Serious Question: Is Rihanna A Misandrist?
I saw a piece in my timeline and felt it was worth discussing.
It’s from two months ago, and it bravely raises the idea that Rihanna -at least on screen – is a misandrist
I know right: what are those?
A quick Google search will tell you that a misandrist is “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against men.”
But in my opinion, a misandrist is something that does not exist outside of a theory because there is no structural power in place to actually support women in positions of power over men. Sure, there are some folks who believe that women are superior to men, and some of those folks are women. But when you think about it, misandry is usually just a term that folks like to throw around whenever they are trying to disarm people, woman mostly, from seeking resolution from what oppresses them. Sort of like when some people claim they are a victim of reverse racism…
However, I know folks may believe differently, particularly Fusion writer Kelsey McKinney who, in a piece entitled “Rihanna’s music videos are a master class in misandry” argues that the “Work” singer hates men.
More specifically she writes:
“This isn’t Rihanna’s first murder. She walks through a strip club’s red velvet curtains in her new (and NSFW—again, this is a strip club) music video “Needed Me,” holding a gun with a silencer. She has a practiced hand. In the backroom, she hits her mark, a man who throws a wad of cash towards her. One shot and he crumples. Two, he falls to the floor. She fires a third for good measure.
“Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?” she sings earlier in the song. But nobody had to tell us. We know Rihanna—at least, the music video version of Rihanna—is bad. Just last year, we watched her kidnap a rich man’s wife and torture him to death in the “Bitch Better Have My Money” video.
Because of its violence (and also, to a lesser extent, its blatant sexuality and drug use), the reception of Rihanna’s “Needed Me” hasn’t been all positive. The Daily Beast questioned whether it was unnecessarily gratuitous. So did The Atlantic. But Rihanna’s been accused of these things before: too sexual, too violent, too powerful, too everything. Her “Man Down” video—in which she shoots down a rapist—was condemned by the Parents Television Council in 2011.
Though these depictions of murder are the most explicit crimes against men committed therein, Rihanna’s entire visual discography is actually a master class in misandry. Not in how to hate men, per se (and certainly not in how to literally murder them), but in how to act like they really, truly could not matter less to you. If there’s anything Rihanna doesn’t give a fuck about in her videos, it’s men.”
McKinney then goes on to break down Rihanna’s alleged pattern of misandry, in particular how she tends to be both impatient and contemptuous to them in her videos. For instance, she cites the 2010 video for “Only Girl in the World,” in which Rihanna is singing about how she prefers to be loved by a man, even though there are no men around in the actual video.
And in the 2009 video for “Unfaithful,” where Rihanna threatens violence against the man who cheated on her (“I might as well take a gun and put it to his head / Get it over with.”). Also in the video for “Work,” where McKinney claims that Rihanna is flat-out dismissive to Drake, who also co-stars in the video, adding: “He’s never the center of the shot. And Rihanna’s sexiness doesn’t even seem to be directed at him so much as at the viewer, at her own reflection in the mirror.”
She also adds:
“Rihanna isn’t preaching a kill-all-men sermon. Her misandry is subtler than that. It’s built on a canon of songs where men have fucked up, where they’ve made women feel subservient and powerless, like victims in their own lives. “All of my kindness / Taken for weakness,” she sings in “FourFiveSeconds.”
But there’s nothing weak about where Rihanna is right now as a pop star. She’s a powerhouse, with the number one song in America. On tour, she’s nice to her fans. She’s relatable in her banter and her interviews. But in her videos, she’s a misandrist with no time for games. You can silence her guns, but you sure as hell can’t silence her.”
See? See, what I mean about misandry, in practice, being bulls**t?
For real, I don’t see how the act of not centering men in your life makes you a misandrist. If anything, it makes you a pretty dynamic feminist. Likewise, fighting back against the men who abuse and otherwise mistreat you does not mean you hate men; that means you just hate what’s being done to you by these men. And more importantly, you would like them to stop doing it.
And to me, this is what’s most interesting about McKinney’s analysis; it’s how the context around Rihanna’s action in these music videos has been compartmentalized or even stripped away, in favor of an emotionless killer. If we were to go solely by McKinney’s thoughts, we are lead to believe that there is no agency for Rihanna’s action. Rihanna is violent because she is just violent. And she kills and acts dismissively towards these men because it’s Monday and why the hell not?
For instance, in the music video for “Needed Me,” McKinney noted that the pop star looked “incredibly bored,” as she pulls the trigger on a gun and killed a man. And this bored look is supposed to be an example of her disdain for men.
However McKinney curiously glosses over how this supposed misandrist’s act is happening inside of a strip club (which is graphically shown in the video). You know, the place where women perform for the male gaze? A place where women are faceless, characterless and reduced down to their body parts? And the place where patriarchy still very much reigns supreme?
Likewise, before Rihanna shoots her victim, who is in the middle of getting a lap dance, she holds a gun on him and offers him a chance to repent. But like bored-face Rihanna, her victim seems peculiarly unfazed. Perhaps it is arrogance or maybe it is all the weed he is smoking. Regardless, he does not take her threat of violence seriously. And to prove how little regard he has for her, he dismissively throws money in her face.
If we were to look at things critically, the scene itself is very nuanced. He throws money at Rihanna the same way he likely had at strippers who bounce around on his lap. It’s the same sort of dismissiveness that men have been conditioned to give women regardless of their profession, class, status or emotional state. It doesn’t matter if she is pleasing him or being disagreeable; he treats and regards all women in the same exact way. So when Rihanna kills him, she also not only sets herself free but she also aids the other woman – the exotic dancer who she does not kill– by freeing her from the entire strip culture itself.
In fact, Rihanna’s penchant for justice can be seen elsewhere in her visual catalog. In “Man Down,”Rihanna seeks out and kills the rapist and in “Bitch Better have My Money,” she kills the accountant who stole from her.
In every instance that Rihanna “kills” a man in a video she does so to free or empower herself from their oppression over her – be it romantic or economic. Rihanna is premeditated but she is not predatory. She is vengeful, but not irrational. She is not scared to enact violence against men, but she does not seek to punish men, just because. There is a difference.
And how we label the tone of her violence matters. When we remove the context from her violence – and then call her a misandrist – we are basically saying that there is never a legitimate reason to be upset. Or to not want to dismiss a dude from her presence. Or to fight him. And in some instances, put a bullet in his head.
Granted, violence is not always the answer. However sometimes it is unavoidable. And women in particular need to know that it is an option.