I love Ann Friedman and I think this piece about Chris Brown and Rihanna is good, but I also think she’s wrong. It’s worth a read, and the content isn’t exactly what the headline says — Ann makes the argument that hating Chris Brown isn’t particularly helpful for Rihanna, and that bad-mouthing abusers isn’t effective since most women who are abused go back to their abusers many times over and repeated negative comments may further alienate them from support networks. She also says that we can’t (and shouldn’t) be telling Rihanna what to do when it comes to Brown.
A few months later, when rumors started to surface that Rihanna and Brown were back together, Oprah declared she wouldn’t pass judgment. Privately, many of us rolled our eyes. It sounded like such a cop-out. But Ray-Jones says it’s probably the best course of action in a really tough situation. “I would never attack a survivor for forgiveness, that’s part of her healing process,” she says. “I would never tell someone, ‘You can’t get back with him.’ If that’s what she wants to do, and she feels he’s changed, that’s her choice. And we can’t control her choice, because then we’re no better than he is.” That’s true in every domestic violence situation, but it’s even more true when the woman in question is a celebrity. Most of us — Oprah included — are Rihanna’s distant fans, not her personal friends. We have no right to tell her what to do.
That’s right. And Ann spends most of the piece talking about how we shouldn’t attack Rihanna for getting back with Brown — that’s also right.
But I’d say that hating Brown is a pretty damn good idea.
We aren’t Rihanna’s friends. We aren’t her support system. And Brown is a celebrity whose livelihood is dependent on being loved (and financially supported) by millions. Criticizing Rihanna is the wrong thing to do, because she’s only human, and she’s doing what many abuse survivors (and many of us) have done ourselves. Criticizing her sends a message to abuse victims that being abused is their fault, and that they’ll be blamed for making “bad decisions” if they go back to an abuser. I wish Rihanna would make a different choice, obviously, but I don’t fault her for the choices she’s making.
I do fault Brown for beating her up. And I do fault the music industry and the popular media for glossing over his offenses and promoting his career, even as he has never fully apologized, doesn’t seem to be particularly sorry, and continues to go on rage-sprees.
We can do two things at once: We can, as a society, publicly hate an abuser while still supporting people who are abused. In fact, I would say that a non-judgment policy when it comes to public figures is about the worst thing we can do — it sends the message that abuse is neutral, and that as long as the abused party doesn’t leave, we’re going to look the other way.
When it’s a friend who is being abused, the calculus is different. Obviously yes, point out to your friend that what’s happening is very not ok and not acceptable. And then support her, and give her a safe haven, and make it clear that you’ll be there for her every step of the way — even when she doesn’t do what you want. Try not to go on tirades about her abuser even though you hate him, because that will alienate her.
But as a society when dealing with a very public celebrity abuser who has shown no remorse and doesn’t seem all that committed to change? I say don’t just bad-mouth; take actual steps to quit supporting him. Imagine if, to use another example, Charlie Sheen was simply totally ostracized for his repeated instances of abuse? Instead, he remained employed and was given a wider platform; abusing women was just one of his “antics,” like drinking too much and giving unhinged interviews about tiger blood.
If we want to support women who are abused, then socially we need to not support men who are abusing.