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Rihanna's honesty about abusive relationship is admirable

By Jane Graham

Published 09/10/2015

Happier times: Rihanna and Chris Brown
Happier times: Rihanna and Chris Brown

I've had my moments, good and bad, with Rihanna over the years. But I applauded her this week. She spoke frankly about an experience in her past which gave rise to much criticism, most of it patronising and unfair, and, in doing so, shed real light on a situation which affects thousands of women all over the world.

I'm so glad she spoke up. Because understanding what happened between her and ex-boyfriend, rapper Chris Brown, before and after he ferociously beat her up, was not high on the agenda for those who accused her of betraying her sex for giving him a second chance.

Deeply in love with him at the time, she says she remembers thinking, "Maybe some people are built stronger than others. Maybe I'm one of those people built to handle (things) like this. Maybe I'm the person who's almost the guardian angel to this person, to be there when they're not strong enough, when they just need someone to encourage them in a positive way and say the right thing."

I think this shows terrific insight into the mindset of many ostensibly strong women who stay in violent, or threatening, relationships. Too often, I've heard other women simply dismiss those who respond in this way, for all sorts of complicated and strongly felt reasons, as fools, victims, weaklings or, worst of all, complicit in their aggressor's behaviour.

Rihanna's explanation - which is not a justification - goes some way to helping us understand why even women who are successful and confident often refuse to give up on abusive men.

It's faith in their own power to transform and save those men which keeps them hanging on in there, reluctant to admit they failed, that their powers weren't as super-heroic as they believed.

Equally as important, though, is Rihanna's conclusion - that such ideas are misguided and naive. She put it succinctly: "But you realise after a while that in that situation you're the enemy. You want the best for them, but if you remind them of their failures, or if you remind them of bad moments in their life, or even if you say I'm willing to put up with something, they think less of you - because they know you don't deserve what they're going to give. And if you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you deserve this. That's when I finally had to say, 'Uh-oh, I was stupid thinking I was built for this'. Sometimes, you just have to walk away."

There is a current storyline in, of all places, the Radio 4 soap The Archers, examining exactly this situation. The tale of Helen, the self-assured career woman, who chose to be a single mum, and superficially smooth Rob, whose passive aggressive controlling of her turned very sinister a few weeks ago, has received criticism for dragging on too long.

But I think it's been careful and truthful in taking its time, portraying just how protractedly and with what sophistication a cruel, but clever, man like Rob might stalk, groom, seduce and wear down his prey.

What's been especially well-depicted is the gulf between what we, the omniscient audience, see clearly, and the limitations of Helen's manipulated, narrow vision of events.

It's not often Rihanna and the Archers perform the same function, but we should pay attention to both right now. This is complex stuff and both have neatly clarified that, contrary to certain claims, it's an issue which has nothing to do with ideology, or feminism.

It's about understanding love and human behaviour. And we should have the grace and good sense to expect that making sense of it all will take a lot of time and patience.

Cameron’s taking us all for a ride

I laughed out loud listening to David Cameron’s Tory conference speech this week, in which he said that, now the UK was on a big economic joyride up and up, it was time to focus on being really kind to poor, disadvantaged people.

And, by George, what a lovely man he was for caring about those tragic folk. Apart from the obvious contradiction of justifying ruinous cuts by referring to ongoing economic strife (in other speeches), is he aware of credit cuts that will see 200,000 more working families living in poverty by 2020?

He probably is, the old devil-may-care freewheeler. Hilarious.

Bribery can keep a family happy

A popular article on Mumsnet this week struck with me. It was about getting the best out of your toddler with a reward chart. But the more I read, the more I thought the advice could be helpful further afield.

There’s no question bribery works and, as I’m a great believer in “Fake it ‘til you make it”, I think forcing a sulky teenager to smile and speak clearly and cheerfully in return for iTunes vouchers would work. All that smiling might eventually make them feel happier.

Even better, “Focus on one behaviour at a time” and “Choose the reward together” would definitely knock a few husbands into shape.

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