No More Violence, No More Silence

“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts, just gonna stand there and hear me cry but that’s alright because I love the way you lie, I love the way you lie.” Sounds familiar?  Yes, these are the lines in the chorus of the popular song Love the Way Yoy Lie that Rihanna and Eminem released in 2010 in Eminem’s album Recovery.  This song, together with its music video, represents an example of gendered violence.  Specifically, this song portrays intimate partner violence (IPV) in a romantic relationship in which a man (Eminem’s voice) abuses his girlfriend (Rihanna’s voice).  Yet, is this song and example of media glorifying intimate partner violence?  Or is this song trying to inform the public about how intimate partner violence works and the reasons that make individuals stay in these destructive relationships?

How does IPV affect victims and society overall?

Intimate partner violence is everybody's problem

The Center for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) reports that based on The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) conducted in 2010, 24 people per minute suffer from sexual assault, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States.  This is the equivalent to more than 12 million women and men a year.  These findings indicate that intimate partner violence is a significant and widespread health problem in the United States.  The CDC also reports that women are more likely to become victims of intimate partner violence than men.  In 2007, of the 2,340 people who died from intimate partner violence, 70% were women and 30% were men.  Furthermore, according to the CDC, one in four women (25%) has experienced intimate partner violence in her lifetime.  Finally the CDC reports that about 74% Americans know someone who suffers from intimate partner violence.

As Ann L. Coker and her colleagues explain in their article Physical and Mental Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence for Men and Women, some health implications of suffering intimate partner violence include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic disease, chronic mental illness, and injury. Coker and her colleagues explain that for both men and women, psychological abuse is linked to chronic mental illness, depressive symptoms, and anxiety.  On the other hand, physical abuse is associated with injury and chronic diseases such as chronic pain, osteoarthritis, and severe headaches.  Substance abuse is strongly associated with both physical and psychological intimate partner violence.  Their findings also suggest that women are likely to experience both physical and psychological health implications while men are more likely to only suffer psychological health consequences.  This is due to the fact that the majority of men suffer from psychological and verbal IPV but rarely from physical violence.  Finally, Coker and her colleagues stress the importance of detecting IPV in its early stages so that we can avoid and/or reduce its impact on physical and mental health.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), intimate partner violence has global consequences as well.  The NCADV reports that since 2003, intimate partner violence has cost the United States approximately $5.8 billion per year including medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity.  The NCADV also explains that although IPV has a clear individual and global negative impact on society, the majority of IPV cases are never reported to the police.  The NCADV specifies that only about 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes, and 50% of all stalking conducted against women by intimate partners are testified to the police.  Finally, the NCADV highlights that in the United States, some current regulations present problems when it comes to determining what consists IPV.  For instance, some states require the offender and victim to be married, live together, or have a mutual child in order to consider it IPV and some others ignore gay and lesbian partners in their intimate violence partner laws.

However, the United States government is working to create laws that better protect the rights and well-being of victims of intimate partner violence.  Jonathan Weisman, in his article Senate Votes to Renew Violence Against Women Act, explains that on April 26th of 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize an improved version of the Violence Against Women Act.  This law provides legal system responses such as programs, funding, and law reforms against intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  This law has been reauthorized many times since it was created (in 1994) in order to provide the best definition of all these different types of gendered violence.  This last reauthorization extended the reach of Violence Against Women Act to American Indians, gay, bisexual, and transgendered victims. The senate overwhelmingly voted this regulation with 51 democrats and 15 republicans forming the 68 final votes in favor versus only 31 against votes.  With this new reauthorization, the new Violence Against Women Act is much more inclusive than ever before.

Why do victims stay in such destructive relationships?

The cycle of intimate partner violence

Communications Studies and gender scholar Julia T. Wood in her textbook Gendered Lives defines intimate partner violence as romantic relationships in which one partner physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or sexually abuses the other partner. Eminem’s and Rihanna’s song and its music video portray intimate partner violence within a romantic relationship in which a man (Eminem’s voice and actor Dominic Monaghan) abuses his girlfriend (Rihanna’s voice and actress Megan Fox).  Wood explains that victims have a hard time leaving relationships with intimate partner violence because these develop in a cycle. Wood explains that the cycle of intimate partner violence has four stages.  Stage one, called Tension, occurs when tension accumulates and one partner psychologically and verbally abuses the other one by blaming him or her for all of his or her problems.  Stage two, called Explosion, occurs when tension explodes into physical violence such as battering, slapping, or shoving.  In stage three, called Remorse, the abuser feels sorry and is full of regret.  During this stage the abuser typically apologizes to the victim and promises not to do it again.  Finally, in stage four, also called Honeymoon, the abuser becomes loving and caring towards the victim.  This continues until tension builds up and the cycle begins again.  According to Wood, during Remorse the victim remembers the good person that he or she fell in love with and during Honeymoon the victim believes the abuser’s promises and regains hope on the relationship.  Often, victims try to cause Explosion in order to accelerate the process into the Honeymoon stage in which they enjoy their relationship.

Is the song informing audiences and promoting change?

Eminem and Rihanna in the music video of the song

The song Love the Way You Lie clearly shows the four different phases of the cycle of intimate partner violence.  Tension is shown through verses like “Right now there is steel knife in my windpipe” and “Drunk from the hate.”  Explosion is shown through verses such as “You push pull each other’s hair/ Scratch, claw, bite ’em/ Throw ’em down/ Pin ’em.” Remorse is shown in verses like “I feel so ashamed,” “I’ll never stoop so low again,” “But you promised her/ Next time you’ll show restrain,” “Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk,” “Next time, there would be no next time,” and “I apologize, even though I know it’s lies.”  Honeymoon is portrayed in verses like “’Cause when it’s going good/ It’s going great/ I’m Superman/ With the wind in his bag/ She’s Lois Lane.”  In addition, several verses show the cycle nature of intimate partner relationships “Where are you going/I’m leaving you/ No, you ain’t/ Come back/ We are running right back/ Here we go again/ It’s so Insane.”  Finally, the chorus in which Rihanna tells Eminem that she likes the pain and loves the lies can be understood as Rihanna provoking Explosion in order to come back to the Honeymoon phase.  Since the song clearly represents the cycle of intimate partner relationship, it can be argued that it portrays the very common tragedy of intimate partner violence in an attempt to create public awareness and instigate action against this practice.

Since Rihanna was assaulted by her ex-boyfriend and singer Chris Brown in 2009, many journalists have asked the R&B and pop star about the reasons that brought her to partner with Eminem in this song.  Damien Pearse published an article titled Rihanna teams up with Eminem in domestic violence video in the newspaper The Guardian in which he talks about Rihanna’s declarations regarding this song.  Pearse explains that Rihanna fell in love with Eminem’s song from the beginning.  Rihanna stated “He (Eminem) pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence and it touches a lot of people.”  Pearse also explains that Rihanna claimed that this song is something she felt she needed to do to help other victims of intimate partner violence.  In her own words, “The clip aims at highlighting the dangers of an abusive relationship and, indirectly, delivers the message that it’s better to walk out before it’s too late.” Therefore, Rihanna supports the idea that the goal of this song is to raise awareness about how intimate partner violence works in order for victims and society to take action against it.

Or is the song normalizing and glorifying IPV?

However, Wood also explains that media tends to normalize violence towards women.  She argues that there is increasing evidence that media portrayals of violence contribute to growing violence exerted by men in real life situations.   From this point of view it can be argued that Eminem’s and Rihanna’s song is glorifying intimate partner violence. For example, the fact that the music video mixes scenes of violence and sex continuously, can lead to audiences perceiving intimate partner violence as “sexy” and therefore appealing.  In addition, the song finishes with Rihanna singing the chorus “Cause I like the way it hurts” and “Cause I love the way you lie” after Eminem threatens to kill her in the line “If she ever tries to f* leave again/Imma tie her to the bed/And set this house on fire.”  Thus, this could lead to audiences understanding that women are supposed to accept intimate partner violence and learn to live with it.  As a result, the repeated listening to this and other similar songs could lead victims to accept their unhealthy relationship instead of speaking up and looking for help.

Music video of the song with Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan

In his conference paper Sex and Violence Makes Me Yawn: Autonomic Desensitization to Music Videos, Paul Bolls and his colleagues support the idea that media normalizes violence.  First, Bolls and his colleagues notice that music videos, especially rap music videos, contain high levels of sex and violence.  Second, they argue that repeated exposure to sex and violent content in media causes a desensitization effect.  This effect consists of individuals who are heavy viewers (more than 4 hours a day) of media with high levels of violent and sexual content, such as rap music videos, becoming significantly less bothered and/or concerned by violence and sex. Finally, the researchers argue that individuals who experiment desensitization are more likely to accept violence from others as normal, and to use and/or tolerate violence in order to solve personal and/or social problems.  For example, Eminem’s and Rihanna’s music video, by portraying a romantic relationship in which partners continuously hit and push each other, can lead to audiences becoming less disturbed when they see real life violent situations between intimate partners or to even understand this as normal when it happens in their own romantic relationships.

Speaking up

Whatever your interpretation of the song and music video is, the most important thing is to listen to or watch it with a critical attitude.  Wood explains that society is a human creation that we constantly reshape through our interactions in private and public situations.  For this reason, we need to understand that we are all crucial players in shaping the meaning of gender and what it means to be a woman and a man in contemporary and future societies.  Wood explains that one way to exercise power towards change is through voiceVoice refers to communicating with others and getting involved in everyday acts of opposition against gendered practices that are sexist and restrictive. For example, Sandra M. Stith raised her voice by publishing a book called Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence in which she presents specific measures and programs that individuals and communities can take to fight against IPV.

Another way to raise your voice is by joining organizations that fight against intimate partner violence by helping its victims.  For instance, Albor Ruiz, journalist of the Daily News, published and article titled Safe Horizon launches Spanish language website to aid victims of violence and crime in which he explains the last action that the organization against violence Safe Horizon has taken to help victims.  According to Safe Horizon, many Hispanic victims of IPV living in the United States struggle to find help because they do not speak English.  For this reason, Ruiz explains that Safe Horizon launched a new website in Spanish to help victims of IPV and other types of violence find resources and services available.  The organization accepts financial help and volunteers who want to join their cause.

Take action!

Intimate partner violence is a very widespread problem that deeply affects victim’s health and society overall.  As we have seen, media violent content that portrays IPV, such as Eminem’s and Rihanna’s song and music video, can have multiple interpretations.  Media portrayals of IPV can serve to create awareness and instigate change but can also lead to normalize violence and desensitize individuals who are heavy viewers of this kind of media.  For this reason, the most important thing is to always hold a very critical attitude when consuming media with violent content. If we are critical about media content and real life situations we can raise our voice against those practices we consider unfair.  I estimate that it took you about 5-10 minutes to read this blog post.  While you were reading about 120- 240 people were victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.  For this reason I encourage you to raise your voice against intimate partner violence. You can choose to join organizations such as Safe Horizon or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or you can simply engage in everyday acts against intimate partner violence such as educating yourself and others about this problem.

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