Why Rihanna Rules.

9 Nov

I ran this idea by Evan and he told me to “try it, but be prepared to be made fun of.” So I’m going to do just that. I’m putting my feminist pants on, and here we go.

I.Love.Rihanna.

LOVE her! And do you wanna know why? I’m sure you’re all aware of how totally smokin’ hot she is, but she also endured a very public domestic abuse case, and ever since has been making a name for herself as a sexually charged, in-control woman.

I guess we should start at the beginning. It kind of goes without saying that the world of hip-hop is not very kind to women, not even its women artists. You pretty much can’t get through a music video, or even a song, without hearing the words “bitch” or “pussy”. Dr. Dre thinks bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks, and Mr. Sean Carter is glad to have a whole slew of problems, 99 even, but at least a bitch ain’t one. Nelly makes money by swiping his credit card in a girl’s ass crack (to a song cleverly named “Tip Drill”), and how many times do you see a male artist half-naked, running around a pool with a bunch of fully clothed women? I’ll go out on a limb and say never.

I get that rap and hip-hop are part of and stem from an entirely different culture, but there is obviously a huge problem here. If you’re interested here is a fantastic documentary on the issues with women in hip-hop, there are several parts, and I will promise you that you will feel ill after the first one. I did.

So, women in hip-hop. There are powerhouses like Beyonce, and while she loves to rant about how much money she’s making and how she’s on top of the hip-hop world, I have a few issues. The main one being that she is sending us girls VERY mixed messages! Up until I am…Sasha Fierce came out, Beyonce was all about ownin’ it. B-day is pretty much all about going out, killin’ it with your friends, and being a master of your own sexuality. Once …Sasha Fierce came out, things took a turn for the worse. Half the record begs the love of her life, whom she can’t live without to never leave her. She even has a song titled “Why Don’t You Love Me?” Maybe because he sucks? And granted she had just gotten married when she made this record and I’m sure her being in love with Jay-Z influenced her writing, but quit confusing us girl! You want us to go out and make mad money and dance in the club all night, even dump the guy if he isn’t gonna put a ring on it, but then you want us to feel helpless when our loves leave us!!

“Single Ladies” brings on an entirely new set of troubles. If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it? Really? So now Beyonce, not only are you referring to yourself as “it”, but you’re just portraying yourself as some sort of gold-digging female who only wants to get married! Exactly what us ladies need, more pressure to get married, more commodification of our love and our bodies. Thanks.

And then there’s that gem of a song “Girls Run the World.”
NEWSFLASH! WE DON’T!! The lyrics pretty much say that we live in a female-run society where women are never disrespected or treated as inferiors. Beyonce, look around, this happens literally every second of every day in this country. Quit giving young girls a false idea of empowerment! One woman is raped or sexually assaulted every THREE seconds! There’s still a shitload of work to be done and all you’re doing is lulling them into a false sense of security!!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Beyonce. I think she IS a really powerful woman and she obviously is doing well for herself. She orchestrates pretty much everything in her career and is confident, smart, and eloquent. I just wish she’d get back to where she came from.

So now onto the woman of the hour: Rihanna.

Rihanna went from popular to almost-spectacle when she was publicly abused by her then-partner and fellow artist, Chris Brown. We all saw the mug shot of her face completely battered, and what made me the most ill was that not only did he get off with community service, but he doesn’t seem to be all that apologetic about what happened. He even goes so far as to get offended when people bring it up, and doesn’t understand why people can’t just “focus on his music”. Maybe I’m just confused, but that’s not something that is easily forgotten, or forgiven.

I’ve unfortunately seen domestic abuse in several instances, the most traumatic being that of my college roommate getting locked into our room by her boyfriend so he could beat the crap out of her. After battling feelings of helplessness as we (we lived in a suite) sat there and listened to him throw her around the room and hit her, my other roommate decided to get his friends. Every day I wish that I had called the police. The following week I came back from class and he was sleeping in her bed.

So, after this incident, Rihanna released a record entitled Rated R. Suddenly she was fierce, outward about her sexuality, and proclaiming it to the world. The first song to cause a big fuss was “S&M”, you know, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me”? Fuckin. Rad. So now not only is she asserting her sexuality, she is addressing her abuse, AND she’s bringing a taboo sex subject like sado-masochism to the forefront, right in the public’s face! So it’s completely reasonable to understand why there was a huge backlash, why the video was pushed to be banned from television, and why mothers everywhere threw a hissy fit when their daughters ran around singing the lyrics. Here’s the video:

It’s hardly realistic, and there is no actual sex at all. It’s clearly a pop-ified representation of sexuality. Somehow still, it’s managed to be banned in 11 countries and you have to tell YouTube your 18 to watch it! Sexism out the wazoo! Practically every song in modern hip-hop is sexualized, of course though, it’s men objectifying women. Some critics said it was hypocritical of Rihanna to portray herself sexually after she had pressed charges against Chris Brown. So then the allegation is that just because she may like to be tied up or play a little “rougher” in the bedroom, she deserves to be beaten? Heck, she’s practically asking for it!

Jesus Christ.

Now onto my favorite, “Rude Boy”.

God DAMN! Where do I begin? She’s asserting her sexuality, stating what she wants, giving her partner what he wants, AND getting and giving consent! Communicative sex? This is my dream girl. If every girl in the world could be willing to say what she wants during sex, to not be too afraid and have to endure “bad” sex, we’d be in great shape.

This video is a clear reference to Jamaican dance halls and the ”rude boy” persona. In these dance halls, as I learned from the film Dance Hall Queen, women are in a space where they are allowed to feel free to express themselves, sexually or otherwise, without worry from the outside world. ThThey dress how they want to, dance how they want to, and build a community through these experiences. Being from Barbados, it is obviously a reference to her culture. Rihanna performs traditional dance hall moves in the video and the colors and outfits she wears are also a clear reference.

I was riding in the car with my sister when I first heard this song and she said, “It’s nice that she’s telling dudes to pull her hair after she just got the crap beat out of her.” Same issue as before! Your bedroom practice does NOT give others the right to beat/rape/assault you!!! EVER! Nothing does! Not your clothes, not how you dance, nothing! I hear it all the time, even women saying it, as girls walk down the street in short skirts and high heels, “…and they wonder why they get assaulted.”

The issue is that they shouldn’t be assaulted! The issue is that any person, male female or otherwise, should be allowed to wear whatever, go wherever, and do whatever she/he wants without fear of abuse!!!

So then there’s Rihanna’s other songs, “What’s My Name” is one of my personal favorites. She’s proclaiming her love for someone because she wants him, she’s choosing him, because he’s “just [her] type”. All the while still sticking to her guns, “I wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me.”

Then there came the next controversial video, perhaps even more so than “S&M”,  “Man Down”.

Now we’re talking very real issues. Rape, rape revenge, and the vicious cycle that ensues. The song is all about struggling with the murder of her rapist. The video shows her dancing with a guy at a club, and then her saying NO (again, how you dance, dress, or otherwise does not mean anyone can have you). And we all know what follows. I was puzzled after reading the comments on the video, “Yeah girl! He got what he deserved!” seemed to be the general consensus. Unfortunately this is the exact opposite of what Rihanna is trying to say.

Rape revenge is never a good thing. Ever. And this video and song are supporting that. It doesn’t help anyone if the victim then becomes the criminal.

On her Twitter, she says, ““Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!”

Practical and accessible advice, no?

So that’s that. Rihanna. Parents hate her, I love her. The way I see it, when an 8 year-old girl wants to walk around with a whip and no pants on, that’s where parenting comes in. You can’t blame an artist in pop culture for how your children behave, that’s your responsibility. Instead of banning artists like Rihanna because you’re afraid they’re poisoning your children, take a moment to explain why Rihanna gets to do those things. Maybe it’s because she’s older, maybe it’s because it’s just for fun, who knows. Maybe you should explain things to your kids instead of just sweeping them under the rug. I’m not a parent, so what do I know? But I remember listening to songs like “Too Close” by Next and pretty much anything by Salt n’ Peppa, and I’m not running around flaunting myself to the entire world, nor was I ever. Hell, I didn’t even understand what the lyrics meant at the time, and it’s probably safe to say that kids today don’t either.

There’s also a big problem with parents, politicians, and religious figures making sex into a crazily taboo subject. Some people like to pretend that it doesn’t even exist, and if you’re a woman? Forget it. No one would like to believe that us young, pure ladies are having The Sex, and that’s a huge problem in our culture. With everything from sex education to contraception, we’re constantly faced with backlash and it can all be traced back to the simple idea of “purity” (white wedding dresses, anyone?). And just for thought: how many times do you hear about a man having trouble buying condoms versus the countless cases where women have been denied birth control or the morning after pill? 

I’m getting away from my point, back to Rihanna.

I can’t write this without mentioning the fact that there is probably a lot of backlash because she is also a black female artist. I obviously can’t speak of the experience of women of other cultures, but after doing some reading it’s pretty clear that her ethnicity plays a role in how she’s being portrayed and accepted by the media and by viewers. Like I said, I can’t eloquently or accurately explain because I am a white, mostly privileged woman, but here’s an article that discusses it.

Phew. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.
For fun, I’ll leave you this, which has been stuck in my head for weeks, and now will probably be in yours as well.

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15 Responses to “Why Rihanna Rules.”

  1. The Dormouse November 9, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    You know, I never really stopped and looked at Rihanna this way. She was cool before but now that I look at her through this lens I think she’s even better. Great post is what I’m trying to say.

    • marenamitchell November 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

      I appreciate the feedback, thanks so much!

  2. bobdoesthings November 10, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    I have to disagree. Rihanna needs to be stopped. Her and katy perry and kesha and possibly beyonce too.. need to be shunned by society. I agree that the portrayal of women is horrid in the hip hop world but I am even further disgusted by the way these artists sell themselves out and objective themselves and make their money of being sex icons.
    a rihanna lyric I have to fucking hear everyday at work on the radio several times a day: “theres sex in the air, i dont care i love the smell of it.” Call me old fashioned but I get queasy everytime I hear that.. What?! Really.. And every fuckign song of hers has one line or another about wanting a man who can “handle her love” “Can you get it up boy?” “go all night long” .. And you might be quick to say that I’m in favor of male counterparts.. but no, I’m not ..I hate that shit too. It’s uncivilized and deplorable. It’s just sex being sold. Whether it’s some asshole gangster rapper talking about fucking hoes and thongs and whatever.. or some photogenic media construct (which is what rihanna, katy perry, etc are) to sell records it should not be embraced but shunned by society.
    Katy Perry is like 26 or some shit and I hear the line “picture me in my skin tight jeans i’ll be your teenage dream tonight.” WHY? You haven’t been a teenager for almost a decade. Why are you forcing your audience to consider pedaphilia and objectifying yourself to being some sinful pedaphiles dream?! Katy Perry also has some other GREAT tunes like the new one “TGIF” where she talks about getting black otu drunk.. she might have made out with her friends, might have vandalized property, ohhh and she might of had a menage a trois (but its cool she totally blacked out while participating in sexual deviancy) Then there was her hit before that.. kissing girls and liking it which had nothing to do with embracing homosexuality and everything to do about whoring out her cultural identity to sell records. (I’m just kidding.. no one buys albums anymore.. they download one hit song off iTunes)
    Even Beyonce. as you mentioned having conflicting messages… one song is about sexual empowered independent women.. and the other song is why her man can’t “put a ring on it.” What are you looking for exactly? Societal status or self worth?
    I don’t see this as empowering for women.. It’s one thing for a woman to build confidence and gain control of her sexual life and to be a positive role model.. It’s another to fixate on her sexuality, objective herself, and sell that object to the masses while advocating immorality, sexual deviancy, and a base uncivilized primitive sexuality.

    BTW.. I’ve been drinking.. sorry for ranting and sorry if some of it was asinine or lacked clarity. That’s how I roll ….. …drunk

    • marenamitchell November 10, 2011 at 9:33 am #

      Katy Perry is vile and I agree she needs to just be completely obliterated.
      I guess the difference comes in where how the artist feels. It’s easy to go either way and say, oh she’s an empowered woman, or oh she’s just selling herself to make money.
      I guess I don’t mind that sex is being sold, as long as the woman selling it doesn’t feel like she’s being objectified. I think Rihanna fits that category. I think her outright sexuality is not only a matter of personal preference, but also a reaction to what happened to her.
      Katy Perry is 26, Rihanna is only 22. Katy Perry sells some cellophane-wrapped candied up ideal of a woman who has a vacant look in her eyes and may be brain dead. The perfect woman, no? Rihanna is a thriving woman, so much so that it scares some people (this is where her race comes into play). She dances, she shows emotion, and overall I think her performances are a lot more real. She comes from a culture, as I mentioned, that embraces sexuality in the sense of music and dancing. In Jamaica dance halls were one of the only places for women to go where they could completely free themselves of whatever they were doing in their lives. They dressed crazily (and scantily), and dance in far more erotic ways than Rihanna does sometimes. I think she really is attached to that aspect and presents it through her music, I know her culture plays a huge role in her life.
      It’s easy to go either way. To say oh she’s just selling herself. But I think what makes Rihanna different is that she uses it as her voice. She’s using sex a vehicle and I’m not saying her method isn’t flawed, there’s obviously still work that needs to be done and I do go back and forth with how to look at certain aspects of not only her career, but pop culture in general. But overall, I think Rihanna, while yes she is driven to sell records obviously, mostly takes her inspiration from where she came from, and not a need or desire to objectify herself. She has plenty of videos and songs that aren’t sexed up, that are her just sitting on a couch in a sweater.

    • the self-hating hipster November 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

      Rob, I never called you my “bitch” or even my “boo.” There’s so much in a name and so much more in you.

  3. Jen Foster November 10, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    I don’t know, I can’t say that you’re right. I sort of feel like Rihanna is like anyone else in hip hop or music in general or anyone on the face of the planet. Sometimes people have conflicting thoughts. That’s just how life is. I sort of feel she’s exactly like Beyonce, she might have some good lyrics but she goes on stage and no joke dances like a stripper (that’s coming from my 64 year old father). And listen, don’t get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with being empowered and shaking it like a stripper and humping the stage, but don’t say that she’s a great role model for girls, because I don’t think you’d want your daughter doing that, just as much as you don’t want her to be begging for a ring from some douche bag boyfriend like Beyonce says. The point is, they’re fun lyrics, they’re fun songs, and sometimes in our lives we feel conflicted ways, not everyday you’re gonna feel like a self empowered woman, I think it’s more honest for these artists to just do what they want. Hump that stage, girl. Shake that ass. I’m OBSESSED with hip hop. I love everything about rap, r & b, etc. And I’m a white female and I’d call my self a feminist. I do not take any lyrics from rap music as offensive, it’s art, it’s supposed to push the envelope. That’s like back in the day when our grandparents were like, “hey shut off that horrible rock n roll with those stupid hippies and their long hair and elvis shaking and thrusting everywhere.” To them it was just as awful. I love everything about rap songs telling girls to shake their ass and bend over and blah blah. Some of the lyrics are soooo ridiculous and out of control it legit makes me feel powerful. Ever heard a Nicki Minaj or Lil Kim song? Some of their lyrics about fucking guys are just as bad. It’s a culture, it’s a style, it’s a generation. And I love it, I think there’s definitely junk out there in the hip hop community, just like in every genre of music. And ps to the guy above me, who cares if a woman wants to go out and get drunk and have sex? Don’t men do that all the time? I think you’re all putting too many rules on women, and hip hop. There are no rules anymore.

    • marenamitchell November 10, 2011 at 9:55 am #

      As far as role models go, I think young women are hard-pressed to find positive female role models in pop culture today. Artists like Adele may be the best they’re going to do. But as I mentioned, it’s not completely up to the artists to raise a child. Parenting is so easily brushed aside today and people are so willing to blame outside sources and climates for how their children act. If it comes down to Rihanna being too sexy, then perhaps parents should put a parental control option on MTV. I get that it’s everywhere and is hard to control, but it’s the parent’s JOB to weed out all that crap and raise a well-balanced kid.
      And honestly, I don’t think sexuality is such a bad thing for kids. I think it’s far more unhealthy for parents to shun it and act like it doesn’t exist, to condemn it and make kids afraid of their bodies and afraid of each other. The fact is, if I don’t want my daughter begging for a ring OR dressing like a stripper, that’s on me, not on Rihanna.
      I guess I can’t agree with the “it’s art” argument because to me it just feels like an excuse. Historically, women everywhere, especially in hip hop (and other genres too!), are demeaned and objectified. It’s not art, it’s a mindset and it’s absolutely volatile to a feminist cause. However, one of my biggest issues with some feminist ideas is that they don’t account for women of all races. It’s very easy for some feminists to claim that women all share the same experience, we don’t. Economic and social status play a huge role, as does race and ethnicity, in how we live our lives and see the world. I don’t know a black or latina or asian or rich white woman’s experience because I am not one. The only woman I can ultimately speak for is myself. I just simply can’t get down on the things that are said. I took a Women in Pop Culture class and there were women of a variety of races and backgrounds, all the same, their experience is that the mindset in hip-hop engrains a mindset of being “hard”, of taking whatever you want, and that being disrespectful is okay.
      So how can we shun Rihanna for being sexually empowered when we’re not shunning male hip-hop artists when they are dis-empowering toward women?
      I think the answer is simple. No one (meaning the general sociopolitical and socioeconomic masses) ever wants a woman to be empowered so we play these games where there is a double standard and say well, she’s just being too damn sexy!
      Justin Timberlake is free to say, “You see these shackles baby? I’m your slave.” He’s referencing S & M there as well! No one tried to ban him from tv! Even when he rips a pair of underwear off a dancer in his video, it’s still okay! But give Rihanna a banana and the crowd goes wild!
      There is a scarily huge double standard when it comes to male sexuality and female sexuality, and I’m sure you can see it everywhere if you look around.

    • the self-hating hipster November 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

      Men can go out and get drunk and have sex?? Oh my gosh!

  4. marenamitchell November 10, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    And I guess my other point is that while Rihanna is talking about sex, she’s doing it in a healthy way!! Like I said with “Rude Boy”, she’s promoting communicative sex! How many times do you hear women griping because they’re not getting what they want in bed? Or because they’re too afraid to ask? I think it’s amazing that Rihanna is saying that it’s okay to ask for what you want, to say, “This is what I want and makes ME feel good, what makes you feel good?” Again, historically, women haven’t been able to be vocal about what THEY want in bed, and finally, we are asserting ourselves! I’m a huge supporter of healthy, female positive sex, and that’s why I love Rihanna.

    • bobdoesthings November 11, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

      I disagree still. She’s still selling sex and objectifying herself. I think my real beef though is with Katy Perry. I hope she dies. Well, no… that’s horrible.. but I do wish that she does something stupid/horrible that destroys her career, takes her out of the media spotlight, bankrupts her, and she lives the rest of her life in shame, regret, and depression. It probably won’t happen.. but a man can dream, can’t he?

      • marenamitchell November 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

        I agree. Maybe one day she’ll make a shitty movie and her record company will pay her to stop making music…like Mariah or something.

  5. the self-hating hipster November 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    I have to say Marena, I am proud of you. I cannot stand Rihanna and I don’t see eye-to-eye with you on about half of the points you made, but you made them just the same, anticipating the pack of hipster wolves who were going to go for the jugular.

    • marenamitchell November 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

      only half? I’ll take it.
      Thanks Dad. I’m proud of me too.

  6. bobdoesthings November 17, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    I just found something 1 million times worse than Katy Perry and Ke$ha combined…. and it will depress the fuck out of you:

    I feel guilty just sharing it…

    • marenamitchell November 17, 2011 at 2:16 am #

      I’m going to be ill.
      Honestly, I know I’ve bludgeoned my point to death, but Rihanna is way above the rest of these assholes.

      …and somehow she’s the bad influence. At least she isn’t doing coke and calling herself a slut.

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