Is It OK To Judge Rihanna For Getting Back Together With Her Abuser?


We’ve all seen the infamous picture now, which confirms what has been hinted at for some time: that Rihanna is back together with Chris Brown.

I’ve been called “anti-woman” and “anti-feminist” because I’ve openly said I think Rihanna is being stupid by going back to a man who physically hurt her and, based on his public behavior since then, will likely do it again. I’ve been told I am “bashing” a fellow woman, and that I shouldn’t judge what is right for Rihanna, or any other woman who goes in and out of a physically abusive relationship.

But is it really anti-woman or anti-feminist to say that I don’t think any woman should knowingly return to a relationship where she faces real physical harm? Why are none of us allowed to think and say that? Aren’t there some things in life about which we are allowed to proclaim, “No, I don’t believe that is ever okay”?

To be clear, I am not talking about Rihanna’s personal choice to re-enter the relationship. That choice is hers and hers alone. I am talking about taking the objective (in my view) stance that her choice is irresponsible and, for lack of a better term, stupid, because she is knowingly putting herself in a situation that poses real and possibly severe physical harm.

I have experience interacting with abused women. I used to represent them pro-bono in NYC Family Court, helping them get temporary and permanent orders of protection from their abusers. A very dear family member of mine was in an abusive relationship until he threw her down a flight of stairs and almost killed her, and our family collectively forced her out of the relationship. She hated us for a while because she wasn’t ready to leave him, but it saved her life. It didn’t particularly matter to me whether she hated me or any of us for doing it. And at some point, it stops mattering to me whether women are emotionally or psychologically intertwined to a point where they are unable to place their own physical safety first. We assume that only the person in the relationship can understand or see its intricacies, and that is probably categorically true; but I posit that sometimes, intricacies just don’t fucking matter. Being alive and unharmed matters more.

I understand that the issue is emotionally and psychologically complex, and it’s hardly ever as easy as “Oh girl, just leave him.” I understand that having people constantly tell a victim of abuse to get out just isn’t helpful, because ultimately the decision has to come from within, not without. But why can’t we still agree that staying is a bad decision? Why, in certain situations, like Rihanna’s, can we not say that we disagree with her choice without being labeled judgmental or anti-feminist? At some point, when can we say that physical safety simply must take precedence over the emotional complexities that make it difficult for a victim to leave her abuser?

Rihanna is not a woman who is financially dependent on her abuser. She is not a woman who must worry about nasty custody battles with her abuser. She is not a woman who does not have access to counseling or psychotherapy to help her move past the emotional ties she has to her abuser. She is not a woman who, literally and figuratively, has nowhere to go. She has millions of dollars and an army of security who would be able to keep her safe, along with countless other advantages that many victims of abuse don’t. So why, with all these advantages, are we not allowed to say that she is being stupid by knowingly placing herself in a dangerous situation?  Is it terrible to say that while I would be saddened if he hurt her again and of course don’t want it to happen, I will have less sympathy for her than I did the first time? 

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