Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Liz Jones on “toxic” role models: well, she would know.

Hey, Liz, let’s talk about role models.

A role model is someone who sets a good example, right? In this particular instance, to children and young adults. For you, Rihanna is a bad role model, because she takes drugs, drinks alcohol, parties hard, has sex, dresses and dances sexily, and talks about all of it. Sure, I see your point – it isn’t appropriate for children to be doing any of that. But is it Rihanna’s fault that they’re being exposed to that?

She’s a 25 year old woman living her life. Her behaviour is not unlike that of many her age, younger and older – and if those people had her money and opportunities? You’re damn right they’d behave the same. Furthermore, Rihanna herself is open in the fact that she is not a role model. She is not asking any little girl to be like her, to want her lifestyle; what makes little girls hunger for that is the importance that society and the media places on celebrity in the first place. Rihanna hasn’t asked for any of this. She didn’t choose to become famous (although of course, it was no doubt what she wanted) and she didn’t ask for the media circus that follows her around, documenting her every move. She might work it, because she has to, to continue to earn money – but it isn’t ultimately her making. So, to expect of her to be a “role model” is to expect her to take on an identity that she would never choose, and to limit her freedom in the process. What good is that, exactly?

If Rihanna is a bad role model for children then those children should not have access to her or her music. She isn’t making it for them. She doesn’t exist for them. You talk about how they “writhe and pout along to her suggestive lyrics in a disturbing mimicry of adult sexuality” – but whose fault is that? Rihanna is an adult, Rihanna is open in her sexuality (more about that later). She can sing songs about whatever she wants. If it’s inappropriate for these children to be listening to her music and copying her, then their parents and guardians need to step in. This isn’t Rihanna’s responsibility.

Dress this up in concern for the children all you want: it’s obvious to me that it’s about policing a young WOC’s life. If Rihanna didn’t dress and act sexy, she would never be successful in this patriarchy. But because society also prizes female purity above all else, she gets shamed for it at every turn. So, the newspapers are filled with stories bemoaning how she’s just gone too far with whatever outfit or stage act she’s done – with plenty of pictures to be ogled at simultaneously. Which is bullshit. Rihanna’s doing what she has to do to survive. If that’s not suitable for children, blame the people who constructed the society and the industry she’s working in. And also think about your own prejudices. So much of the music composed by female artists at the moment is about devotion to men, and being wanted, and doing everything to please them. Rihanna sings about her own desires, and how if she doesn’t feel it, she ain’t faking it. That’s good. Young women need to realise that their sexuality, suppressed because the patriarchy fears it unless it serves men and men alone, is a positive thing that they can explore.

Who do you think is a better role model for little girls, anyway, Liz? Perhaps Taylor Swift, whiter-than-white pop princess – who spends her songs complaining about how she’s better for the guys she’s interested in than the girls they eventually choose, for reasons like they’re “better known for the things that she does on the mattress”, or they “wear short skirts” whilst she wears t-shirts. Or something. In other words, the supposed good role models for girls at the moment are encouraging harmful ideas. So maybe you should back off Rihanna, hey?

But you’re not going to, Liz, because this isn’t about the little girls; it’s about your hatred for yet another woman. You shame her for reconciling with her abuser, Chris Brown, stating that she “had an opportunity to be a poster girl for young women escaping abusive relationships. But…” - no buts, Liz. She is a survivor of domestic abuse. She isn’t obligated to do anything. Then you hilariously mention how “pictures of Rihanna’s dance moves were too explicit to print in a family newspaper”, when this article appears on the Daily Mail website alongside a myriad of photographs of young women in their underwear or bikinis, often taken without their permission. I’d bet everything I have that sexy pictures of Rihanna have appeared there. But probably the worst thing this article suggests is that Rihanna’s fashion sense “invites rape at worst, disrespect at best” – no. Rihanna could go on stage naked and not be inviting rape or disrespect. She can do whatever she wants, wear whatever she wants, and it’s none of your business. No matter how sexy she looks and indeed is – she’s not asking for it. She’s not asking for anything. Any man who cannot comprehend that doesn’t deserve to walk this Earth.

So, let’s talk about role models, Liz. You use a platform with a national newspaper to write a constant stream of bile about women, tearing them down, attacking them, often senselessly, often personally. You imply that a survivor of domestic violence is a failure if she doesn’t act in the way you deem fit afterwards, you suggest that women can be responsible for the rape that someone else does to them. You believe that it is right for female celebrities to be constantly criticised in ways that male celebrities aren’t, because “young women are far more impressionable than young men” (what kind of reasoning is that?!) You are obsessed with the material and the superficial. You comment on Rihanna’s “gun tattoos, her false nails and fake hair, her bogus bad-ass shenanigans that try to portray her as ‘real’, as ‘street’, as her own person, as strong and single-minded” – what’s that got to do with anything? None of that has any bearing on how much of a role model she has, and is none of anyone’s business.

Besides, maybe what you’ve failed to realise is that Rihanna is her own person, strong and single-minded. She’s living her life how she wants, and doing what she wants. But she said it better herself: “I got my own fucked up shit to work on, I’ll never portray that as perfect, but for right now it’s ME!!”

This post was first published here - thanks to the author for permission to cross post.

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