Blame feminists, not Rihanna!

An author argues that the fight for equality has brought about Chris Brown's teen apologizers.

Published March 24, 2009 11:00AM (EDT)

Once the theorizing began about why teenagers are siding with Chris Brown, and especially after the New York Times suggested that "parity" is a factor, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone tried blaming feminism. It's simply the backasswards thinking you learn to anticipate as a lady blogger. Sure enough, it took the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez just a few days to argue that the attitude that women sometimes deserve to be brutally beaten by men is, as the article's headline declares, "What Feminism Wrought." What about the movement's dismantling of the notion of women as men's property or its longtime fight for resources for abused women, you ask? Pshht.

You see, feminists have beaten to death "natural gender roles" and "remade woman in man's image," thereby confusing "everyone," she argues. It's at this point that Lopez takes a detour down Crazy Lane and argues that feminism has led to a rise in lesbianism, because men have been so emasculated that women are now desperately searching for masculinity "anywhere they can get it, even if that's in the arms of another woman."  (Her evidence: A recent O Magazine feature about women leaving men for other women.) This faux-lesbianism reveals the essential truth that "femininity and masculinity mix well together," that "there is an attraction to, if not a need for, some hierarchy" and that there is "good in nature and tradition," she says.

We've lost the expectation that men will "protect women" and that "women [will] expect some level of physical protection," Lopez explains, by breaking from gendered tradition and doing away with the sexual hierarchy. (Yeah, 'cuz that's totally taken care of.)  Here's where she connects back up with the traditionalist thoroughfare (and drives me over the edge): Teens blame Rihanna, she says, because they see her as Brown's equal. Put another way, we feminists have effectively excused violence against women by revoking women's special status and men's identity as protectors of the weaker sex.

Huh, what? A violent attack that leaves one party brutally injured, and the other unscathed, isn't a case of mutual combat. It's called a beating, and it's wrong regardless of the gender of the aggressor. (Man-on-woman, man-on-man, woman-on-man or woman-on-woman, transfemale-on-transmale, it doesn't frigging matter.) I suspect that Lopez' argument hinges on the dubious rumor -- which might be validated by Perez Hilton but certainly isn't by the official police report -- that Rihanna slapped Brown first. If true, it's physical violence, to be sure -- but, last I checked, defending oneself from a smack doesn't require repeated choking, biting and punching. We're not talking about a couple that exchanged slaps in a heated argument, we're talking about a boyfriend who landed his girlfriend in the hospital.

Where Lopez and I fundamentally differ is that she believes the assault was wrong because it goes against appropriate sex roles; I believe it was wrong because of an obvious disparity in strength and aggression (and because violence is bad, kids). Were Rihanna all muscle and might, instead of the petite little princess that she is, and had she been the aggressor in this case, there's no question I would have thought her a monster. Lopez' pseudo defense of men -- and their wrongfully stolen masculinity -- is really just a sexist endorsement of a double standard that hurts both sexes, and furthers her personal agenda.

Maybe teens really do believe that Rihanna started the physical fight and so deserved the beating. But that has nothing to do with feminism, which neither rewrites basic definitions of self-defense nor holds that there is no sexual difference in size or strength. In fact, it is traditional gender roles that have in the past written off domestic violence as a purely private matter. Implicit in the notion of man as protector is the idea that men are violent and a lady needs a man to protect her from other men; that a husband will sometimes raise his hand in an attempt to keep his charge in line is seen as a necessary trade-off (because, hey, at least she'll be protected from most men).

Lopez acts like she is the first to discover the "she had it coming" paradigm, as though it didn't exist long before the rise of feminism and wasn't excused by certain strains of the traditionalism she holds so dear. I've said it before, I'll say it again: When it comes to violence against women, there is nothing new about knee-jerk victim-blaming.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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