Feature

Rihanna: Why teens blame the victim

Nearly half of 200 teenagers polled by the Boston Public Health Commission held Rihanna responsible for the recent assault by Chris Brown.

Sure, singer Chris Brown punched, bit, and choked his girlfriend, the pop star Rihanna, so badly that she landed in the hospital, according to a police report. But for Brown to get that angry, it must have been Rihanna’s fault. At least that’s what a lot of teenagers believe, said Jan Hoffman in The New York Times. In a finding that has sparked consternation among parents and domestic-violence experts and led to a new crusade by Oprah Winfrey, nearly half of 200 teenagers polled by the Boston Public Health Commission held Rihanna responsible for her recent assault. “She probably made him mad for him to react like that,” a female ninth-grader said. Reports that the couple have reunited, and recorded a new duet together, have further muddied the lines of responsibility. “She probably feels bad that it was her fault, so she took him back,” one girl said.

For this ugly way of thinking, I blame feminism, said Kathryn Jean Lopez in National Review Online. Back before “natural gender roles” were deliberately muddled, it was normal “for us to expect men to protect women, and for women to expect some level of physical protection.” But feminism conditioned us to view men and women as equals. “By inventing oppression where there is none and remaking woman in man’s image, as the sexual and feminist revolutions have done, we’ve confused everyone.” Teens are making excuses for Chris Brown because they no longer expect men to treat women with special deference.

You’ve got it backward, said prosecutor Glenn F. Ivey in The Washington Post. At a middle school I visited recently, I heard the same blame-the-victim talk about Rihanna. But “the room froze” when I asked whether Barack Obama could ever be justified in hitting Michelle. “Putting hands on Michelle Obama was somehow unthinkable.” And therein lies the power of the First Lady, a strong and dignified feminist and mother. Mrs. Obama could make a difference in countless lives if she focused on domestic violence as “one of her primary issues.” Ultimately, though, said DeWayne Wickham in USA Today, it comes down to what we tell our own daughters. Here’s what I’m telling my 15-year-old: One in four women gets beaten up by a man. Many of them then make the same mistake as Rihanna, and believe the guy when he says it won’t ever happen again. “Don’t walk away from that man,” I’ll tell my daughter. “Run.”

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