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 women — celebration 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.