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3 July 2015

Rihanna’s success is inspiring – but her new video is violently misogynist

To see a black woman use her body the way she wants is a revolutionary act in itself. But there are also violently misogynist moments in Rihanna's new video, and she should do better.

By June Eric-Udorie

Rihanna’s music video for Bitch Better Have My Money came out recently. It’s been 12 hours since I saw the video and I still don’t know what to make of it. After trying (and failing) to watch the whole video the first time I watched it again with one eye closed because I couldn’t stomach the violent misogyny. I’m not a massive fan of Rihanna, but her music kept me up during those long painful nights when I was trying to complete my English coursework. I respect Rihanna even though I might not always appreciate her music. She is a black woman who uses her body the way she wants, owning it at all times. And we all know that being a woman in the music industry is hard, let alone being a black woman. Yet, she always seems to be in control, unapologetically takes up space and constantly sends some serious #carefreeblackgirl vibes.

There is a fundamental problem with Rihanna’s video: she glorifies violent misogyny. There are some truly amazing scenes in that music video where she owns her sexuality as a woman. In those moments, I’m fist pumping the air because in the world we live in, everybody wants to control a woman’s sexuality. So to see a black woman use her body the way she wants is a revolutionary act in itself. But there are too many moments that make me want to project vomit. Of course it’s only a music video and we must remember it’s not real. Of course many men glorify misogyny in their music. Of course what Rihanna has done is not new; you only have to do a quick YouTube search and you will find a multitude of music videos that just ooze misogyny. Nevertheless, that doesn’t justify Rihanna’s decision to lock up a woman in the suitcase in the back of her car, tie her up naked and hang her upside down, or coerce her into drinking or taking drugs.

I don’t know what was going through Rihanna’s head when she decided to make this video. I find it interesting that she didn’t go after her accountant who screwed her over. Instead, she tortured his innocent girlfriend, making her pay for his carelessness and mistakes. What message that does send out to the young girls like my sister, teenage girls and young women who will internalise the misogyny in this video? That it’s OK to put a woman under so much intense torture but allow men to go free? That’s certainly the message that I got – that women are weak and they can pay for their man’s bullshit and be the ones held accountable.

I’m not saying that Rihanna should be a role model for young girls. I am asking that Rihanna is conscious of her young audience of girls and boys who will begin to think that that kind of violent misogyny and torture is a joke and something to ‘sell’. I am worried about all the boys who may now think that treating women like that is cool. I am worried about all the young girls who may end up in violent, abusive relationships and may experience violent misogyny but because of messages like this, may think that this is the norm.

Misogyny is not something to joke about and I’m fed up with popular culture glorifying it. It is because of misogyny that two women die every week in the UK. It is because of misogyny that there are over 85,000 rapes and 400,000 sexual assaults every year in the UK. That is what misogyny does to women – it can ruin them and it can kill them. It’s disheartening to see a young woman I respect supporting this message. Succumbing to the status quo and portraying women as sexualized objects to beat up, lock up and torture doesn’t do anyone any favours and certainly won’t change the conversation. As a woman with power and influence, Rihanna should have done better.

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Now listen to June discussing Rihanna’s video on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY: