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With the release of Rihanna 'Birthday Cake' remix featuring Chris Brown, rumors have been spreading across the Internet like wildfire. Like her popular hit, S&M, the song 'Birthday Cake' is very provocative and explicit. Her fans enjoy these club hits and I personally don’t mind (though I wouldn’t want my little sister listening to it, and let’s face it, she is definitely going to hear it). These songs can be seen as female sexual empowerment or, as NPR writer Ann Powers notes, “rebellious self-determination.”

Any way you cut it, Rihanna is doing what artists do: Pushing the limits and challenging society’s notions of sexuality. Elvis himself provoked scathing criticism and protests with his gyrating hips. The song alone, though, is not the problem; Rihanna's decision to include Brown on the remix is.

Three years after their horrific domestic violence incident, the public hasn’t seemed to particularly let up and nor should they. The Grammy’s received criticism for allowing Chris Brown to perform, and Rihanna got flack for having a Chris Brown look alike in her “We Found Love” video. This remix is either a complete disregard of public criticism or an active rejection of it.

I personally would have liked a more productive reaction on the part of these two artists to create awareness of the problems of domestic violence within their fan bases. I think it is irresponsible to be a public figure and not set an example for society and for your fans, but whether I like it or not, they do not technically have to do so. 

Rihanna's 'Birthday Cake' Remix Featuring Chris Brown

The expectations set on Rihanna to ‘act live a victim’ are especially unnerving. Her behavior until now, and her albums "Rated R," “Loud,”  and now her single “Birthday Cake” display the polar opposite reaction of how society expected her to respond. But this herein lies the major problem: As a society we have no right to force survivors of domestic violence, male or female, to behave in a particular way.

We live in a victim-blaming society. If Rihanna isn’t getting blasted on Twitter for ‘causing’ Chris Brown to hit her, bloggers are getting mad that she’s not speaking out about the violence. If people aren’t infuriated at her singing about bondage, they are mad that she’s even in the same room as Chris Brown, nonetheless making a song with him.

Rihanna has actively rejected the image of victim and I respect that about her. She is a young woman who is exploring her sexuality through her music like many artists have done before her. As a woman and especially as a survivor of domestic violence, she isn’t obligated to sing about self-empowerment. It would be nice to have an advocate with such influence on the younger generations of women but it is as much of an injustice to require her to do so. It’s her choice as an artist, and I would go further to say that these same expectations aren’t placed on male artists.

Women are harshly criticized and victimized if they stay with their abusers. Society dictates when women need to confront their abuser and how they should respond, and if they don’t, the violence is subsequently all their fault. I am not promoting domestic violence and I’m not encouraging women to stay with their abusers but I think they are the ones who decide when, how and if they even want to leave. Society as a whole has a hard time understanding this seemingly simple concept but fortunately there are a few who are hitting social media sites like Twitter and Facebook acknowledging that the only person allowed to decide how Rihanna should respond to abuse, is in fact, Rihanna herself.

We need to re-examine how we understand domestic violence, abusers, and victims. Even such binary, extreme assignments of labels such as ‘victim’ and ‘abuser’ don’t accurately portray the complexity of the relationship and the nature of the individuals involved. Before we can help ‘abusers’ or ‘victims,’ we need to allow ourselves to understand and accept this complexity. We need to get to the root causes of abuse and change how we, as a society, contribute to this trend instead of taking the easy road and placing blame.  

For productive dialogue, we need to be more encouraging and accepting of survivors, male or female, who choose forgiveness over hatred, or who are not ready to confront abuse. On the flip side, we need to actually encourage forgiveness and leave space for change for abusers, male or female. Domestic violence shouldn’t be something we only talk about after incidents of violence. We need to confront behaviors of control and abuse, and challenge notions of gender and subjugation in all of our relationships.

Photo Credit: MiKeARB

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