Rihanna Unchained

CJAX6dhWwAAtnyMI must confess that Rihanna is a guilty pleasure of mine. While pop stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift have claimed feminist identities, Rihanna refuses to toe political lines, rejects respectability politics, and unabashedly engages in bad behavior. Our society expects oh-so-high standards for women and people of color who must self-present as “role models.” Rihanna is having none of that.

So, when the Internet reacted acutely to her latest provocation—the “Bitch Better Have My Money” music video—I was prepared to be shocked; instead, I found myself more puzzled and intrigued by the over-the-top displays of violence and sexual spectacle. Keep in mind, however, that I’m watching a video conceptualized and co-directed by a black woman who is clearly invested in power for herself—as Rebecca Carroll noted—and I’m doing so after a volatile month in which black women’s victimization made headline news. When teenage girls like Dajerria Becton are violently assaulted by police for attending a pool party, how could I not relish seeing a smiling, bikini-clad Rihanna outwitting a clueless sheriff while hiding her kidnapped victim in the pool? And when cold-blooded white supremacists like Dylann Roof gun down African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina—the majority of whom are black women—and families of the victims offer forgiveness to the killer, which is later interpreted by the wider public as necessary “racial healing,” how could I not appreciate Rihanna’s revenge fantasy against someone who did her wrong? This is a needed reminder that, while forgiveness is the higher virtue, sometimes we just want to vent our rage at injustice.

Is Rihanna’s video messy, sexist, anti-feminist, outrageous? It has its moments, both feminist and anti-feminist, however, reducing its narrative to whether it’s feminist or not seems rather shortsighted. We live in a world in which racist killers raise the specter of white womanhood—and raped white womanhood in particular—to justify the murders of black women and men. That Rihanna would recycle the same spectacle of victimized white womanhood—as a way to harm white manhood—is a complicated critique of these problematic gendered racial narratives. Not to mention her own critique of certain women who collude in white capitalist patriarchy, as the video clearly shows the “trophy wife” of the accountant (the “Bitch” who absconded with her money) enjoying a lavish lifestyle, funded by stolen money, thus highlighting the ways that elite women are viewed in terms of oppression rather than sisterhood.

As Gloria Steinem once noted in “The Masculinization of Wealth,” sexism has caused many of the working class to vilify women of wealth, often more harshly than men of wealth. However, such women who align with the capitalist interests of their husbands, sons and fathers, who indeed can take over financial institutions and perpetuate the same oppression, are often condemned, not for their womanhood, but for their close proximity to economic, social and racial power.  In other words, as Rihanna demonstrates in her video, the targeted wife is not “innocent” when she enjoys wealth based on the exploited (or stolen) labor of others. And in a storyline that could have turned the tables in which this character joins Rihanna and her posse in solidarity and sisterhood in seeking revenge against her husband (who is also revealed to be a “cheater”), the pop star refuses such easy alliances.

While Mia McKenzi argues, “black women often see white women as the same as white men,” Rihanna is a bit more complex than simply equating white womanhood and manhood. Intriguingly, Rihanna’s fellow kidnappers include another white woman along with a woman of color. It is rather telling, actually, that when given the chance to identify with either the trophy wife or one of Rihanna’s accomplices, too many white women critics have chosen to identify with the former. Even in fantasy, the idea of being a black woman’s ally in the quest for monetary reparations is too much to imagine for some, especially in a culture that has deemed elite blonde womanhood as the epitome of feminine ideals. The hyper-visible white blonde, fashion-model, Barbie doll beauty standard is too alluring and often shown in need of defense, even against the “shock-and-awe” provocations of a black pop star.

Rihanna is quite deliberate in her choice of Canadian actor and model Rachel Roberts; she is the beauty ideal in our culture and the specter of white womanhood that white supremacists violently defend and that marketers promote as a “universal” ideal. That she is subjected to various abuses—stuffed in a trunk, hung naked upside down, drugged and knocked unconscious—is akin to little girls destroying their “perfect” dolls precisely because such beauty models are viewed as oppressive (the “doll” metaphor is most obvious when Rihanna’s posse take turns literally “dolling” her up in a motel room). In literally objectifying the “kidnapped” white woman (the type that mainstream media offers up in 24/7 coverage), Rihanna’s video subverts standard tropes of victimized womanhood through the spectacle of bad-girls-on-the-run. There is even space for sisterhood here since the kidnapped wife is not raped or beaten in the motel room but is instead shown enjoying herself at this all-girls party, which complicates this as more than a “misogynistic” story.

Of course, the “value” of this wife is rendered satirically since the so-called “Bitch” (as Rihanna cartoonishly reminds us that the subject of her rage is the husband and not the wife) could care less that she has been kidnapped. He has already replaced her with other women. It is here that the video takes a darker turn towards feminist critique when Rihanna refocuses her vengeance in a twisted Valerie Solanas-type manifesto. We are spared the actual scenes of this “cutting up men” scenario, but her various knives and chainsaws allow our imaginations to run wild, not least of which is a naked, money-covered and blood-soaked Rihanna at the end, reminiscent of Carrie after her night of vengeance.

What is particularly striking about Rihanna is her unapologetic embrace of violence and power in her songs and videos. When the fictive targets of violence are white, as rapper M.I.A. discovered with her controversial “Born Free” video, the public reacts disapprovingly to these narratives by women of color. We also, as Zeba Blay has pointed out, tend to be more comfortable when men like filmmaker Quentin Tarantino produce such narratives. Here, a “Rihanna Unchained” is a more disturbing scenario, perhaps because of her own history with intimate partner violence. However, I would argue—especially in the context of TMZ releasing a photo of her battered face without her consent, in the wake of Chris Brown’s assault—that Rihanna has since refused the “victim” image foisted on her and instead boldly engages with violent narratives to reposition herself in terms of power and survival. Her “Man Down” video, which invited controversy for its depiction of a rape survivor gunning down her assailant, is one such example.

As a provocateur, Rihanna seeks attention, and in Madonnaesque fashion, she delivers in spades. However, it is her flipping of masculinist scripts—the reclaiming of chauvinistic language, the cartoonish and flippant treatment of violence, her insistence on getting paid for her labor, and her reenactment of machismo through her hyper-feminine fashionista presentation (replete with an all-girl posse)—that makes the BBHMM video much more layered than a simple woman-hating narrative, as some have labeled it. Both the women and men who seek to exploit her will have to contend with a black woman’s rage. And in a culture that is more comfortable with black forgiveness than it is with black anger, such narratives will be difficult to engage beyond blanket condemnation.

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Janell Hobson is an associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of Body as Evidence: Mediating Race, Globalizing Gender and Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, and a frequent contributor to Ms.


  1. Emilia Tate says:

    A black woman could make a snuff movie in which white women were killed on screen and some “feminists” would defend it.

    Basically, this article argues that because racism exists, black artists are exempt from criticism and social and ethical responsibility. The sort of blatant misogyny evident in Rhianna’s video hurts all women of all races. It was made for shock value, but more importantly it was made for money. To create controversy which would increase sales. It’s an empty, vicious, exploitative video with only dollars at its soul.

  2. Janell Hobson says:

    Actually, no, Emilia. I’m not defending Rihanna’s video because racism exists. I’m merely stating that my own personal experience, as a black feminist, colored the way I watched the video in the context of our our hyper-violent times, which I confess gave me a certain guilty pleasure in watching this video, and Rihanna is the type of pop artist who is provocative enough to give us disturbing narratives. I don’t make any argument that this is a “feminist” video,only that it has both feminist and anti-feminist moments. But that certainly doesn’t mean we can’t engage it from feminist and non-feminist perspectives. I invite you to actually look at the different nuances of the spectacle of revenge, the ways women engage violence (even when targetingeach other) and how “blatant misogyny” is a simplistic dismissal. We don’t have to agree on this, but don’t come here with a simplistic “who’s more feminist than thou” attitude if you don’t want to push yourself on the different ways women publicly engage with our problematic representations of womanhood that affects us all – women and men, white and people of color.

  3. I agree with the above comment. Not all cultural production can/should be redeemed with these convoluted justifications for pornagraphic violence. I shutter to think of all the preteens who will see this video.

    • Evie Hanlon says:

      I agree Mimi. Though I enjoyed reading this blog and I’m interested to hear different views on it, I just get so frustrated with the violence and mysogyny that the music industry and particularly the rap/whatever you put Rihanna under section. There’s a huge platform there to use for political change and all you really see them do with it is oversexualise, give us words like ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ and keep particularly black women in a particular box. It’s frustrating. There’s a vid on Youtube of a young American woman of Hindu heritage rhyming about Beyonce and the music industry. To me that’s relevant and that’s powerful and that’s to be shown to our kids. Unfortunately most Americans I see comment on that can’t see past the scarf she wears and label her a Muslim…
      God Bless America.

  4. Janell Hobson says:

    I must also say, Emilia, that your whole takeaway that my article is about “excusing black artists because racism exists,” is unbelievably narrow-minded and very much a projection of your own racial issues. I’m sorry that you have no concept of intersectional analysis that could help you to complicate the conversation I’m generating beyond “misogyny” exists when there are many problematic – as well as subversive – issues that are presented both in Rihanna’s video and my own response to it.

  5. candice3224 says:

    I don’t approve of sexual exploitation and sexual violence (including in music videos), and I don’t make class distinctions between music video stars and Hollywood stars vs. lower income women. Obviously, Rihanna and Madonna and Miley Cyrus aren’t as offensive as some of the RAP and Hip Hop stars (including the white Robin Thicke and Eninem or however you spell his name) – but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to defend these women. Besides, in a patriarchal culture, Rihanna, Madonna and Miley Cyrus are also victims of sexual exploitation. Just because Rihanna and Madonna are wealthy doesn’t change the fact that they are objects of sexual exploitation – and have both been victims of domestic violence.

  6. Wow! Massive subject. I’m a big fan of Janell’s, largely because whenever I read one of her solid, well thought out pieces, there is a moment when my brain implodes and I go ‘what now? Holy crap, that IS true and I never looked at it like that before’.
    So yeah, salute for tackling a video with some hugely confronting and offensive aspects to it, for me, anyway. That moment where she’s hanging upside down, I was like, woah, I’m really uncomfortable about this image. But overall, there’s also an element I agree with, the ‘let’s kick out the white blonde stereotype and give everyone else some air’ thing, and she also does that so well. The naughty girl in me really just liked Rhianna.
    Everyone can’t be Beyoncé.

    • candice3224 says:

      I come from a lower income white Canadian family and I have very dark hair and eyes, but I take offense at the idea that white blonde stereotyped women deserve abuse. This attitude did not seem to help Dorothy Stratten or Margeux Hemingway, two women exploited in soft core porn who wound up dead, one murdered and one by suicide. And it doesn’t seem to help Pamela Anderson, who has said she was molested as a teenager and was a battered wife. Besides, it’s not just white fair-haired women who are victims of patriarchy anyway. Yes, I am a Canadian but I am not supporting violence against Rachel Roberts.

      • lily fassbinder says:

        I find the discussion of this video a relinquishing of our agency to the corporate media. This is not a discussion about real women or real experience but about corporate media stereotypes and reactions to them, which would be a great thing to discuss if we didn’t pretend we’re talking about current events or history. White blond women have been pitted against all of us, by men, ever since the camera was invented, and that hasn’t helped them or us. On facebook, a woman has begun a long thread of venom against white women, based on the McKenzi commentary of it. The video made an already-wealthy pop star a lot of money for violence against women. That, to me, is the bottom line.

  7. Janell Hobson says:

    I can understand those who don’t approve of any forms of sexual and sexual violence depicted in our entertainment. I’m just offering my own interpretation since violence as a rhetorical narrative device is almost inevitable in our very violent culture, something that would affect the imaginations of both men and women and something that definitely gets filtered through our engagements with race, class, and gender issues. There are also other types of interpretations, for example, here is Margaret Corvid’s own reading of it as a BDSM fantasy: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2015/07/rihannas-bbhmm-has-horrified-many-feminists-i-saw-empowering-bdsm-fantasy

    • lily fassbinder says:

      Oh NO – not those pathetic BDSM women again! I heard a black woman at a bell hooks conference say that white women’s acceptance of BDSM, whether voluntary or not, hurts black women. She likened it to slavery, so please don’t pass that drivel along. Here’s one white woman who urges my sisters to find a partner who really, really attracts you sexually before you reduce yourself to sick European men’s greatest fantasy. The Marquis de Sade is cackling about Shades of Gray popularity in his putrid grave.

  8. Sigh… No Emilia your interpretation is quite limited… Allow me to repost my thoughts on it, I’m sure you’ll disagree with me as much as you disagree with Ms. Hobson but critically analyzing media is kinda a big deal if youre a feminist that is gonna preach intersectionality—

    They coulda had the kidnapped woman be any type of femininity but she’s wealthy and blonde and long haired, pretty by eurocentric standards. She’s a near perfect example of “perfect (white) femininity”. Analyzing her appearance even further, she is wearing white, symbolizing purity and specifically a pure femininity. Everything about this woman stands in stark contrast to Rihanna’s femininity which by eurocentric standards, will never be good enough to meet those limited standards.

    The woman has a dog that is toted around like an accessory and expensive jewelry as well… We’re being shown a very specific kind of white woman, one that benefits from Rihanna getting screwed over and benefits from the way our culture is set up… The kidnapped woman also benefits from the Bitch having money even if its not his because she spends the money he has… she wouldnt stand up for Rihanna because she doesnt have to, her life is good either way. Whether Rihanna gets screwed over the woman in white will still get her pearls and her car and whatever else she desires. Those at the top do not need to worry themselves with those below, c’mon white feminists, this is freaking standpoint theory. And if this will get you to rethink your opposition, the rich white woman wouldn’t stand up for working class women either, even if they were white. This woman is an extension of patriarchal and capitalism.

    its not that difficult to see the nuance if you’d just stop touting your “one-feminism fits all” bologna… there are many kinds of feminists and some don’t agree with everything mainstream white feminists have to say.

    we’re not standing in solidarity until we start listening to WOC and stop talking over them.

    Ms. Hobson brilliantly reveals many of the things going on in this video. I agree with many of the points she made hence why I felt compelled to write a comment. I wanted to show other visitors to this page, that your way is not the only interpretation. Like in her essay on Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” cover art, Ms. Hobson is very good at reading nuance. As she also says above, this isn’t as simple as anti-feminist/feminist. The actions here are thoughtful, the video coulda been anything too but Rihanna chose this narrative for conscious reasons.

    Please stop getting so defensive and think critically about the complexities here. Also you may wanna have a listen to Roxane Gay’s ted talk on being a “bad” feminist.


    • candice3224 says:

      Another Canadian perspective – maybe we should just celebrate the Montreal Massacre? After all, it was primarily white middle class women who were murdered. I find it interesting that I am offended by this attitude and I come from a lower income family; whereas many women supporting this attitude are themselves from privileged backgrounds – maybe they aren’t white and Anglo, but they have far more wealth than I have.

  9. Well, this video and a Rihanna are a bit difficult to defend, I would think from a feminist perspective. Besides the violence against a woman (yes, the rich, white oppressor’s rich white wife), in the video, which does not surprise me, since one of Rihanna’s first huge megahits was the song “S & M”, with its depictions of violence, the video, like many of hers, self-objectifies women. The medium of the music video, has been excellent for women to self-objectify themselves, and as you say, Madonna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift – you forgot Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus – are all guilty of this. I am an old (52) white male), probably part of the problem in our in society, although I try to be as progressively liberal to the left of Stalin as I can, and I always try to think with my brain, but I feel that the whole feminist philosophy that I have read from young feminists over the years – that they “are empowering themselves through their sexuality” can use some examination. There is nothing wrong with being self-empowered or sexy, but there is a fine line between “empowerment” and “self-objectifying”. Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Nicki Minaj have walked into “self-objectifying” territory, I am afraid. Beyoncé has done both, and Madonna has also done both, and to me, I would say that both Beyoncé and Madonna are more representative of feminist ideals than those three, for sure, and, despite her spectacle, Lady Gaga might be more along the lines of Madonna (I think her entire career is a rip-off of Madonna’s), as her songs and persona are strong, while her videos don’t strike me as self-objectifying. As for the black rage thing against the white oppressor, that I can duly understand in the Rihanna video, but, two of her accomplices happen to appear to be white.
    I believe that Janell Hobson is too intelligent, too brilliant (I mean that as a compliment), to be deconstructing this song and video, as I think she has actually put more thought and analysis into this, than Rihanna and her director probably ever did. If Ms. Hobson were to actually confront Rihanna on this, and share her thoughtful analysis, I am afraid Rihanna would end up just staring at her, and then try to downplay any thoughts that Ms. Hobson has, as I honestly don’t think that Rihanna has a clue to what Ms. Hobson is talking about. I am not trying to “infantilize” Rihanna, or insult her. She came here as a sixteen year-old from Barbados, having dropped out of school to pursue her music career. Her mentor at her record label was Jay-Z, and he transformed her in to the megahit artist she is today by actually sexualizing her in her music and videos. I am not trying to insult Rihanna, but I don’t think she has the same capacity of “self-actualization as a feminist” or the intellectual background as Ms. Hobson, or even the mental means to put this into her art. Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

  10. Janell Hobson says:

    “whenever I read one of her solid, well thought out pieces, there is a moment when my brain implodes and I go ‘what now? Holy crap, that IS true and I never looked at it like that before’.”

    Best compliment ever! That’s the kind of reaction I always hope to inspire in my readers. 🙂

  11. Janell Hobson says:

    Great read, Cata! You raised some other important points about this video (the color white, the dog as accessory, standpoint theory).

  12. Nadya Lawson says:

    Thanks Janell Hobson for this thoughtful and nuanced piece. This black lesbian feminist thinks your analysis was spot on. No, the BBHMM video is not feminist and doesn’t claim to be. But Rihanna delivers an unmistakable message all the same in upending power paradigms, creating a white cis-male nightmare and putting white women of a certain class on notice: your privilege will not protect you, (as brilliantly portrayed in the first scene with the police in which the kidnap victim was just another piece of ass), and your gender makes you a collaborator and beneficiary, not an ally. I wasn’t happy with a couple of elements in the video, but the overall presentation was a fantastic counterpoint to, say, a film like Set It Off, in which the black women were desperate as opposed to triumphant, still needed the legitimizing presence of men, and are either dead at the end or isolated. Go Rihanna! The legitimate rage she channels in BBHMM feels like truthtelling. Reactionary feminists would do well to listen and think.

  13. As a white woman, who isn’t blonde, rich or perfect by any means – I found the video and with the help of the educated opinion here of Janell Hobson, really compelling. There is something about Rihanna that makes me smile when I see her – and I do here knowing full well when the elevator doors open that she is up to no good. But I can’t help aligning with her – because of class and status. It’s the more disturbing violence and threat that had me on edge and might have made me turn off the video but for Prof. Hobson’s break-down of some of the nuances here revealing a subtly that I might have missed and I’m glad I didn’t. I’m uncomfortable with violence. I’m uncomfortable when I see one more movie or TV show of a woman being a victim of violence and crime.
    So yes the violence and threats frighten me. But in the video, Rihanna is seen on the phone many times trying to contact the husband for the money. Each time she ends the call angry and not getting what she wants. She sees her mistake, the wife doesn’t mean anything to him – so it is him now that must pay.
    The wife, in the end, she isn’t as valuable as she thinks she is and is replaceable just like a possession. Not understanding this distinction – being blind, unconscious, to it, like she is made blind and unconscious in the video – is what results in her death – if we assume she dies.
    Rihanna is bloody at the end of the video – herself in the trunk – as if she herself is killed – naked and laying on the money – owning her violence and owning her power to get back what is hers – even if it means victimizing a woman to do so, because ultimately that woman isn’t on her side. Probably not a video for children – but could I identify? Yes, I can. Why? because it expresses how class differences stand in the way of really understanding misogyny. If your needs are taken care of – you don’t have to challenge yourself and see what is happening to other woman. This woman didn’t – should she also be spared from the consequences? Rihanna says no. I think – wow powerful statement. I see the anger, and the rage at women who play the game at the detriment of other woman. Am I comfortable with that violence – no. But am I uncomfortable with a woman expressing her anger in an artful video – hell no – because allowing women to be angry and expressing it – is one powerful thing.

  14. Excellent analysis!

  15. I appreciate your thoughtful analysis, but I wouldn’t give Rihanna so much agency in this discourse. Her “people” (that is, whoever the heck she worked with on this video) were largely in the driver’s seat. Also, I see an attempt to “outdo” folks like Lady Gaga. There’s a place for this kind of thing in an artist’s repertoire, but in Rihanna’s case, the parody thread is likely obscured by the sexualization thread.

  16. I think the problem here is that people are triggered by sexualized violence. It’s the same reason why the fantasy violence of Game of Thrones triggers far less than the rape scenes. I don’t think that these things should not exist, or cannot be engaged with intellectually, but we’re seeing a lot of hair splitting arguments to try and force the sexual torture of a woman into some kind of feminist message. You’re really stretching.

    I don’t see any particular critical analysis here, other than a series of emotional snapshots of the author. She is triggered by many things, and finds some emotional gratification in the violence on screen. I actually would defend that, just as I defend women who play Grand Theft Auto, or my own enjoyment of slasher horror films. Sometimes, externalizing violence in a safe environment is cathartic, which is why you see so many ancient Roman plays filled to the brim with blood, rape, and gore. What I do not do, however, is enter into a feminist space and use my emotions to put a feminist spin on why I might watch movies in which young blonds get hacked up by masked killers. Or, at least, I wouldn’t do that and act surprised if someone is upset.

    This is not to say that a gendered critical reading of slasher horror, GTA, or this music video cannot be accomplished. They can, but they must be within broad spectrum analysis: eg what does the sexual violence against women in media mean about internalized fears, etc.
    What we have here is a series of emotional responses, however, that fail to recognize the emotions of others who may see this as a horrific re-enactment of their own traumatic experiences.

    This music video is not really analogous with videos like Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s Telephone, which exists in this Tarantino-riff world in which two women poison a diner for… basically no reason. It’s stupid, self-indulgent, but not particularly triggering, as doesn’t appear to exist in any reality and the violence is bloodless, fake, and not lingered upon. There’s no sexual violence. There’s just sexual pop-stars trying to get ratings.

    In this case, however, there is a strong, real-life component. There are too many people who have launched into their defences of this video with saying that the woman deserved it, with a certain relish. She deserved it because she’s rich, because white feminism, because southern belles, because she looks like someone that is supposed to be bad. And yet, how often in the real world, do the real followers of pop-idols and starlets take out their aggression on “girls who look like they’re supposed to be bad”? How often to we see bullying after rape and sexual assault, from other women, because “bitch was slutty”, “bitch was spoiled”, “bitch deserved it”? And, who among us who may have experienced this could be triggered by this kind of move?

    Rihanna isn’t an impoverished underdog, although she might play one. She has more in common with the fur-wearing rich woman than she does with her own character. The rich woman who deserves it isn’t real: she’s an icon of internalized hatred being humiliated and abused for the pleasure of others. I can’t help but see this as very sad, coming from a woman who was herself a victim of domestic violence. I wonder: Is she trying to replay this trauma in a way that brings the power back into her own hands? Maybe. Hell, that’d be more of a feminist analysis of Rihanna’s work.

    In a world where many, many women will experience this, I look out and see people like the University of Santa Barbara shooter, and those who defended him, and I feel afraid. It’s a violent world. It’s a frightening world. So, in response to your emotional snapshots of feeling vindicated by the sexual torture of a woman who looked like the idea of someone you think wouldn’t like you:
    What do you think someone might feel who has been sexually tortured, perhaps bullied for it by those who see her as “deserving”? And, can you see how someone can dislike this without being racist?

    People don’t sympathize with the victim here because she is white. They do because she’s the victim. They don’t sympathize because they’re racist. They sympathize because they may relate. They may not even be the same people who liked [insert some other thing that other people don’t like]. They are talking about this, right now. Not about Gaga or whatever other red herring. This. Now.

    I don’t think Rihanna needs to make feminist message-pieces. I don’t think that liking this video is wrong, or at least any worse than when I watch Friday the 13th. I don’t really see a difference. But, I do think that the subject matter is traumatic for many people, and denying the trauma of women is hardly a feminist stance. No one is denying that Rihanna is a woman, anymore than criticizing Game of Thrones is saying that Martin isn’t a human being. If anything, she’s a good business woman who knows how to shock people into talking about her music video. But, saying that any negative or traumatic responses associated with this imagery, or those in Game of Thrones, is because you are racist/sexist/denying someone their rights/etc is nonsensical.

    Again, I don’t want this censored, anymore than I want Game of Thrones or Eli Roth censored. But, I think a feminist should practice what she preaches and recognize that sexual assault statistics aren’t made up fantasy talking points. People will be triggered, and it’s not because they’re bad racist evil bitches who only care about “white feminism”. It’s because sexual trauma exists. Reverse the races in the video, and it’s still traumatic and triggering. Do I think we can’t have a valuable discussion? Sure, we can. But, I think that you should recognize why people have a problem with it in the first place, instead of creating a straw man argument. Racism absolutely exists. But, it’s not racist who dislike the sexual torment of a woman on screen in some silly pop ditty. Likewise, when people dislike horror films, GTA, or GoT, it’s important to recognize that they’re not just “anti-nerds” or “censors”, but people with real backgrounds.

  17. And, I find more disturbing that Rihanna is, in the video, caught in a cycle of violence where she is on both the giving and receiving end. Mostly because she is someone who has gone through violence, and I always feel like her work is dealing with this.

    And, again, to clarify, I actually don’t find the video offensive. I enjoy a lot of violent media. But, I am concerned with the way those who do find it offensive are pegged as racists. I don’t think this video deals with a nuanced discussion of race and violence. It’s a typical music video, and would be at home in earlier MTV, back when grungy rock videos showed this kind of thing all the time and no one gave a shit. I think people care more now because it has been hailed as feminist by many and we’re all told we must like it. I kind of like it, but I also deal with violence in my own life by projecting it outward in media and art. Someone who internalizes, however, or who has been through more trauma than I have, probably won’t like this. It’s NOT Rihanna’s fault, but we should be careful about how we peg someone who dislikes an honestly very triggering image. I don’t think she made this video because she thought, “Eh, this isn’t controversial!” I think she made it because she wanted to be shocking. So, why are we pretending to be surprised that anyone was shocked by this?

  18. When I saw this video I must thought on the tortured and slaughtered women in Mexico or the Native Womend missing in Canada or the tortured women during the dictatorship in Chile or in Argentina or or or…
    Have they also their “feminists” moments? Please tell me!!
    Feminists are outraged by the video “Monster” from Kanye West and here you say it has “feminists moments”?? Are you kidding? That is so dishonest….

  19. Janell Hobson says:

    Thanks everyone for expressing your thoughts! Different people are bringing so many different issues here, which means – feminist or not, pro-violence or parody of it – this video is getting us to talk about the issues that are important in these trying times: violence against women, exploitation of women’s labor/bodies/$$, performance vs. reality, pop stardom and provocations, revenge fantasies, etc. Whether Rihanna intended to or not, she’s definitely got us talking, which is what good art/entertainment should be doing. If she created the “right” or “politically correct” version, we probably wouldn’t have even batted an eyelid.

  20. Elene Gusch says:

    My teeth are still on edge after seeing a sincere commenter branded as “unbelievably narrow-minded.” “Thanks everyone for expressing your thoughts” doesn’t quite take that away, but it helps. Yes, getting us talking is good. As a blogger myself, I appreciate that– and hope I will not find myself shaming someone who bothers to comment on what I write.

  21. I deeply appreciate your analysis of the video and 100% agree. I hope to write like you some day…..about to look up your other articles. Thank you.
    And thank you for responding to the white tears so eloquently *CLAPPING*

  22. There is nothing feminist about this video…. real feminism is kind, nurturing and loving… this is either real or imitation snuff…. shame on you for acting so nonchalant about it… white or black.

  23. Hi. I actually missed this entire controversy for various reasons, and while I appreciate the nuanced and thought-provoking interpretation of the video, I also feel that the interpretation is crediting the film with a complexity
    that doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. I don’t believe that violence against anyone is ok – or more correctly, even explainable, for any reason. And I do believe that platforms for representation can and should be held up to further ethical scrutiny. It is a question of morality above all, and I hold those standards up to many other media productions that ‘gloss’ images of sexualised torture, regardless of who is presented as the victim.
    I accept that that is an opinion, but perhaps the issue here is indeed interpretation. Because despite really engaging with the analysis here and almost being on board, I’m afraid I lost my investment in the critical analysis of the piece when I reached the comment ‘the wife is not raped or beaten in the motel room but is instead shown enjoying herself at this all-girls party’.

    This was not my reading of that scene at all. For me it clearly smacked of date-rape undertones, complicity (read as responsibility) in victimisation, but in a way that points towards the psychological abuse that could occur in such a situation. In other words, is the victim really in control here, or even ‘having fun’? Or have their experiences this far in the situation led to a form of erratic behaviour that could be read many ways? As a desperate attempt to ‘bond’ and reclaim power in the situation, for example? As a forced drug-induced, barely conscious form of victimisation? To dismiss this scene as an ‘all-girls party’ for me undoes the critical nuance of the analysis here presented. To see complexity in this production but reduce that particular scene to such a simplistic and short-sighted concept to some extent undermines the argument presented for a more in-depth analysis of the piece. Moreover, it also simplifies the platforms and spectrums of abuse and victimisation towards women, and men, that occur on a daily basis, almost implicitly implying that abuse can only be physical violence or rape. The power dynamic does not disappear during this scene, and if anything, on a closer reading it can be seen at its most powerful. It uses a trope that plays into highly damaging, pornographic narratives of consent that ignores conscious incapacitation or compromise, and contextually-reduced power and agency.

    In other words, if I am to concede to the level of complexity here credited to the film, then this surely must apply throughout. And even if not, I would lean towards an interpretation of that scene as a continued simplistic narrative of sexualised abuse based on pornographic sexual fantasy tropes (themselves detrimental to the victim-blame culture of sexual assault). In the end, it may be just an interpretation, but I certainly do not read that scene as a mutually-consentual and fun ‘all-girls party’.

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