Emma Cowing: Rihanna sets back cause of all women

The cover of Rihanna's seventh album, Unapologetic
The cover of Rihanna's seventh album, Unapologetic
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IF YOU are over 21, the chances of you understanding Rihanna’s Twitter feed are about as likely as Nadine Dorries becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The pop star’s social networking stream is a constant barrage of perplexing language (“fux witcha”, “ThugLife” and “hoe” all make regular appearances, despite their gaping omissions from the Oxford English Dictionary), interspersed with pictures of the singer topless or posing provocatively. Her profile picture shows not one, but two images of her completely nude. All this is interleafed with tantalising peeks into her superstar life, from the picture of her “all alone in my big ole jet”, to the slightly less convincing “I’m turning on the Christmas tree lights at Westfield Stratford City in London, be there at 4pm!”

Almost 27 million people follow Rihanna on Twitter, which suggests that, occasionally, it’s worth trying to work out what she’s saying. She is the fourth-most followed person in the world, ahead of Barack Obama and behind Lady Gaga and, therefore, arguably wields enormous influence over young women in particular, and society in general. If I were the Oxford English Dictionary, I’d be getting worried.

The same cannot be said of Rihanna’s on again/off again boyfriend Chris Brown, the rapper, who on Monday deleted his Twitter account after a rather ghastly dispute with comedian Jenny Johnson. The edited highlights of the argument, which started after Johnson intimated that Brown looked older than his years because of his dubious attitude towards life (I am, you will gather, paraphrasing here for family newspaper reasons), spiralled when Brown unleashed a torrent of sexual insults towards Johnson that served to highlight not only the rapper’s misogynistic attitude, but also the fact that, unlike his rumoured girlfriend, he cannot spell the word “hoe” correctly.

All this would be a bit “so what, who cares?” were it not for the fact that in 2009 Brown pleaded guilty to attacking Rihanna in a violent assault during which he hit, choked and bit his then partner. The pair split up and Brown hired a 
crisis management team, which toot sweet arranged a round of mea culpa interviews. Despite pleading guilty to a felony and accepting a plea deal of community labour, five years’ formal probation and domestic violence counselling, Brown’s career has not suffered. Indeed, he has released three albums since the incident, two of which have made it to No1 on the US Billboard charts.

So, perhaps we should not be surprised that when Rihanna last week released her new album, Unapologetic, it included a duet with Brown. “Every touch is infectious,” she warbles, “let’s make love in this Lexus”. Brown’s assault on Rihanna took place in a car.

Perhaps the ultimate irony of this song is its title, Nobody’s Business, which – given that it appears on an album that was promoted by a seven-day, seven-country worldwide tour that ferried journalists and fans on a Boeing 777 amid wall-to-wall publicity backed by, you guessed it, feverish Tweeting to her 27 million followers by Rihanna – is a bit rich. In my opinion, it amounts to nothing less than making money out of domestic violence. By marketing the fact that Brown physically abused Rihanna, it takes on an allure, a certain morbid fascination, that can then be exploited for financial and career-enhancing gain.

All this is vile enough. But what concerns me is the influence it will have on Rihanna’s millions of young female fans, many of whom also follow Brown and witnessed his recent verbal attack on Johnson. I honestly thought we were done with glamorising violence against women. But Rihanna’s intoxicating combination of victim-like lyrics (on the same album she sings “I was flying ’til you knocked me to the ground”), sexually provocative imagery as well as her constant Tweeting, which in recent weeks has made it clear she is indeed back with Brown, suggest that we’re not, and that it’s OK to label women in derogatory ways, go back to violent ex-boyfriends and expose our breasts to 27 million people in a desperate attempt to seek approval.

Rihanna is right, of course. It is nobody’s business. Which is why she should never have opened her trap about it in the first place. Oh, for the days when a hoe was merely a garden implement.