On Domestic Violence, Rihanna, Chris Brown, And Running Out Of Ph-cks To Give


But here’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of making this post about Rihanna and Chris Brown (or even myself)!!! Because, really? They are not important. But the issues they represent are hugely, hugely important.  Which is why everyone’s talking about it. I came across an interesting piece on New York Magazine titled Why Hating Chris Brown Doesn’t Help Rihanna:

Earlier this week, Brown stomped away from Twitter after a nasty back-and-forth with writer Jenny Johnson, who called him a “worthless piece of shit.” Many Rihanna fans cheered. But this is just about the worst way to try to support her, says Katie Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Oftentimes, the survivor is not ready to leave, not sure what to do, confused,” she says, “so the worst thing that someone can do is bad-mouth the abuser, because she’s probably going to go back home to him. The average survivor leaves seven times before she leaves for good.”

Many times, survivors who return to their abusers work very hard to convey to the world that it’s all okay behind closed doors — and hope that narrative becomes the reality. Recording a duet about their enduring love is Rihanna and Chris Brown’s version of showing up to Christmas dinner together holding hands. “When a survivor returns, there is a period of time when things are better,” Ray-Jones says. “I’m really hopeful that there’s not violence in that relationship, but I have my reservations based on some things that he’s still continuing to do in social media.”

“I think the collective response has to be, ‘That’s not how we’re going to treat women.’ Men need to hold Chris Brown accountable,” Ray-Jones says. That doesn’t mean name-calling, but it does mean pointing out that violent language toward women, which Brown has exhibited time and again in the years since his abuse of Rihanna surfaced, is never acceptable. “Young people need to see role models who are having healthy relationships,” Ray-Jones says. That includes not just what happens between Rihanna and Chris Brown, but also how we react to them.

Sidenote: I also read a great counter-piece to this one, where someone argued that– because we aren’t actually Rihanna’s friends or a part of her support system– hating Chris Brown totally has its merit. And ultimately, I don’t really, really care about Rihanna and whether or not she stays or goes with Chris. But, for whatever reason, I do care about her fans, and his fans. Someone once said that it’s fine for young people to listen to Hip-Hop, but that young women especially need help UNPACKING the ish that they will hear. I feel similarly about Chris and Rihanna. It’s fine if young people look up to them… young people tend to do that with their fave artists. Maybe it’s okay if your daughter likes/loves Rihanna… as long as she also knows who bell hooks is and what Sojourner Truth meant when she asked Ain’t I A Woman? If Rihanna and Chris Brown are household names, then maybe that’s okay… as long Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf are too. Except those guys didn’t have Twitter, so yeah. No. That probably won’t happen. But it doesn’t mean we can’t expose our children (and ourselves) to them too. 

Young adults (who represent these two artists’s core audiences) are just like children, which means they’re just like adults. They only know what they’re exposed to, so if they can be exposed to a lot they might “know” a lot.  Those girls who are all like Chris Brown and RiRi are sooo cute, or the ones who legit say things like I’d let him beat me are underexposed. And those girls who try to imitate Rihanna’s poses and then share their failed attempts on Instagram are also underexposed (or overexposed, depending on how ya look at it).

Can we just take a moment to sorta die laughing over these photos? Shouts-out to my girl Lolita for posting these on her Facebook:

OMG. Like, severely underexposed. And that’s not on RiRi and Chris! That’s on us! Us = Parents, teachers, writers, artists, student. bloggers, citizens of the world, anyone who’s ever looked at any teenager anywhere and thought anything negative about society as we know it. It’s on us. Rihanna and Chris have one job, and regardless of whatever extra-curriculars they participate in, they’re pretty much doing their jobs.

Upon much reflection, and upon hearing the thoughts of a few good friends (which I share at the end of this post) I realize that I don’t wish for Rihanna and Chris to break up, and I also don’t wish for them to work it out. I just hope that– since they’ve decided to make their lives so visible to their fans, and since we’re living in a time when this is more possible than ever– parents of their young fans are doing their job; that they’re explaining to their daughters and their sons what a healthy relationship looks like, what respect looks like, what love looks like. Incidentally, these things are all, virtually impossible to explain, but it helps if we lead by example.

But you know what sucks? I know that hella, hella parents are not doing this! I know that some parents are doing this, but I know that most parents are not doing this. Maybe I should stress that I’m speaking for and about American parents. Most parents are not giving their kids the tools they need to unpack this ish. I’m not claiming to understand how to raise a teenager— I’m scared ish-less of the day when my four year-old magically turns into a fourteen year-old over night. But I know I’m trying now to show him what healthy relationships look like. And every time I see or hear about how Chris Brown did something douchey, I’m reminded of the fact that I cannot completely run out of ph-cks to give. Because I have two boys. And I really, really don’t want them to be douchebags. They can be anything else in the world, but not douchebags. And I honestly believe that if we each encourage the young people among us to be anything other than douchebags, the world will truly be a better place.


Okay, y’all have no idea how much help I had with this post! Including all of the authors I’ve cited below in the Further Reading section (because, yeah, I made a Further Reading section), so many of my scary-smart friends responded to a Facebook post I wrote, asking for help on this piece. Here are just a few excerpts from the great responses I got:

I was over Rihanna when she tried to use the whole beat down to further her career (Steph).


I don’t really truly care if rihanna is with him or not or if he’s with that other girl but that doesn’t stop me from thinking all 3 of them are breathtakingly stupid people… I think karrueche is very pretty though, that rihanna is trashy, and that Chris is a douche nozzle in general but also didn’t deserve ALL the vitriol in the aftermath of that beating (Amelia, who introduced me to my new favorite descriptor: douche nozzle).


Like most criminal behavior, so much of the rhetoric around domestic violence lacks nuance or dialogue outside of right and wrong… There’s an assumption that women like Rhianna aren’t supposed to tolerate those things because they have power. For me, this situation disrupts the fantasy of the strong and powerful female image and forces ideas about the reality of women’s experiences in the world… We know men like Chris Brown get away with these behaviors, but we can’t seem to let women process what happens to them afterwards in their own way… I just wish women could own their experiences more but that is more of a nice idea than a possibility… (Emma)


I don’t thinks it’s so much about how bad she is or he is, or who they are at all. It’s more about the proxies they became. They were no longer people with full personalities, but she was the abused, and he was the abuser. SO when she went back to Chris Brown it was like trying to take all of that back, which is why maybe some see it as a betrayal (Nicholle).


what if…and this is a big what if…Rih Rih and Chris actually love each other? There I said it. What if they actually, genuinely and legitimately are soul mates, brought together and bound by God (or any other force you attribute that kind of soul shaking attraction to). Personally, I give zero ph-cks about them and their relationship. But I know that in my early 20’s, I was learning about love and relationships and was constantly ph-ck’ing them up. I’m no better than Chris Brown and that’s without making comparison… If they were your friends and they weren’t the celebrities that we know them to be, none of this would truly matter. We’d shake our heads and wish them the best. Or we’d shake our heads and ask them what they really want. Or we’d shake our heads and tell them that we only want the best for them. But in the end, all of those scenarios conclude in our definition of happiness going up against theirs. And as in all relationships, their definition of happiness is all that matters (David).


I do care in the “we are normalizing intimate relationship violence by putting it everywhere that is popular and by ways sending f’d up messages to girls who are playing the slippery line of ‘what’s the big deal?'” It’s like when you (I mean I) watch shows like bad girls club and hear teenage girls on the train talking about how they badder than Rima… they want to be these chicks. And some probably want to be Rihanna too. Another reason why I do care is because there’s this weird “because she’s rich/popular/does provocative dancing/dressing/is foreign/has a stank attitude” we care less about the root issue which is she’s got issues and an abusive partner. If she was any other woman there wouldn’t be a bunch of excuses as to why it’s not a big deal. Oh and she’s black. Black women being abused is not an issue. Even though they’re the highest demographic to die at the hands of a partner or whatever it’s not important (Angela).


I don’t know that everyone talks about it for the same reason.

There are the people who put others down to make themselves feel better, need to recognize problems in celebrities’ lives to make their own lives seem better by comparison (to know that celebrities aren’t perfect), or need to feel superior because they’re making “better” life choices.

I think some people might talk about it [Chrianna] for the same reason we talk about our friends/family members when we perceive them to be making a poor decision – because we want them to be happy and can’t see why the person would do that. It’s like talking to your friends about your best girlfriend and why she’s still with her jerk of a husband even after he cheated. Celebrities are so accessible now, it’s LIKE they’re in our circle, even when they’re not. I saw a woman on TV crying over Kate Middleton being pregnant. It’s like it’s happening to her, but obviously, it’s not (Erica).


Ok so what I think we all forget at times is that these are clearly PAID INDIVIDUALS and the spotlight stays on them no matter what situation they may be going through. Do I think its ok to physically abuse women? No, nor do I believe that a woman should put her hands on a man yet these kinds of things happen every day and they always seem to go back, so what makes Chris and RiRi different… MONEY AND WORLD FAME LOL! (Valerie)


I think we care because A. they were a hot hollywood couple and people eat that stuff up and B and more importantly i dont think people cant get that image of her face swollen and bruised and unrecognizable (Tiffany).


I’ll say that if Chris Brown hadn’t done all the number of ridiculous, childish and at times violent antics he has done since this situation this reconciliation of sorts may have been easier to take… Romeo and Juliette, according to some folks, were star-crossed, fated lovers . . . to me they seem like bratty, horny teenagers who single-handedly cause not only the destruction of themselves but an entire village because of the insistence that they should be together. That we, as readers, believe otherwise only underlines Shakespeare’s brilliance. But I digress (Rickey).


If i had a friend in RiRi’s situation i would not berate her or judge her, i would support her. Bottom line, she has to work through this for herself. Our criticisms mean nothing and they certainly dont help…  Chris obviously has his own issues as well. But instead of trying to help… We teach critique and punishment over healing. We teach blame rather than responsibility, to self, and to each other (Tiesha).


i think she’s a fighter
and she likes it, let’s face it she’s a little off…
and i think she’s insecure
and he was probably her first love (Ka Maria)


… So while yes abuse is a major issue plaguing our society…this is something that is happening in places where the lights and cameras are not on and people are being striped of their identity and dignity everyday, but yet there is no one trying to help or support them. In essence I no longer give a darn dam nickel lol about this relationship or even what happens from it because at the end of the day they are both two adults who apparently love being in this kind of cat and mouse game that isnt really funny given all that has been spewed, witnessed etc. (Jared).


The career building part rings true for me, and the mimickry so opposite of the strength I hear in Billie Holiday. Am I just partial to the old greats? I don’t think domestic life is all that different now, maybe just more expoitable but simultaneously less interesting. Cultural theory? Follow the money… (Jena)


Don’t expect a celebrity to raise your kids… If you think kids shouldn’t have these examples then be a better one yourself and keep your kids away from it. In my opinion a rich successful and talented person who makes mistakes and tries to better themselves is a better example than the baby mamas crying that this woman should ‘respect herself more’ get a life lol. She respects herself enough to do what she wants to do. And as far as he goes, stop making him the effigy for domestic violence. There’s a non celeb beating the shit out of somebody now. Find that person and crucify them maybe. Their music belongs to the world their personal lives are…personal. Even if it is on the damn TV (Kedonti).


If my success depended on people’s obsession with me, I’d do all sorts of stupid things to keep them hooked too (Giancarlo).


I cant say that I don’t care but I’m responding to you. So I do care. Rih Rih and Chris Brown have a very toxic relationship that will either work because they will continue to love each other without being apologetic or crumble because it will possibly lead to another episode of domestic violence (Corene).

Further Reading:

Why Do So Many Teens Still Blame Rihanna for Chris Brown’s Violence?

The Psychology Of Quitting

Thank You For Being You Chris Brown

On Hating Chris Brown

Rihanna And Chris Brown Trolling

OMG. I’m so happy Scandal’s coming on tonight. I totally need to go to my happy place now.

  • ceebee

    Eh. I’ll ramble because now I’m tired of these two. It’s hard not to just trash this messy couple (triangle if I include KT).

    At first glance, there are children that see images of Rih beaten to a pulp (and readily so on the internet) and that she repeatedly goes back to the person who hurt her. Children can start to believe that this behaviour is normal, and I suppose it is if stats of the abused leaving X-amount of times and going back to their abuser/the person they love are true (and who am I to argue?).

    But then there’s the ph-ckknuckle (new word for you Shannon) CB, who is let off time and time again for his petulance and poor behaviour socially and in relationships. He, whom has the balls (and probably in some ways is congratulated on) and ego to juggle two women who clearly crave his attention.
    I still listen to the music of Rih, but the heart wants what it wants. Stupid people do stupid things. It’s a vicious cycle, but you can only teach children good things and hope they grow into good people, like Shannon has said. I have a step-son (no children of my own) and I see him pulled into so many directions so people can one-up each other and get his affections (and sometimes I just offer him a cuddle and I think it beats all the spoilings he gets at other times), maybe it’s no different. People want love at the end of the day.

    We need to protect the ones we love and hope they do good things, and encourage good choices without pushing them too hard because sometimes in the end, we push them away.

    • Shannon

      ceebee, thank you for sharing this! Thank you for ‘ ph-ckknuckle’! LMAO.

      And I love what you wrote about your stepson. Cuddling SAVES ALL. So much of who we are begins with our family life (and family drama), which is why I always try to stress the importance of worrying about our own families when we we’re worried about the state of the world, lol.

  • emily

    Shannon, love your essays. This one esp caught my interest b/c RiRi seems a train wreck to me, and much like LiLo, I have to read posts about train wrecks. But then your essay makes me all look inside and figure out why I love celebrity train wrecks.

    In real life, I’m a compassionate friend who takes no pleasure in other’s pain. In gossip life, I love to see the ridiculousness that is LiLo, and Ri Ri angers me. Why, why? I feel like it’s b/c celebrities are put on pedestals and I like to see egos taken down a peg. On the other hand, as your article says, if we were friends with these people, we would work hard to help them or let them be, but either way we’d care. But celebrities aren’t our friends, so we’re free to judge them and treat them the way we’d never treat people in our real life … but why? It’s so twisted. I do it, and it’s so twisted. You complicate my gossip brain Shannon.

    Also, just love your sentence, “Most parents are not giving their kids the tools they need to unpack this ish” Truly, since we can’t change the “breathless stupidity” that is RR & CB, we can change what our kids are learning from this. It’s much healthier to learn than ridicule. You often make very insightful and thoughtful comments about parenting, you’re going to raise such wonderful young men who will be smart enough to stay the ph-ck away from women like RiRi. :o)

    • Shannon

      emily, ‘You complicate my gossip brain Shannon.’ OMG! Thanks for this. I lit’rally laughed out loud :)

      You know what? Trent is really good at talking about celebs, but also responding to them (even LiLo) as if they were, you know, real people, lol. I think that’s partly where I get it from. As much as I wanna just dismiss some of the trainwreck-age, I can’t help but be interested in the roots of it all… and then connect it to some of my own personal trainwreck-age, lmao.

      I swear to the gods. If one of my boys EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER brought home anyone who even, like, remotely reminded me of a girl who would post Twit pics akin to badgalriri’s… I would just give up on life. I would have failed. And I would know that I had somehow railed soooo hard against RiRi, that I’d somehow encouraged them to go after it, LMAO. Thanks for reminding me not to do that– see? This parenting stuff is tricky :)

  • Megan

    I hope people take the time to read all that, because it is all very interesting. Personally, I’ve given up on having any emotion when it comes to those two. I can’t even being myself to formulate my reaction to what you talked about. Ugh

    • Shannon

      Megan, I hear you. It took me forever just to get these thoughts out– the whole situation can really be exhausting. But it also can be enlightening, if we choose to see it that way. Thanks for commenting :)

    • Joan

      I find myself right where you are, Megan. I gave up on this two a long time ago. I never really liked Chris Brown so it was fairly easy do ignore him complete existence. I recently started doing that with Rihanna as well. I think she’s desperately looking for attention and I’m sure as hell not going to give it to her. Part of me believes she has learned to love the controversy and attention that comes with dating Chris Brown. I’m over her rebellious attitude towards everything (clothing included LOL) Anyway, good riddance to both and hopefully, for her sake, it doesn’t end bad.

    • Shannon

      Joan, ‘I think she’s desperately looking for attention’– for sure! I mean, you just don’t share Twit pics like that unless you’re starving for attention, lol. And it sucks that, at this point, it doesn’t matter what kind she gets. But like I said, I can understand that way of thinking, I just hope that her fans are being exposed to something (anything) other than RiRi in the nude :)

  • RachelW

    I read this article and realize that I am guilty of something completely different. I will define what that is as I write this because I can not find the word for it right now. I read the comments of those who said they would ‘fight’ for their friend if she was in an abusive relationship. I read the tips on how to talk to a friend who is an abusive relationship and how to and now talk about the abuser.

    But I also know what it is like to truly be the friend of a woman being abused. The panic every time the phone rings, especially after 6pm when you know he is home from work. The anxiousness that is caused when you don’t receive at least 10 texts from her during the day to make sure she is okay. The brave face you have to put on in front of him and company until she can make her escape and make her escape for good.

    My point…Rihanna and Chris fascinate me because I can place them in the category of OTHER. I don’t know them personally so there is no call to action, no sense of obligation to do anything. I mean they have managers, lawyers, agents, assistants, etc. Their relationship also serves as a point of reference. I remember the day my friend called me to say “Love the Way You Lie” perfectly described her relationship with her ex. I had to inform her the song was about domestic violence.

    My friend is no longer with her ex but she is different. I guess I struggle with following Rihanna and Chris Brown’s personal life because it is so easy to get yourself lost in a toxic relationship, even if you are not one of the main parties. I have struggled with guilt since at times I resented her for “just not getting it” and taking so much of MY time versus my unfaltering loyalty to her. The more I tried to create boundaries the more attention she sought.

    I am sure everything that has been mentioned here has been done at some level but the bond between Rihanna and Chris – unhealthy as it is – is too strong. And I do believe that somewhere in both of their camps someone is tired of fighting it; tired in the name of self preservation. (Please excuse any typos–It’s late and I”m catching up on my blogs :)

    • Shannon

      RachelW, thank you so much for sharing your experience with this subject. I think you’re right about Rihanna & Chris having people in their camps who have probably exhausted themselves with the issue– ‘tired in the name of self preservation’ indeed!

      And I also like your point about how there’s something about their story that’s kind of appealing, since we’re NOT their friends and we DON’T have to think about the best way to support them. In a way, it’s a lot like watching TV where we can kinda get involved in a character’s life, but we don’t owe them anything at the end of the day– we tune in and out as it suits us.

  • Joe

    It’s all too obvious to us, looking outside in. But from the inside–and considering their ages–this unfortunately is not terribly uncommon a scenario. Add fame/wealth & possible poor parenting/mentor/role models/family histories… and we have seriously f*cked up young love–and I use the term “love” EXTREMEly loosely if not ironically. See 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 right? Can’t believe I’m actually referencing the bible :-(
    Great essay, Shannon. Lots to think about! Thanks for putting it all down & sharing.

    • Shannon

      Joe, thanks for commenting! Years ago, I wrote a GINORMOUS paper on Corinthians 13– are you kidding me?! Love that book, love all the misinterpretations of love, love that you brought it up here.

      Actually, there’s been some research done on the role of religion and the religious understanding of love and how it plays into women in abusive relationships. I know that’s not exactly where you were going, but Rihanna loves to post scriptures on her Twitter (when she’s not posting pictures of herself, naked, smoking a blunt… lol… no judgement!), so it’s interesting to consider. It’s so easy conflate forgiveness with romantic love; to assume that love is difficult… even to the point of being painful. You could EASILY read Corinthians (and other depictions of love in religion and pop culture) that way, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing.

  • Shannon m.

    Thanks for an insightful post, Shannon. It’s nice to justify reading a celebrity gossip site instead of doing homework lol.

    • Shannon

      Shannon m., lol! Call it a semi-intellectual study break. Thanks for reading :)

  • Grace

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Shannon.
    You are right about our response to it, about how we need to explain it to our children. At the end of the day, Chris & Rihanna are adults who will do what they do. We are not their support systems. I can only hope that they *have* some sort of support systems, but the lack of it seems to be part of the problem here.

    When I was young, about 9 or 10, my stepmother shared her past experience with me. Before marrying my dad, she had married a violent man who was abusive to her. She stayed because she had no immediate support system. She had a child with him, and for that reason, her family thought she should preserve the family unit, no matter what. What ultimately pushed her out the door was when her abuser raised his hand on her son. Her reaction was: What am I teaching my son about love by staying? And so she left. It was hard. She was alone with her small son, but she didn’t look back.

    And maybe that’s what we need to do? To strive to become role models to children (whether ours or any children in our immediate circle) instead of letting pop stars fill that role?

    Thanks again for your wonderful post, Shannon!

  • Ella

    Shannon I love these thought conversation starting posts of yours because they are important to have. I don’t think blaming Rihanna or hating Chris or trying to figure out their deal is not what’s important. It’s starting a real conversation for their younger more impressionable fans. Like you said, their music and music like it, needs to be unpacked for them. They really don’t understand what they’re hearing or what they’re reading on social media sites like Twitter.

    Consider this huge chunk out of Lupe Fiasco’s B*tch Bad:
    Yeah, now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve
    On the internet watchin’ videos listenin’ to songs by themselves
    It doesn’t really matter if they have parental clearance
    They understand the internet better than their parents
    Now being the internet, the content’s probably uncensored
    They’re young, so they’re malleable and probably unmentored
    A complicated combination, maybe with no relevance
    Until that intelligence meets their favorite singer’s preference
    “Bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches
    That’s all I want and all I like in life is bad bitches, bad bitches”
    Now let’s say that they less concerned with him
    And more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims
    Ah, the plot thickens
    High heels, long hair, fat booty, slim
    Reality check, I’m not trippin’
    They don’t see a paid actress, just what makes a bad bitch.

    Our society still applauds bad behavior(See-Jersey Shore and that new horrid WVA reality show on MTV) so young people are getting a lot of mixed messages about what’s “cool” and how to act. As a future English teacher I want to take popular music and talk about the lyrics with my students.

    We can easily roll our eyes and say say who cares, but keeping silent no matter how annoying Chrihanna are, is as dangerous as as the message their “love” is sending.

  • Rachel

    Thank you for discussing this pop culture “couple” in such a high-level, intelligent, big picture type of way. I think the quotes from your friends paint a pretty clear picture of how divisive this issue is: everyone is gonna have an opinion on intimate partner violence, and these opinions vary widely. I personally think Rihanna has shitty taste in men, and she could likely do a lot better. Just down to CB’s personality, not just his dastardly ways.

  • Dezden

    Very interesting!!! Good post. I just want this to be the last thing I read about them ever. I’ll be perfectly content if that can happen.