It might be pardonable to refuse to defend some men, but to defend them negligently is nothing short of criminal. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero
So last weekend I saw a Facebook post from an associate with the caption, "See, Melyssa Ford has brains and beauty!" I decided to make myself privy to the video vixen's alleged intellectual prowess by clicking on the link to watch a segment entitled "Dangerous Message." The clip featured a panel consisting of Ford, the cutest Gloria Steinem mini-me with her feminist textbook in hand, and a Chris Brown fan: a girl who I can only imagine has lipstick smeared posters of the badly tattooed singer hung up in her dorm room, discussing whether or not Rihanna should have openly displayed affection toward Chris Brown at the recent MTV Video Music Awards.
Umm I'll take Role Model Fail for $1, Alex.
An influential pop culture figure kissing the man who allegedly beat, bit and choked her into an unconscious state -- and kissing him at one of the most highly anticipated televised award shows with approximately 7 million tuned in viewers (many of whom are impressionable, wide-eyed pubescent girls) is not apropos. Seriously, the fact that we live in a society where that question exists does not bode well for humanity. Sadly, statistics indicate that one in five of these girls will report being physically abused by a dating partner. Many of these adolescents are in the painstaking process of understanding the nuances of fight or flight. Being presented with an image of a victim recklessly rubbing her hand through her abuser's hair was like fingernails on a chalkboard. You really couldn't wait two hours until the non-televised after party? I never expected Rihanna to hold undying resentment against Chris Brown, but there's a noteworthy distinction between forgiveness and fondling.
Melyssa Ford and the president of Brown's fan club obviously don't agree.
Clearly, I've been out of the loop, because I only knew Ford from hip hop videos, calendars and pornography (no, King Magazine has no artistic merit); who went on to play such stellar roles as La La and Candy; however, the host referred to her as a "women's health advocate," an appellation she appropriated before infiltrating the public school system to shape the minds of posterity. I recall watching Ford on a panel years ago with her Apple Bottom's boss, Midwest rapper Nelly, where she was invited to rationalize videos like "Tip Drill" as a natural extension of men's virility (her choice of words, not mine). Apparently she thought using a woman's ass like a Hypercom T7 was a healthy way to explore one's manhood. Nelly nodded emphatically even though I was pretty sure he didn't know what "virility" meant. But let's forget Melyssa's past panelist myopia. According to her title, she's evolved into having a newfound concern for the livelihood of our gender. I mean, she's an advocate for us.
My initial amusement quickly faded when I realized Ford's label was outright deceptive. She wasn't on the show to be an advocate for women's health. Instead, in the face of yet another seemingly uncomfortable panel, she began with a litany of obviously well-rehearsed factors that most likely lead to Rihanna receiving her renowned WWE smackdown. Her pretexts included: blame it on the alcohol (shout-out to Jamie Foxx), immaturity, love, impetuousness, you do what you see, provocateuress, he was having a bad day, wrong time of night and my ultimate favorite, Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus ("Don't Poke a Sleeping Dragon"). Seriously, the only thing missing was Rihanna infecting Chris with the Ebola virus. She conjectured Rihanna must have been all up in Brown's face snapping her fingers, neck rollin', gum smacking with her bamboo earrings swinging. And if that wasn't enough "advocacy," she assures viewers that the car attack was an isolated incident, because apparently she's now a member of Scotland Yard. I wasn't aware non-government officials were using The Patriot Act to tap into phone and e-mail correspondence of celebrities to make sure their abuse was a one off deal. Contrary to Ford's absolutist reassurance, Rihanna actually informed police that Brown had a history of abusing her and the violence was getting "progressively worse." Any women's health advocate knows that a man rarely hits a woman one time, but obviously, Ford missed that day of training.
Qualification: I try really hard not to judge the aristocracy of men's magazines, the femme fatales whose resume is measured in inches, favorite books include The Bible or The Alchemist and who always plan to pursue PhD's in psychology, subsequent to graduating from the Continental School of Beauty. Those whose interviews reflect that because their father was one-third Trinidadian and their mother's paternal grandmother twice removed was half Jamaican that they somehow trump the lady on Page 36. I joke, but aside from it being cliché, I think we as women receive enough judgment for ten lifetimes. Ladies, make your money. Fellas, be grateful to a generation of bad stepfathers. However, I do take issue with women who spend their lives catering to the sexual wiles of men, then attempt to renovate themselves into self-appointed esteem builders in an effort to save our "fallen" young girls from themselves. It's as superficial as recruiting T.I. to stand in school auditoriums telling kids guns are bad after being arrested for an apocalyptic arsenal of weaponry stashed in the hallway closet. Side note to Tiny: I really hope you have an escape plan for you and your children when you find those pipe bombs in the attic.
Melyssa Ford is about as close to being a women's health advocate as I am to being a representative of PETA. When I was ten, I stuck two Siamese fighting fish in a tank together and watched while munching on caramel corn. The following year, I accidentally froze my parakeets to death. The cat never liked me after my 6th grade science project and every time I walk by the Save The Whales booth in the Whole Foods parking lot, I pretend to text (No diss to your peeps Shamu).
Much like my maligned relationship with animals, Ford making young girls culpable for their black eyes is antithetical to creating a world of "healthy" women. The well-being of my gender relies heavily on making women aware of the astronomical levels of abuse in our culture and making sure it's crystal clear we're not liable for those stats. Studies site that six million women experience domestic violence and more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. In light of the fact that conservatives want to ban the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it's superfluous and shelters are closing down like Bain Capital acquisitions, we don't need to hear sexist rhetoric like what else do you expect from an impetuous 20-year old boy at the wrong "time of night" and ladies, you too can become beat-down proof if you just stop copping an attitude and turn your bodily assets into human cash registers.
Our legal system doesn't do much better with its lenient attitude towards violence against women. Our Lady of Justice incarcerates citizens for jaywalking, littering, mutilating coins, and sending their children to better schools. She goes Draco style on marijuana enthusiasts, but Chris Brown, Robert Kelly, and Charlie Sheen simply get a slap on the wrist in the form of community service, freedom, and rehab. Why is the bar set so low for society turning their back on men who abuse women? Unlike the aforementioned, the police members involved in the beating of Rodney King would get booed off an award ceremony stage faster than Mitt Romney in front of the NAACP. These men are looked on with utter disgust, yet getting the "disgust face" for crimes against the X chromosome takes an ineffably gruesome crime i.e., a gang rapist serial killer cannibal of newborn girls who votes Republican and decries God. It's not hyperbolic, Steve Harvey has claimed he's so disgusted by atheists that he can't even talk to them, yet cast Chris Brown in his recent blockbuster film Think Like A Man. Perhaps if Chris tattooed a pentacle instead of a battered woman on his neck he would be more snubbed.
Melyssa Ford ended her panel ramblings with, "And as celebrities they do... we do have a certain responsibility." Spare me the Freudian faux pas of forgetting to include yourself with the Rihanna's of the world. True, the fact that Beyonce, in her attempts to perhaps negate Harry Belafonte's claim that she and Jay-Z aren't building enough wells in Africa, appeared on Humanitarian Day with the profound words, "Do something positive," and yielded tangible results attests to celebrity power. While the only thing I walked away with was, "Damn where can I get that Alexander McQueen suit on sale," others were much more motivated by her appearance. Immediately following, one billion people around the world signed up for her "Do Something" campaign. See, it's not enough to read about Mobutu's warlords, little girls in the Cambodian brothels, or child prostitutes on the streets of Rio de Janeiro to prompt us into being proactive. No. We're preoccupied with emulating celebrity culture. This is why Rihanna's move at the VMA's was so morally reprehensible. In fact, I thought she once knew this.
In 2009, Rihanna conducted an interview with Diane Sawyer after her brief jet ski reconciliation with Brown in Miami where she said, "When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. If Chris never hit me again who's to say their boyfriend won't. I didn't realize how much of an impact I had on these girls' lives." For a moment, she encompassed my beloved utilitarianism. Alas, that flash of perhaps ostensible role model etiquette quickly passed. There weren't enough therapeutic gun tattoos, S&M routines or music video murders that could negate the Nils Bejerot-coined Syndrome she still screamed out three years later to Oprah Winfrey. Twitter warfare with Brown's new girlfriends, social media prayers for probation hearing outcomes, Instagraming nostalgic kiss pics, Rihanna has regrettably refused to keep her support for Brown behind closed doors, proudly eschewing exemplar status for abused women, who don't have The Four Seasons.
I don't mind that Ford wants to defend the lowest common denominator of man and claim nobody really knows what happened that night in the one blood type ridden Lamborghini. I mind that she's pedagogically plaguing the youth with this propaganda (and me, for 33 whole minutes). Ford's distasteful justifications for Brown's violence were followed up with the paradoxical addendum, "But of course I don't condone violence." This being said subsequent to War & Peace-length motives as to why men lose their temper and why society shouldn't hold high expectations, is in fact, a tacit approval of their actions. Continuing to share anecdotes about her female associates getting up in men's faces thinking they shouldn't get hit is as counterproductive as modifying school dress codes to abate sexual assault. That language paradigm is reminiscent of condemning women who are raped for skimpy biker shorts only to counter with, "But of course, rape is unacceptable." So then why mention the biker shorts? To make the woman feel guilty? Are you trying to ban spandex? Do you work for Supima?
Though Ford spent much of the show contradicting herself, she ended with probably the most revealing inconsistency. Suddenly forgetting her previous position which used Harry Potter wizardry analogies as to why men use women as Everlast bags, she practically jumped out of her chair about Basketball Wives' member Evelyn Lozada: "She tried to throw a bottle at someone!!" Who would have thought a chick being missed by a Chardonnay Blanc would get a self-proclaimed "women's health advocate" more riled up than a woman with a mugshot like Rihanna and not a single scratch on her attacker? Why wasn't Evelyn's sacrilegious wine cellar throwing stunt simply "fueled by the time of night?"
Hopefully, as Melyssa Ford's advocacy evolves, she will come to realize that women's health encompasses more than HIV/AIDS awareness and the tale of becoming a video vixen; its goal is also to heal minds that shield the illness and wounds that we can't see. If she does not, she will continue to deliver her own "Dangerous Message" to young susceptible girls across the nation. As for Rihanna, I think the Hogwarts School might offer the cautionary advice, non sapiens diligere draconum.
Follow Sasha Brookner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sashabrookner