‘Noble’ Media Effort Still Reinforces Domestic Violence

Guest blogging at Women In Media & News (3/25/09), professors Jamii Claiborne and Susanne Gubanc write that, while most “mass media voices had good intentions” and “seemed genuine in their desire to make the alleged February domestic violence incident between the seemingly perfect young celebrity couple, singers Rihanna and Chris Brown, into a ‘teachable moment,'” for this “noble effort” they still “are not applauding.”

By focusing the majority of attention on what Rihanna could have done differently before the alleged attack or should definitely do now after the violence has come to light, this loud, mass media echo chamber has engaged in classic victim-blaming. Coverage that emphasizes primarily the victim’s role and responsibility–and takes the onus off the perpetrator–is likely do more harm than good to young women who live through dating violence outside the celebrity bubble. Violence against women is exacted by men with a bemused tolerance; it’s time the media and men took on the responsibility to stop the violence.

In our personal lives, blaming the victim often comes from the need to deny that we ourselves could be next. In order to avoid confronting our own fear of powerlessness, we, with media reinforcement, assume the victim had the power to prevent what happened. Since Rihanna did not prevent it, we reason we are more intelligent, aware and stronger than she is, and so what happened to her could never happen to us. Media coverage thus allows viewers to indulge in the patronizing and arrogant assumption that we are immune to violence. Regardless of how subtle or unintentional, this sort of reporting and commentary reinforces the notion that “we”–those of us who are not currently in abusive relationships–are superior to the victim.

Thus, Claiborne and Gubanc say, “embedded in their good intentions are implications and oversights that do more to ignore at the least–and further at the most–the social problem of violence against women.”