I just posted an inordinately long response to Heather Catherine Hogan's blog post regarding Rihanna's reconciliation with Chris Brown. Since it is long enough to be a blog post itself, I thought I'd go ahead and post it here, too, though it's not on a subject I had planned to blog about. But I'm not editing it the way I would a post written specifically for my own blog, so please forgive its sprawling sentences and lack of structure -- and please realize that you'll need to read Heather's original post and our exchange in her comment box for the below to make sense. I thought the points were worth making, even if I am misunderstood, and hope that the discussion Heather's post has engendered will draw attention to some of the problems that obviously concern us both.
Heather, thanks for your response. I have certainly read accounts of people in her community who are encouraging her not to press charges against Brown and who are not just encouraging, but facilitating, her reconciliation with him. Just as a single example, I would point to Sean Combs (Diddy), who offered the two of them his house to meet and reconnect in privacy (which they took him up on -- and where it is now being suggested that they may have secretly married). I have been disheartened, in fact, to read of the numbers of celebrities and fans (in comment streams on news and blog sites) who have argued that, while it's sad what happened to her, "that's life," or "we shouldn't judge" Brown, or who hope she won't press charges against him.
Yes, there are large numbers of people who feel like you and I do, that there could be no circumstances under which she should return to such a relationship and that Brown should not be excused from the consequences of his actions on the basis of his fame or his past reputation. But that does not change the fact that this society provides women with many, many incentives to remain in a bad relationship. Read the reports that mention how Rihanna's dream is have the marriage, the 2 children, the home, etc. -- and specifically by the age of 25. In a world in which being single (or divorced) is still considered a horrible fate for a woman (see the endless articles about the "shortage of black men" and the inability of successful black women to find husbands -- or the recent interview with Reece Witherspoon who spoke of the "humiliation" of getting divorced); in a world where the financial consequence of divorce for most women is poverty; in a world where domestic violence occurs literally millions of times a year in America alone (and where women are the victims in nearly 95% of the cases) -- in this world, I would argue, a woman need not be completely abject and consider herself to be utterly without value (worthless!) to convince herself that she might be better off with her abuser than without him, that "love conquers all," that it's worth taking the risk that "he'll never do it again."
The mixed messages women get in this society are beyond belief and have powerful consequences. To take a related example, on one side there are people decrying the frighteningly skinny models and celebrities the industry demands and puts before us day after day, condemning the way this contributes to anorexia and bulimia, the crazy body image issues that these models promote. On the other side are just as many (if not more) people lined up to photograph the super skinny women, to gush about how gorgeous they look in their clothes, to pay them accordingly, and to make fun of the Jessica Simpsons who dare to be seen at a normal weight. How much willpower does it take to ignore the incentives on the latter side? Where is the glamor, the adoration? Which message circulates the most and speaks the loudest to teenaged girls, to young people during their formative years? By time they reach college-level Women's Studies courses (those who do), a lot of damage has been done.
Yes, there are serious self-esteem issues involved in the decisions Rihanna is making with regard to forgiving Brown -- of course there are, and she needs all the support and help she can get to work them out. But until this society sends clear messages that it is not a sign of the depth of a woman's love that she remains with her abuser, that the marriage vow to stay together "for better or for worse" does not (any longer!) mean "even if he beats me," and so on, and so on, it will not be fair to suggest that societal pressures are irrelevant and the only reason a woman might stay in an abusive relationship is because she feels she is worthless. Or put differently, where would she get an idea like that in the first place???