Rihanna's lyrics often tweak her public image and those who purport to shape it. Her most recent album, "Unapologetic," features a duet with Brown called "Nobody's Business." No nuance there. But she can also be ambiguous, as in her post-beating 2010 hit with Eminem, "Love the Way You Lie. " It was touted as an awareness vehicle for domestic violence, but squirm-inducing lyrics like "I like the way it hurts" make it unclear whether she's denouncing the violence, implying complicity, or pointing out that an abusive relationship can be psychologically complicated.
Another factor fomenting public judgment was that the scandal was probably the first of its kind to be so brutally played out by young impulsives on social media. They posted such horrifying lines as "He could beat me any time" and tweet-blaming Rihanna with the classic abuser's defense "you made him do it."
That sort of ugly talk has become an unfortunate addendum to many tragedies, most recently the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial that wrapped last week. After two teenage boys were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl, a flurry of blame-the-victim tweets prompted the Ohio attorney general to charge two teenage girls with threatening the victim.
Members of a black women's meetup group in the Twin Cities think that Rihanna's race and gender fuel the criticism.
"We as a people are always trying to tear each other down and the media uses us to do it," said Gloria Cap of St. Paul, a member of African American Women Socializing. "Rihanna's personal life has no effect on me or what I teach my daughters. People should understand celebrities are not role models, they are entertainers."
Shatona Groves, organizer of the group, owns the Webb Model and Talent agency in St. Paul and believes that "black women can be judged more harshly (by the general public) and when a woman is abused, people are always trying to find out what she did to trigger it. But in my circles, I never heard Rihanna being blamed."
Shakeeta Sturden, a 29-year-old stylist and fashion consultant, doesn't think Rihanna behaves like a victim. "She is a daredevil and a risk taker. When you're strong enough to be yourself when everyone is watching, that's pretty damn admirable."
Event producer Anika Robbins, oldest of four sisters and mother of a 2-year-old boy, sees the saga as "a great example of a discussion to have with your child -- what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. As opposed to judging, turn the focus on learning how to make decisions and resolve conflicts."
Actress and prominent Hollywood mom Jada Pinkett Smith addressed all the public shaming, coming to the defense of Rihanna as well as Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber in a Facebook post titled "Are we bullying our young artists?"
"It is as if we have forgotten what it means to be young or even how to behave like good ol' grown folk," she wrote. "What about being a young woman in her early 20s, exploring the intricacies of love and power on the world stage? Are these young people not allowed to be young, make mistakes, grow, and eventually transform a million times before our eyes?"
Rihanna has tweeted that Brown "doesn't have the luxury of (messing) up again."
"Unfortunately, I think it will probably happen again," said the Domestic Abuse Project's Arthur. "If I were her friend, I would sure be talking to her. I hope she has a support system regardless of the choices she makes."
(c)2013 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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