Like the #BBHMMVideo or don’t; violence against women is not debatable

It seems everyone has an opinion on Rihanna’s video, “Bitch Better Have My Money,” co-directed by the artist herself, alongside a couple of male directors from Megaforce. What I want to address, though, is the lack of debate around violence against women in the video, from the perspective of a front-line anti-violence worker who provides direct support to people who are rebuilding their lives after gendered abuse — people who are overwhelmingly women and girls.

Initially, I struggled to comprehend why BBHMM bothered me so intensely since there are plenty of music videos, games, and movies promoting similar imagery that go relatively uncontested. I realized my primary concern was with the response from womencelebration rather than condemnation of violence against women. This subject, it turns out, is debatable. We’re told to focus on who is perpetrating the violence, rather than the violence itself.

In a roundtable conversation published at Pitchfork, writer Meaghan Garvey says, “To those currently drafting your thinkpiece about how it wasn’t very #feminist of Rih to torture that poor rich lady: nooooo one cares about your basic-ass, probably non-intersectional praxis. Rihanna doesn’t need to spell it out for you if you still don’t get it yet; time is money, bitch.”

First, don’t call me a bitch. Second, misogyny does not come with an asterisk. It is not: misogyny*.

*Unless you are a white woman or dating a rich man..

Rihanna deserves respect for being a successful woman in a music industry and culture that devalues the voices of women of colour. The race element of this debate must be addressed. Yet, some writers have likened any reaction short of fawning adoration to “White Feminism™,” (a branch of the women’s movement that is allegedly non-intersectional, still unwilling to acknowledge that the oppression of people who are marginalized in multiple ways is greater than the sum of its parts) which is perplexing given that it is us — women of colour — who face the highest rates of violence in the United States and throughout the world.

Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous argues that the video is about Rihanna and her character’s safety. She writes,

In this video, Rihanna is unconcerned with the well-being of a white person (who is a woman), when her own well-being is at stake. In fact, she’s willing to do harm to her in order to survive. That’s the thing about this video that makes white feminists so very, very uncomfortable.

The idea that this video is about Rihanna’s survival is nonsense. The money she is after is not “I need to pay my rent” money. “Shit, your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car” means that this is not a steal-or-starve situation.

Feminism has taken a sad turn if we are more willing to sympathize with a woman’s capital than with a woman’s physical suffering.

And given that this conversation is about violence against women and, therefore, feminism, the implication that we must disengage our critical thinking skills when it comes to popular culture or a particular artist is deeply troubling. Social movements should not have deities. A movement that asks the general public to unthinkingly revere a pop-icon to the point of violating every principal of non-violent action is no movement at all. It is dogma. A modern-day religion. A cult.

No woman is infallible.

Consent, as a theme, is absent from BBHMM. Subverting capitalism, as a theme, is absent from BBHMM. Subversion of patriarchy, as a theme, is absent from BBHMM. Why would any person interested in equality-seeking movements support these kinds of messages? Where are our politics?

In the women’s anti-violence movement we don’t argue that torture, drugging, or sexualized humiliation can be made acceptable in certain circumstances or by swapping races or genders. When women appropriate violence against other women, what is happening is a transfer of patriarchal power.

As Audre Lorde says, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Rihanna’s character may have succeeded in getting money owed by abusing a white woman, but this in no way affects her positionality under the system of oppression that is patriarchy. On the contrary, she’s further reinforcing misogyny by sending the message that it’s acceptable to use and abuse certain kinds of women.

The critique regarding past failures of the women’s rights movement to include an analysis of race and marginalized communities is justified. As a woman of colour and an immigrant, I am also angry about practices of discrimination within the women’s movement. But the way to “fight back” against an oppressive system is not to take ownership of and replicate said oppression.

Violence against women and girls relies on the belief that our bodies are disposable things to be used and abused by those with more power and influence, which is exactly what BBHMM depicts.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is an activist and advocate from the Dominican Republic. Her efforts center around violence against women and girls, anti-human trafficking efforts, and death penalty abolition. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies in Oregon.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez
Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is a writer from the Dominican Republic. Her utmost priority in her work and as a feminist is to end violence against girls and women. Her work has appeared in several print and digital publications both in English and Spanish, including: Feminist Current, El Grillo, La Replica, Tribuna Feminista, El Caribe and La Marea. You can follow her @8rosariosanchez where she rambles about feminism, politics, and poetry.

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  • Exactly. Thank you.

  • EEU

    This is a wonderful piece. Thank you, Rosario!

  • Shana

    ”The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies will often reinforce the subordination of people of color, while the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism frequently reproduce the subordination of women.”

    That’s what Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, actually wrote in Mapping the Margins. So how do mainstream feminists get from this that a ”white bitch’s basic ass”, as they said, being tortured is the height of intersectional feminism because the perpetrator is black? By definition, they are the not-intersectional ones, as their complicity in patriarchal violence reproduces the subordination of women. Do they also seriously think displays of sexualized violence spare WoC?

    • Shana

      and even then, it’s still such a stretch because this video isn’t anti-racist! It’s just a multimillionaire pop star throwing a hissy fit because she nearly bankrupted herself by buying a mansion she couldn’t afford. Pop feminists really need to stop throwing buzzwords around when someone dares to criticize someone they stan for.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yep ^^

      • Tim

        Wow … I don’t follow pop culture, especially music, that much. I did click over and watch the video the other day and thought WTF did I just actually watch that? Your comment made me curious to go look up the story. I had thought the “real-life” story was that the accountant had actually embezzled or cheated her out of money some way, but it turns out it was bad advice (the poor thing was left with “only” $2 MILLION). OK, fair enough; the whole point of a high-end accounting firm for pop stars is that they want to spend their time creating art, not managing money. The accountant should have some, well, accountability.

        But it turns out she didn’t have to get an outlaw gang together and kidnap and cut up anybody. She only had to … File a lawsuit! How edgy, how radical! It didn’t even have to go to trial; they settled with her for $10 million. All of which makes me feel this video is even more BS than I already thought, and thoroughly vile.

        Anyway, long-winded comment, but thanks for piquing my curiosity to go find out more.

  • derrington

    Rihanna has learnt nothing from her Chris Brown days, apart from to do it worse and promote it in a video. Real low.

  • Delilah

    At least one part of the Rhianna video discussion is that it looks a lot like “porn chic” to me and porn is of course, extremely violent to women (of all colors) and imo Rhianna’s video about BDSM is right along the same lines. Porn chic with its’ misogyny is also a part of the “high fashion” culture (at times) which Rhianna is most definitely involved with on a personal and professional level. This celebrity fueled high fashion culture embraces the violent porn chic in several visuals: spreads layouts and shows, videos, collections and advertising.

  • purple sage

    Fantastic post! Thank you!

  • andeväsen

    Thank you for this post.

    I also have seen ZERO criticism from anti-capitalists regarding the obsession with money placed front and centre by the song and video. What proportion of her audience relates to having an accountant leach a larger than smaller percentage of their money from them and feeling such rage that the only option is to torture and murder their wife? What proportion of her audience relates to having an accountant? Who has such an unhealthy relationship with money?

    She is hiring the accountant. She is therefore in a position of power over the accountant as well as his dependents. Her abuse of the accountant’s wife is also an abuse of her class power.

    How peculiar that when it comes to the torture of women, it is the path of least resistance that is most popular in the response: no mention of capital, no mention of class, no mention of reproducing violent gendercide, only repeatedly mention how empowering it is.

    Also Pitchfork should fucking stay away from less-than-sophomoric political commentary and stick to musical trivia, ty very much.

    • I don’t have much time to make this comment, so I will say this quick. You are absolutely right. The actions of the character in the video is indeed in line with the values of capitalism (greed, individualism, etc.) Unfortunately, even the radical left has been influenced by post-modernist nonsense about how moral values are inherently reactionary (though to be fair right-wingers do put a lot of emphasis on “morality”.) I think this partially accounts for its conflict with radical feminism. I hope that the radical left will one day have enough courage to stick to its own principles instead of going along with and catering to liberalism.

  • Bri

    Well put. Thank you for your wise insight.

  • L.Arturo

    Amazingly articulated… Thank you. “/

  • claudia

    Thank you Raqel! I’ve been debating about writing on this after reading a couple of articles by a number of “feminists” and gender activists who stand in support of this music video – the debate that fantasy revenge under these circumstances and to this extent is acceptable is mind-boggling…hello no…violence against women is NEVER justified!

  • Thank you so much for this hugely insightful response. As a white woman I felt the importance of not pushing my voice into the rightful analysis and awareness raising of white female privilege, but as a VAWG professional and activist i have felt silenced by and concerned about the misogynistic tools used to raise this important debate. I recently read (on Twitter admittedly) that it was only white women criticising the VAWG in BBHMM but felt this was hugely misleading as well as silencing for the WoC on social media expressing a different voice and consequently receiving abusive responses. Thank you for this brilliant analysis as a WoC and for so clearly discussing how videos such as BBHMM are not the way to go to end these power structures, inequalities, and VAWG. How did we ever get to the point in tackling female oppression and racism that it became possible to justify VAWG against ANY woman? And what do we do to address and confront the underlying causes?

  • Sarah

    Great article! I know its been published a while ago and I’m late to the party. What’s most funny to me is that those people celebrating Rihanna have absolutly no idea what she’s like in reality. I’ve met three journalists who interviewed her (not citing any name but two were my teachers while I was at uni and one was a guest lecturer). All three said that she has little control over her career and the music she produce. Rihanna came in the US when she was a teen. And almost instantly became famous. Unlike Beyonce, or other singers or even actors it never seemed to me that she had a strong guardian or parents next to her. There is very little information it seems to me about the beginning of her career. Considering how exploitative of young women the music industry is I can’t help wondering how healthy mentally she is.

    Besides, the celebration of violence and violence against women is baffling. I mean it’s very rare in music videos that people are killed on screen in such manner. I don’t think Rohanna had any message. All she and her team thought about is shock. What better way to make people talk about you than kill someone in a video? And I think using a white woman rather than a man was a sort of tactic. I mean look at how many think piece they were? Business people like to keep us divided. White on one side and black on the other. She (her team) capitalize on the suffering of people.