Rihanna needs to have a talk with Tina Turner.
A generation ago, Turner left her abusive husband, Ike Turner, and not only survived, but thrived. Indeed, in songs such as “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, Turner was able to carve out a new future for herself as well as a stable relationship that has endured over 20 years. Her story also became a cautionary tale for other women and created a national dialogue on the realities of domestic abuse.
Rihanna’s problems are clearly deep-rooted, as are those of most abuse victims. As former special crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein recently said, the reasons women stay with those that hit and beat them are not always understandable. But it seems that the outpouring of anger towards Rihanna’s boyfriend Chris Brown may be shaking her from a stupor.
Oprah is devoting a show today to domestic violence and dating. CNN’s Larry King called upon stars and experts to collect their viewpoints. Even Robin Givens, who was married to Mike Tyson, made the talk show circuits by pointing out that someone who hits is likely to hit again.
As Fairstein wrote in the Daily Beast, “Safe Horizon, the country’s leading victim advocacy organization, keeps statistics that document the tragic numbers of these crimes, which are of epidemic proportion in America. Approximately 1.5 million women in the United States are physically assaulted each year by an intimate partner — that’s one every 15 seconds. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 face the highest rate of intimate partner violence. The American Medical Association estimates that more than one-third of all women seeking emergency medical care are survivors of domestic abuse, the leading cause of injury to women. More than four homicides each day are committed in this country by a partner or former boyfriend/girlfriend.”
Those stats are sobering. And Rihanna’s case debunks the myth that domestic violence only happens to women who are trapped financially. Her career offers her an escape hatch, but clearly her psyche handcuffed her in other ways.
Meanwhile, Chris Brown is scrambling to save his career and reputation, which will be very difficult now that he’s been exposed as someone who uses fists instead of words. Thankfully he has bowed out of the Nickelodeon show where kids award their favorite singers. And it will be difficult to convince anyone that he is truly contrite or seeking help. Going jet skiing at Puff Daddy’s after you hit your girlfriend and not contacting her for nine days is not the mea culpa people expect. He should have marched himself into therapy.
Rihanna, as I wrote earlier, has not abandoned her boyfriend completely. Who knows, she may be turned on to the drama, which is a reality that few want to discuss. Because her support means that he may salvage his career, Brown needs her and most likely is working the charm offensive on her.
But other forces are working to remind her that her career is at a crossroads too. As The NY Post reported today, her handlers are telling her that if she stays with him, she will not be a role model to her fans as an independent, strong woman.
What amazes me is that no one has pointed out the lyrics she’s chosen in some of her songs that clearly show in hindsight a tendency to be with a bad boy.
Here are the lyrics to “Disturbia":
What's wrong with me?
Why do I feel like this?
I'm going crazy now
No more gas in the rig, can't even get it started
Nothing heard, nothing said, can't even speak about it
On my life, on my head, don't wanna think about it
Feels like I'm going insane, yeah
It's a thief in the night to come and grab you
It can creep up inside you and consume you
A disease of the mind, it can control you
It's too close for comfort
Hopefully Rihanna will be cured of this disease of the mind that forgives someone who inflicts such physical pain towards her.
And then there are these lyrics in her song which could be a better ending.
Looking back it's hard for me to see,
Just how I could've been so blind,
Like an actor on the movie screen,
To play the part with every line.
But every story doesn't have a happy ending,
Sometimes the flower doesn't grow,
I hope you understand the message that I'm sending,
Boy I'm thinking you need to know.
In many ways, this story is an opportunity. It's an opportunity for women to realize that forgiveness is overrated. When someone hits you, you leave. And Rihanna needs to know that there are many other people to love and who will love her. She can use this horrible experience and transform herself from someone who was helpless to someone who is helpful, someone who felt powerless but now is powerful.