Bravo, Rihanna: Breaking Down the Wall of Silence


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Rihanna was just a toddler when the Berlin Wall came crashing down 20 years ago today.  Tonight Glamour Magazine is honoring her at Carnegie Hall as their 2009 Woman of the Year for breaking down the wall of silence on domestic violence:

Domestic violence is a big secret.  I want to give as much insight as I can to young women. . .to help speak for them.

Bravo, Rihanna!  The Women of the Year issue will be available on newsstands tomorrow (11/10).

After months of silence, Rihanna has been telling her story to Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America (11/05/09) and 20/20 (11/06/09) and to Glamour Magazine.  She’s been featured on the Today Show.  She’s also told her story in the songs on her new album, Rated R which will be released on November 23.

Her dream was to be an international singing sensation.  She and Chris Brown were best friends before they became lovers.  Diane Sawyer described the couple as “young super novas:”

To fall in love with your best friend is really scary.  It was a bit of an obsession.

Domestic Violence as Children

Rihanna and Brown shared more than stellar singing careers.  They both witnessed domestic violence at home.  While Brown now denies it happened, Rihanna talked about her father’s numerous brutal assaults on her mother.  Rihanna was afraid to sleep.  She would beat on her dad’s legs to try to get him to stop.  She would break glass bottles to try to distract them during a fight.  Her mother never went to the hospital even after her nose was broken.  Rihanna promised herself that she would never date someone like her dad.

“He had no soul in his eyes.”

February 8, 2009 wasn’t the first time Chris Brown abused Rihanna.  There were earlier incidents in Europe and Barbados.

The couple had a fabulous time at the Grammy celebration.  On the way home, Rihanna found a text message from another woman on his cell phone:

I caught him in a lie.  I couldn’t take that he lied.  He couldn’t take that I wouldn’t drop it.  It escalated into him being violent towards me.  It was ugly.

The police report indicates that Brown threatened to beat her and kill her.  She tried to call her assistant, but Brown threw her phone out the car window.  Twice he had her in a headlock until she had difficulty breathing.  He bit her.  She kept wondering when it would stop:

He was saying it to scare me.  At this point, I just didn’t know what could happen.  He had no soul in his eyes.  Just blank.  He was clearly blacked out.  There was no person when I looked at him.  It was almost as though he had nothing to loose. He has so much to loose, and it was almost like he had nothing to loose.  It wasn’t the same person that says, “I love you.”  It was definitely not those eyes.

A witness called the police.  Rihanna had no way to get home wearing her beautiful gown and bloody face.

Lonely in a Chaotic Media Spotlight

After the attack, Rihanna didn’t want people to think of her as a victim.  The chaos of the media blitz ~ helicopters circling her house, 200 people in her cul-de-sac, paparazzi, journalists, fans, neighbors, and the release of the photograph of her battererd face to TMZ ~ left Rihanna feeling lonely:

At some point you are there alone.  It’s a lonely place to be ~ no one can understand.  That’s when you get close to God.

It was humiliating; that is not a photo you would show to anybody.  I felt completely taken advantage of. . .it’s my life.  I was disappointed.

There are a lot of women who have experienced what I did, but not in the public.  So, it made it really difficult.  I just felt like, “oh, my God.  Here goes my little bit of privacy.”  It exposed something that nobody wants anybody to know.  So, here I am with the whole world watching.

I’m a human being, and people put me on a very unreasonable pedestal.  All these expectations.  I’m not perfect.

It’s Not Easy to Leave a Pit Bull Abuser

The media went into another frenzy when the couple briefly reunited in March in Miami.  Rihanna discovered she resented Brown and found him annoying.  She didn’t want to loose the empire she’d worked so hard to build because the man she loved beat her.  Brown didn’t take her decision to end the relationship well.  He wrote a song for her, but she refused to listen to it.

Rihanna believes that his fame gave him freedom.  He had no limits or boundaries.  He felt invincible because nobody held him accountable.  Rihanna doesn’t want to hear from Brown.  She wants him to accept responsibility like a man and not feel sorry for himself:

Men don’t realize when they hit a woman, it is the face, the broken arm, the black eye ~ it’s gonna heal.  That’s not the problem.  It is the scar inside.  You flashback.  You remember it all the time.  It comes back to you whether you like it or not.  It’s painful.  I don’t think he understood that.  They never do.

Brown was sentenced in August to probation and community service.  Rihanna objected to the restraining order because she feels it is unnecessary.  And, she feels that the requirement that they remain 10 yards apart at industry events creates a spectacle.

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Rihanna and Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leivi

 Music:  Rihanna’s Healing Journey

Rihanna’s mother loved her unconditionally and instilled in her enormous self-confidence.  She also gave Rihanna the tools to survive.

Still, like many abused women, she discovered it was difficult to end her two-year relationships with Brown.  He was her best friend:

I takes time.  Love doesn’t go away right away.  It is actually rather annoying that there is still some kind of emotion there.

I want him to do well ~ to have a great career and a great life and grow up and take this as something that he had to go through to grow up and learn.

At this point, she doesn’t want to date ~ it’s too much.  So, she channeled her emotions into her music.  Making Rated R was her recovery:

I put everything I’ve wanted to say for the past eight months into my music.  The songs are really personal.  I made exactly the piece of art that I wanted to make.  It’s super fearless ~ exactly how I feel right now.  I am in a really good place.

It’s the way I vented and expressed myself.  It’s a very honest album.  I let my guard down and telling my story and being a little more vulnerable and expressing myself.  I go through a lot of different music and moods in the album.  You definitely will learn a lot about what’s going through my head.

Her favorite track on the album is “Photographs:”

It’s about a breakup, and the only thing you have to show for the relationship is some pictures.

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Rihanna Becomes a Role Model

Rihanna is actively involved in her Believe Foundation which she established to give children all over the world the chance to thrive.

She’s also breaking down the walls of silence about domestic violence.  It was a “wake-up call” for her to discover the impact she had on her young fans:

Domestic violence is a big secret.  Teenage girls can’t tell their parents that their boyfriend beat them up.  It’s one of the things we will hide, because it’s embarrassing.  My story was broadcast all over the world.  People can learn from that.  I feel like I represent a voice that really isn’t heard.  Now I can help speak for those women.

And, she’s taken reporters like Diane Sawyer to school.  I’ve got to give ABC kudos of publishing a list of resources for teens and women on their web site, but some of Ms. Sawyer’s questions were patronizing and insulting.  Yet, Rihanna handled them with grace and maturity.

How could it happen to someone so strong?

I am strong.  This happened to me.  I didn’t cause this.  I didn’t do it.

There’s nothing you can do or say to make somebody do that to you.  That’s on them.  He had a problem.  He had a temper.

What does she have to say to people who suggest she provoked Chris Brown?

It’s ignorance.  Even if I hit him first, that makes it OK for him to do that to me?  They kind of give an excuse for what he did.

Why did she go back to him?

It’s completely normal to go back.  It’s not right.  I learned the hard way.

Yes, and she was savvy enough to realize that Chris Brown is a pit bull.  She still has flashbacks, but she has emerged stronger, wiser, and more aware:

I have to say in the past six months or so, I’ve been paying attention.  I just kind of see things differently now.

The physical wounds go away, you put it in the back of your head. . .[but the graphic photo of her battered face causes her to] feel humiliated.  I get angry, all over again, every time I see it.  The whole thing plays back in my head.  So I don’t like to see it.

“It Can Happen to Anyone”

This happened to me, and it could happen to anybody.  And, I’m glad it happened to me because now I can help young girls when they go through it.  I’ll say that to any young girl who is going through domestic violence:  “Don’t react off of love.  F— love.  Come out of the situation and look at it third person for what it really is and then make your decision because love is so blind.  It is so blind.

I want to give as much insight as I can to young women. . .to help speak for them.

Young girls need guidance.  There are things they can’t talk to their mom about, so they’re looking at you like, “What should I do?”  [Becoming a role model] happens by default but it’s also a gift that you can do what you love and do it well and still help young girls.

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