The Rihanna & Chris Brown story has been dominating the media for some time now, and for good reason. Violence against women, particularly women within intimate relationships, still remains shrouded in contextualization and skepticism on the part of the greater society as well as legal authorities. But as I read the post on Salon’s Broadsheet regarding the PSA produced by dosomething.org, which depicts a female teenager being battered by her date (the video is shown below), I began to think about the fact that so many girls and women appear not to have the self-respect or skills or even desire to remove themselves from violent relationships.
Rihanna herself is reportedly back with the guy who, according to police reports, attempted to beat her head against the doors and strangle her. While PSAs such as this can highlight the ways in which violence is done to young women, although it also feeds into the macabre voyeurism which prompts us to click on links to everything from models-gone-wild to be-headings of captured human beings (I refuse to add the urls for those), I wonder how much good they can do in a pop culture – once American but now global – that does its best to discourage women from being strong, self-confident and self-respecting. Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb wrote a book, Packaging Girlhood (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007) about the pervasive nature of social-marketing for girls and their website gives a great overview on how to counter it. Better still, their new book on packaging boyhood will be out soon and I’ll be sure to blog about it when it does. The combination of stereotypes (submissive and psychologically self-immolating for girls and dominant and physically aggressive for boys) is a Molotov cocktail of doom for society as a whole.
There is evidence to show that what truly matters are the ways in which girls are raised combined with coming-of-age ceremonies – astonishingly rare for American girls – both of which are enormous influences on the degree of self-respect they come to have as women, for their bodies and minds. I came across an interesting discussion on the issue here, in a blog post about Julia Alvarez’ book Once Upon A Quinceanera (Viking Adult, 2007). With mothers having a particularly important role in ushering their daughters from girlhood to womanhood, I thought I should also mention Deborah Tannen’s book, You’re Wearing That? (Random House, 2006) which I found to be quite useful in describing the pitfalls of American mothers and daughters in conversation as well as upbeat with regard to creating meaningful coming of age traditions. Janet Lucy’s book Moon Mother, Moon Daughter (Libri, 2003), is another user-friendly guide to creating positive space between younger and older women.
So here’s my suggestion for the day for us women: turn off the cell phones and computers and strike up inter-generational, cross-cultural, multi-religious conversations. Hold the young girls in your life close. There is more to be said and gained from growing strong women from within than can be achieved by simply showing them how strong men can knock them down with their fists.