Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint: Is Rihanna the Patron Saint of Domestic Abuse Forgiveness?

Rihanna’s concern for Chris Brown may be strength, may be symptom.

rihanna and chris brown attend the grammy awards.

Rihanna and Chris Brown attend the Grammy Awards in the days before their relationship became irrevocably linked to domestic violence issues. (Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty)

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Like many a woman in the past three years or so, I’d imagine, I recently had a brief conversation with my hairdresser about Rihanna’s ongoing apparent reconciliation with Chris Brown, the boyfriend who battered the young pop star beyond recognition in 2009.

Ally, my hairdresser, is my age, a pretty Dominican girl who grew up in the Bronx. For 10 years, she dated a boy from her high school who went on to be a cop.

“If you love someone...” She shrugged, then noticed how aghast my face looked. “I mean, I wouldn’t go back to a guy who did that, but I’ve heard worse,” she said. “I’ve seen way worse.”

MORE: Clip of the Day: Don’t Cover Up Domestic Violence

Writing daily about celebrity gossip, as I do, makes me privy to every possible perspective and position on any of the hot-button female-centric issues you read about in tabloids (sexual issues, domestic violence, weight).

This summer was riddled with rumors of a reconciliation between Rihanna and Brown, culminating with an Oprah’s Next Chapter interview in Barbados, during which Rihanna tearfully told Oprah that after the attack, she realized that her own father, who abused her mother, was also a good man and a good father.

This epiphany led the singer to make a tearful, somewhat troubling confession to Oprah Winfrey.

“I felt protective [about Brown]. The only person they hate right now is him. They only blame him. I just felt like the only reason he made that mistake is he needs help, and who is going to help him? I was more concerned about him.”

“You’re shocking me right now,” Oprah replied.

What else can you say?

When does forgiveness really mean forgiveness in the context of domestic violence? Who decides when it’s just enabling, or it’s a necessary step to move on?

Earlier this month, when I covered Rihanna and Brown’s affectionate kiss at MTV’s Video Music Awards with a certain amount of chagrin, the response was one I hadn’t expected—that the public needs to stop policing and tongue-clicking with concern at Rihanna’s choices.

Although it’s become pretty clear that Rihanna is attempting to work through certain issues and happens, unfortunately, to be in the public eye as she does it, the public’s apparent acceptance of a possible re-partnering with Brown raises some larger questions.

When does forgiveness really mean forgiveness in the context of domestic violence? Who decides when it’s just enabling, or it’s a necessary step to move on?

For example, as Rihanna herself is a child of a wife beater, her “forgiveness” could really just be the perpetration of the cycle of domestic violence. And yet, stripping her of the agency to forgive would be to undermine one of her basic rights. Like many modern feminist issues, it’s a veritable Möbius strip, and it’s one of the easiest to get on a high horse about, when you look at the facts:

Domestic violence against women occurs every nine seconds in America, and it’s the leading cause of injury to the female population. In a country that devotes much of its 10:45 news slots to the contagious disease of the moment (swine flu, mad cow disease, bird flu), the abuse of women is an eternal pandemic.

But when whittled down to individuals, “forgiving” abuse is nobody’s decision but the victim’s own, no matter where that sentiment comes from. It’s unfair to make any individual, e.g. Rihanna, stand upon some sort of massive forgiveness-shaming platform. There’s certainly an argument that rather than making these women weak, forgiving an assailant actually makes them stronger than many of us could ever be.

Personally, I wish Rihanna could incorporate an estrangement with Chris Brown into her definition of forgiveness, but, ultimately, who am I?

If a battered partner chooses to rejoin an abusive relationship, is it never anyone’s business but her own? Hash it out in COMMENTS.

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