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Deborah King

Deborah King

Posted February 19, 2009 | 11:23 AM (EST)

Rihanna and Chris: The Myths That Shape Their Behavior


Today's news about this ongoing public peek into domestic violence is that Rihanna is "torn" about helping the cops because she still loves Chris. This is the classic line of a woman who is unconsciously programmed to come up with excuses for her man. And if, in fact, it's not the first time he abused her, then Rihanna indeed is a victim of the myths that so many still believe.

The basic patriarchal myth throughout the Judeo-Christian-Muslim world is that "women are the root of all evil." It leads to women having to cover their bodies -- from wigs for Orthodox Jewish women to the veils of Muslim women and the long clothing of some Christian sects -- as well as how they think about themselves and the treatment they get from men. Somehow, a woman who gets beaten like Rihanna "deserves" what she gets, since she must have done something bad to bring about that response. It's a convenient myth for the patriarchal mindset that still rules much of the world.

That underlying myth is followed closely by "stand by your man, no matter what." You love him, so you have to forgive him. His misbehavior was likely your fault. Take him back and pray it doesn't happen again. After all, a woman is "nothing without a man." It was just a year ago we watched Silda Spitzer stand mutely by her man, ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, as he sabotaged his career with a high-priced call girl. The pain on her face should be a warning to any woman who thinks she should go the same route.

Obviously, many teens today are a lot smarter. They've grown up with independent-thinking and acting mothers. They are appalled by what happened and the reaction against Chris Brown has been swift. But many others, who have commented on articles and blogs, insist it must have been Rihanna's fault, so the myths still live.

All the facts have yet to come out, but it's clear that Chris is as much a product of the beliefs he absorbed in childhood as is Rihanna. He now has a great opportunity--even a gift--of being able to find out at such a young age that this unconscious behavior doesn't work and he needs to form his own value system.

A study done in 2005 showed that one out of every three teenagers knows a friend who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked, or physically hurt by their partner. Watching this domestic violence scenario play out in front of their eyes in the media can powerfully impact teens and young adults. If the pop princess straightens up and lets Brown fly right out the door, she is making a strong statement that love shouldn't hurt like that and that women aren't going to put up with that patriarchal cr*p any longer. And Chris can powerfully impact all the confused young men who might believe that women deserve to be slapped around now and again by admitting his mistake and making sure it never happens again.