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Domestic Violence: "Why Doesn't She Leave?" Is the Wrong Question to Ask About Rihanna

Abusers often taunt their victims with just this question, because they grasp the psychological power and the self-esteem erosion behind it.

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So why doesn't Rihanna leave, when she can afford to?  I have no idea.  Maybe Chris Brown is that charming.  Maybe she saw what I'm seeing, which is this passively (and actively) taking of his side in celebrity circles, and she realized that her career, which depends on socializing with these people, would suffer.  Maybe she thinks he won't do it again now that he's been publicly shamed to a degree.  Maybe her socialization as a woman has trained her, like most, to feel like she's got to take the scraps she's given from men.  Probably all of the above.  If so, then she's like most women in her situation, a mixed bag of motivations that are all, because of our sexist society, pointing her in the direction of staying. 

A major reason men beat women is because we ask, "Why doesn't she leave?" In fact, abusers often taunt their victims with just this question, because they grasp the psychological power of it, the sexism and the self-esteem erosion behind it, and they are happy to use it as a part of their arsenal to demoralize the victim and make her think she doesn't deserve better.  So every time we ask that, we have to ask ourselves why we don't believe that society coddles batterers, when we are engaging in batterer assistance ourselves.

One reason that it's hard for feminists to communicate these ideas is that we can't express them without giving really specific examples, and to do so is often a violation of someone's privacy.  And because victims of gender hate crimes are shamed by our society -- told it's their fault -- they rarely wish to talk about it at all.  So we express these trends in vague terms that make it easy to disbelieve, if that's what you want to do.  Jaclyn has a post that gives some examples to that you have something to hang onto, and she links to another.  Those are helpful, but I suppose they only go so far in helping people understand this situation.

I don't know what's going on.  But I know that if I were Rihanna, and I saw both the active and passive support for Chris Brown, I'd probably have a hard time leaving him, too.  I'd fear -- for a really good, solid reason -- that leaving him and taking on the "victim" label would mean that my phone calls would slowly stop being returned, and that would be it for the career path I had laid out.  Now, I'd wonder if I could find a second way to make my career in music, but being 20 and working in a really harsh world, I'd be loathe to give up a good thing in order to pursue something that probably won't work out.  I'd know that there's 50 young women a lot like me who are dying to take the spot carved out for me in the milieu, and that would make my odds look lower.  I'd go through a cycle of feeling like I'd done something to deserve this at times, and flashes of annoyance that I'm the one who is in real danger of seeing it all go away.  Flashes that I'd stifle, because I've got a good thing going, mostly, and I don't want to ruin it with my negative energy. 

It could be something else, entirely, of course.  Or maybe she's really got one foot out the door.  I hope so, for her sake.  I have no idea.  But if I were her, this is what I imagine would be bothering me.  And doesn't that seem entirely reasonable and sympathetic? And completely plausible?  It's amazing how clarifying it can be if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who finds herself stuck in an abusive relationship.

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