With the internet abuzz over Rihanna’s music video for “Man Down” I thought that I’d check it out and see if it really is suggesting that rape victims kill their attackers. As I expected, it wasn’t. I’ll say right away that in order to come to that conclusion, critics had to have read a summary of the video/song without actually watching it or listening to the song.
The video begins with Rihanna shooting a man in a train station before the song begins. As the song plays, it cuts between the day before and after the shooting. Rihanna’s happy and carefree. Playing with kids, enjoying some coconut water (both VitaCoco and from an actual coconut). She rides her bike! She goes to a party, where she meets a man who she says no to, who later tracks her down and rapes her. Cut through this, post-shooting Rihanna broods, mopes… and basically sings about how she rushed into action and now realizes how wrong she was.
Right. That’s telling every victim to go out and shoot the person responsible.
It’s clear that she wrote this song while working through the aftermath of her relationship with Chris Brown. Artists using music for catharsis is hardly new. Frankly, I applaud her for exploring the desire for revenge, and admitting that murdering someone out of revenge would have a cost. Because as much as we try as a society to stop domestic violence and sexual assault, we still don’t know how to treat someone who is a victim.
After the Chris Brown / Rihanna story came out, it wasn’t uncommon to see reader comments on news stories break into two camps. Those who refused to believe that Brown did it (or who made sure to say that Rihanna must have provoked him) and those who said that no matter what happened, violence is never the answer. The number of women who stood behind Brown and tried to blame Rihanna was sadly much higher than I had expected. And it was about the same ratio on any news story about it- no matter how many pictures or witness accounts were included.
I bring up the Brown/Rihanna incident because as much as people would like to say it wasn’t representative of our views… it is. While the law is set up to try to protect victims, it’s all too common to see rape victims blamed for what happened because of their manner of dress or where they happened to be (google SlutWalk if you don’t believe me). Or accused rapists claiming that the victims aren’t really victims, just vindictive women who are trying to get revenge for something. And sadly, people believe these outrageous notions.
So kudos to you Rihanna for getting people talking about sexual assault/sexual violence. Thank you for not being afraid to share your pain or the thoughts you had to have explored. And to the people who want to judge the content of TV shows, music and videos? It helps if you actually watch or listen to what you’re condemning.
In case you haven’t seen the video yourself, check it out: