think the actions of the persona Rihanna wears in the video are ones people should judge as black and white.
See, I’ve had this talk with writing partners before, because my gut instinct with rapists is that if a character in fiction kills one that’s a thing I take a degree of satisfaction in. Have I ever killed any of my own abusers? No. But I’ve thought about it, and removed from real life concerns and my usual sense of morals it’s seemed like a really cathartic idea. To just be free of that presence. For me it’s not about wanting to hurt someone else, but the fantasy of not having to share my life with that person anymore. If they could just go away and never be part of my world again. I live next door to a guy who attempted to rape me. I live in the same town as the man who molested me. When your attackers are people in your community, people who you will see every day you are there, part of you does just want them to not exist anymore.
The community Rihanna’s persona is part of seems like a close knit one. She seems to know her rapist in some way before they dance together. That’s something I want to talk about: Rihanna’s persona spends so much time in flashback scenes just living her life, and doing it in revealing, flattering clothing unlike the usual virginal innocence rape victims are garbed in prior to their rape. But she hugs children in her semi-translucent tube top that shows her nipples. And she hangs out with her friends in the same outfit. And she laughs with people, and she’s friendly with everyone, and it’s a happy, good day. That feeling of goodness moves into the dance party, where she’s obviously having a wonderful time flirting a little, and then when she exercises her right to say no to unwanted advances she still leaves happy. There’s no guilt about turning down a man. There’s no fear in her when she walks home, because she’s happy, and she feels safe. And then this awful person follows her and destroys that.
(Some people have said that if we didn’t see her rape, then we can’t assume she was raped. These people are fucking idiots. We do not need to actually see sexual violation to understand what happened; the implication is clear.)
So Rihanna’s persona runs home in the dark, and God, that’s when I cried at that video. I cried like I cried at Speak when Melinda is walking home holding her shoes, because that is a moment that hurts so, so much. Knowing you have to get up and move, somehow, that you have to do it alone and in the dark (whether or not the sun is out, or if the world is well-lit, it’s dark when you have to do this) and you’re torn between hoping someone will catch you and then you can tell them and hoping that no one even sees you.
She gets that gun and does what seems to make sense to her, and I wonder if her persona even slept that night. I figure she didn’t. The look on her face when she shoots her rapist is pain, not triumph, and the entire song is about her pain and regret that she did this thing, and that’s why I think this video is so strong. It’s one thing to have the fantasy of erasing this person who hurt you, but the reality of following through is why so many victims just don’t. It’s why I told my ex-boyfriend not to hurt the people who raped me. The majority of victims, like the majority of people (being a victim doesn’t automatically give you special empathy, that’s a stereotype), don’t want to hurt anyone else severely. We don’t want to destroy families and have to go into hiding from the law. I praise Rihanna for having the courage to express that for us. Not to speculate on the life of a woman I don’t know, but I wonder if this is sometimes how she feels about seeing Chris Brown continue to be a musical success she undoubtedly can’t avoid accidentally encountering just by turning on the radio or staying in the business: that helpless hurt, which can be made worse when people know and they still don’t do anything. When the world seems to think your hurt can just be glossed over. And it’s not just that, which tragically is what I think people are only going to talk about like Rihanna can’t be drawing on anything but her own experiences, possibly because she is a pop star and thus shallow, or (and this will be more secretive to some extent, save for Youtube comments) a women of color, and thus stupid.
How many well-known men have gotten away with abusing other people? How many men who are only well-known on a local level? In my town, there are boys in high school who everyone. Knows. Gang-raped a girl. Who got pregnant. And had the baby. And now what people are talking about is that the boy she managed to get to pay her child support turned out not to be the biological father of this child, so he doesn’t have to support her anyone, and when people tell this story they laugh. They laugh at her. A child who was fucking gang-raped while she was passed out.
In a world like this, if Rihanna wants to make a video showing her shooting a rapist, I am okay with that—and she doesn’t even glorify it. She doesn’t glory in it at all. She sings about how much that choice has hurt her, and hurt this man, and hurt other people. She makes an important, insightful commentary, and I am so proud of her doing that. She has opened up discussion of slut shaming and victim blaming by showing a “slutty” victim (one who wears what she likes and flirts when she wants to, but still controls her sexuality; a Sexually Liberated Ultra Tasteful person) who has a real life, who was happy and whole and self-assured and not deserving of fucking anything bad. Let alone sexual assault.
This video blows Love The Way You Lie out of the water. I support Rihanna.