Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Only the Bad Gyal could do this’: Rihanna, rape-revenge narratives and the cultural politics of white feminism
Debra Ferreday First Published July 28, 2017 Research Article Article has an altmetric score of 3 Abstract In July 2015, Rihanna released a seven-minute long video for her new single, entitled ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ (more widely known as ‘BBHMM’), the violent imagery in which would divide feminist media commentators for its representation of graphic and sexualised violence against a white couple. The resulting commentary would become the focus of much popular and academic feminist debate over the intersectional gendered and racialised politics of popular culture, in particular coming to define what has been termed ‘white feminism’. ‘BBHMM’ is not the first time Rihanna’s work has been considered in relation to these debates: not only has she herself been very publicly outed as a survivor of male violence, but she has previously dealt with themes of rape and revenge in an earlier video, 2010’s ‘Man Down’, and in her lyrics. In this article I explore the multiple and layered ways in which Rihanna, and by extension other female artists of colour, are produced by white feminism as both responsible for perpetrating gender-based violence, and as victims in need of rescue. The effect of such liberal feminist critique, I argue, is to hold black female artists responsible for a rape culture that continually subjects women of colour to symbolic and actual violence. In this context, the fantasy violence of ‘Man Down’ and to a greater extent ‘BBHMM’ dramatises the impossibility of ‘being paid what one is owed’ in a culture that produces women of colour’s bodies, morality and personal trauma as abjected objects of consumption. I read these two videos through the lens of feminist film theory in order to explore how such representations mobilise affective responses of shame, identification and complicity that are played out in feminist responses to her work, and how their attachment to a simplistic model of representation conceals and reproduces racialised relations of inequality. References Allen, Lily (2013) ‘Hard Out Here’ [Music video] Directed by Christopher Sweeney. UK: Parlophone. BattyMamzelle (2014) ‘This Is What I Mean When I Say “White Feminism”’. BattyMamzelle: Feminist Pop-culture Criticism, 10 January. Available at: http://battymamzelle.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/This-Is-What-I-Mean-When-I-Say-White-Feminism.html#.V5n0LfkrKUk (accessed 1 August 2016). Brown, Stacia L. (2014) ‘How the Fashion Media Erase Black Women’. Washington Post, 11 September. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/09/11/how-the-fashion-media-erase-black-women/?utm_term=.58064bf7dda3 (accessed 1 August 2016). Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1995) ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color’. In: Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas (eds) Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New York: New Press, pp. 357–384. Ellen, Barbara (2015) ‘Rihanna’s Self-Indulgent Video Is Not Clever. It’s Pure Misogyny’. The Guardian, 5 July. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/05/rihannas-video-bitch-better-have-my-money-misogynistic (accessed 2 May 2017). Ethans, Paula (2015) ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop: Rihanna, Beyoncé and Black Feminism. Paula Vs. Patriarchy, 9 September. Available at: https://paulavspatriarchy.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/good-cop-bad-cop-rihanna-beyonce-and-black-feminism/?iframe=true&preview=true (accessed 1 August 2016). Fregoso, Rosa Linda (2006) Mexicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Gay, Roxane (2014) Bad Feminist. New York, London, Toronto, and Sydney: Harper Perennial. Harry, Sydette (2014) ‘Everyone Watches, Nobody Sees: How Black Women Disrupt Surveillance Theory’. Model View Culture, 6 October. Available at: https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/everyone-watches-nobody-sees-how-black-women-disrupt-surveillance-theory (accessed 1 August 2016). Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra (2011) Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. Hobson, Janell (2012) Body as Evidence: Mediating Race, Globalizing Gender. New York: SUNY Press. Jones, Liz (2013) ‘Pop’s Poisonous Princess: Glorying in Drugs, Guns and Sleaze, Rihanna’s Toxic Role Model for her Army of Young Fans’. Daily Mail, 24 June. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2347680/Rihannas-toxic-role-model-army-young-fans-says-LIZ-JONES.html (accessed 1 August 2016). Jussell, Amy (2011) ‘Man Down? Girl Up, Rihanna. Own Your Influence’. Shaping Youth, 6 June. Available at: http://www.shapingyouth.org/man-down-girl-up-rihanna-own-your-influence/ (accessed 1 August 2016). Laine, Tarja (2007) Shame and Desire: Emotion, Intersubjectivity, Cinema. Brussels: Peter Lang. Lehman, Peter (2012) ‘Don’t Blame This on a Girl: Female Rape-Revenge Films’. In: Steven Cohen and Ina Rae Hark (eds) Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. London: Routledge, pp. 103–117. Lewis, Helen (2015) ‘Let’s Talk About Rihanna’s Video’. New Statesman, 3 July. Available at: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2015/07/lets-talk-about-rihannas-video (accessed 1 August 2016). MacCormack, Patricia (2013) ‘Mucosal Monsters’. In: Bettina Papenberg and Marta Zarzycka (eds) Carnal Aesthetics: Transgressive Imagery and Feminist Politics. London: IB Tauris, pp. 226–237. Mardorossian, Carine (2014) Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. McKenzie, Mia (2015) ‘This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism’. BGD, 3 July. Available at: http://www.bgdblog.org/2015/07/this-is-what-rihannas-bbhmm-video-says-about-black-women-white-women-and-feminism/ (accessed 1 August 2016). Metz, Christian (1982) The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Mulvey, Laura (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Screen, 16(3): 6–18. Mulvey, Laura (2009) Visual and Other Pleasures. 2nd edn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pitchfork Staff (2015) ‘A Rihanna “Bitch Better Have My Money” Video Roundtable’. Pitchfork, 2 July. Available at: http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/827-a-rihanna-bitch-better-have-my-money-video-roundtable/ (accessed 1 August 2016). Probyn, Elspeth (2009) ‘Writing Shame’. In: Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds) The Affect Theory Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 71–90. Rainbird, Ashleigh (2016) ‘Rihanna’s Dad Says He Forgives Chris Brown for Beating up His Daughter’. Daily Mirror, 5 February. Available at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/rihannas-dad-says-forgives-chris-7318816 (accessed 1 August 2016). Rihanna (2011) ‘Man Down’ [Music video] Directed by Anthony Mandler. US: Iconoclast Entertainment. Rihanna (2015) ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ [Music video] Directed by Rihanna. US: Iconoclast Entertainment. Robinson, L. (2015) ‘Rihanna in Cuba: The Cover Story’. Vanity Fair, November. Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/10/rihanna-cover-cuba-annie-leibovitz (accessed 12 July 2017). Shewmaker, Jennifer (2011) ‘Man Down? Shaping Youth calls Rihanna to Girl Up: Owning Your Influence’. Jennifer Shewmaker: Blog, 10 June. Available at: http://jennifershewmaker.com/2011/06/10/man-down-shaping-youth-calls-rihanna-to-girl-up-owning-your-influence/ (accessed 1 August 2016). Shields, Derica, Hannah Black and Amalia Ulman (2014) ‘Do You Follow? Art in Circulation’. Rhizome, 17 October. Available at: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/oct/28/transcript-do-you-follow-panel-three/ (accessed 1 August 2016). Song, Sandra (2015) ‘Stop Saying Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money Video is Anti-Feminist’. Paper, 2 July. Available at: http://www.papermag.com/stop-saying-rihannas-bitch-better-have-my-money-video-is-anti-feminist-1427594731.html (accessed 1 August 2016). Vine, Sarah (2015) ‘Rihanna and a Video That Should Turn All Mothers’ Stomachs’. Daily Mail, 6 July. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3150454/Rihanna-video-turn-mothers-stomachs-Concerned-parent-SARAH-VINE-star-s-latest-song-glorifies-murder-torture-drug-taking-guns-racial-stereotyping.html (accessed 1 August 2016). Weigman, Robyn (2014) ‘The Times We’re In: Queer Feminist Criticism and the Reparative “Turn”’. Feminist Theory, 15(1): 4–25.