Just the other day, riding the train home from work, I heard a teenage couple seated behind me fighting. The girl pleaded to her boyfriend: "Let me see it!" She had caught a glimpse of a sexy photo of another girl on his phone. With mounting outrage, her voice catching in her throat, she shrieked, "You promised me you deleted all of 'em!" He paused and then, with smirking confidence, threw down his trump card: "Don't go all Rihanna on me, now." With that, the conversation ended.
And so, too, did my optimism that Chris Brown brutally beating his pop princess girlfriend -- after she found a text message he received from a past fling -- would raise the level of discussion about domestic violence. I'm hardly alone in my disappointment: Overheard conversations, news reports, blogs and online message boards have led to plenty of "kids these days" kvetching. It's become apparent that far too many teens have a "yeah, whatever" response, see the violent attack as a mutual mistake or blame Rihanna alone.
Well, today, the New York Times takes a look at these reactions and tries to understand why teens, especially girls, are making excuses for Brown's brutality. Of course, it's hard to separate their response from the R&B heartthrob's popularity. Many of his apologizers are teen fans, girls who kiss his photo before bed every night. In that sense, his female fans emotionally occupy the role of the abused girlfriend -- only instead of putting the blame on themselves, they put it on Rihanna. They know, with the conviction of obsessive young love, that he would never want to hurt a woman; Rihanna must have done something to deserve it.
How terrifying to think that this nonthreatening, boyish charmer, who defines their post-pubescent sexual identity, is a monster. The Times' Jan Hoffman writes: "Acknowledging his attack would make them feel vulnerable: How could they have a crush on someone who could do that?" That's the type of emotional complexity that teen idols are designed to eliminate.
Beyond fanly devotion, though, is there a good explanation for the apologetics? Hoffman argues that this generation of girls "see themselves as sharing equal responsibility with boys." She writes, "Parity, not sisterhood, is the name of the game." I'm not quite sure how an attack that leaves one party unscathed, and lands the other in the hospital with bruising, swelling and bite marks, amounts to parity. But I guess the thinking is: If you dare smack a man, as Rihanna is only rumored to have done, you better be prepared to fight like a man. Otherwise, you'll get what's coming to you: a brutal beat down.
Is that thinking really unique to this generation, though? It sounds like the traditional reaction to domestic violence: She must've been getting out of line, she went and made him angry, he had to put her in her place. In short: She deserved it. From the very start, the youthful reaction obeyed this rationalizing framework. Teens are simply sticking to the same old script.