The release of Rihanna’s “Man Down” video has set the media on fire with negative commentary from parenting organizations and watchdog media groups. Between demonizing BET for airing the video and pressuring Rihanna to take more “artistic responsibility,” it seems that the whole plot of the video has been narrowed down to one sympathy party…for the rapist.
Paul Porter, Co-founder of Industry Ears, a media watchdog group, states, “‘Man Down’ is an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song…In my 30 years of viewing BET, I have never witnessed such a cold, calculated execution of murder in primetime. Viacom’s standards and practices department has reached another new low.”
When did it become “inexcusable” and “shock-only” for a woman to murder a man who sexually assaulted her? Not to throw hip-hop under the bus, but there have been plenty of male rappers’ videos that have displayed murder and violence. Not to mention, has anyone seen a Law & Order marathon? Why is Rihanna horrible for murdering a man who sexually abused her? And let’s disregard the fact that the song talks about her being remorseful because he “could’ve been somebody’s son.”
Although Rihanna chose pre-meditated murder to strike back at her attacker, what kind of message are these media watchdog groups and parenting organizations sending to women about rape retaliation? Is it wrong for a woman to protect herself by any means necessary, particularly in the moment? If anything, we should take “Man Down” as a prime opportunity to empower women to explore self-defense options from rape and sexual abuse.
In some nations, rape remains so rampant that women are forced to take stronger measures to protect themselves. In South Africa, the female Rape-aXe condom has become a popular tool for women to defend themselves against their attackers. The Rape-aXe condom is a latex sheath that women can insert into their vaginas. On the inside of the condom, there are inward facing barbs that snag a penis upon entry. In the midst of the attacker’s excruciating pain, the woman ideally is given the chance to get away and the barbs cannot be removed from the penis without a medical professional. Thus, the rapist is forced to check into a hospital, allowing the medical professional to identify him as a rapist. Additionally, the Rape-aXe condom also works to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STDs.
This is not the first time that women have taken the defense of their bodies into their own hands. During the Vietnam War, American soldiers raped and murdered so many Vietnamese women that they began to insert razor blades into their vaginas. The result had a similar impact as the Rape-aXe condom, cutting the penis upon entry, but also causing pain to the woman as well.
Similar to the outcry over Rihanna’s video, both of these self-defense mechanisms have been called vengeful, horrible, and disgusting. Once again, the public’s defense resides with the rapist instead of deeming him “deserving” of the consequence of his actions. It’s no different when a grandmother shoots and kills a burglar who breaks into her house. We should fully support women, when protecting themselves from rape.
As the female Rape-aXe condom continues to remain illegal in the United States, perhaps, we need to create a louder conversation in regards to empowering women in rape retaliation. I’m not saying that pre-mediated murder is the answer, but the judicial system can only offer victims retroactive justice, if anything at all.
What pro-active and in-the-moment measures can women take? Speak on it.