The Book of Rihanna: In Defense of "Man Down"

I admit, there are a handful of Rihanna songs that I like, and "Man Down" is one of them. I love the beat, I love the lyrics, and I love the way Rihanna lets her accent shine through. The images that rolled through my mind when I first heard the song were from the great movie, Kill Bill.

"Man Down" is about a female character, played by Rihanna in the "Man Down" music video, seeking revenge by killing the man who brutalized and raped her a day earlier.

Many conservative groups and individuals have a big problem with the video, and have been calling for it to be banned. It seems that several channels and television providers have already done so.

Like the film Kill Bill, "Man Down" centres on female empowerment in the form of a brutal act of revenge (or in the case of Kill Bill, a series of them). Traditionally, women and revenge don't go together or should never go together. But women, especially those women who have been physically and/or sexually abused at the hands of men, feel tremendous amounts of rage, grievous rage, and yes…REVENGE. Women are, indeed, quite capable of feeling this type of emotion. Yet they often repress their rage and feelings of vengeance and don't speak out in the ways they wish. This can be detrimental to the woman, both psychologically and physically.

I'm not saying that women want to literally kill their abusers, because I don't think that's the case at all. What I am saying is that it's a very healthy thing for revenge fantasies to come to life in movies and music videos. They should not be silenced. When done responsibly and creatively, these types of narratives are positive and helpful, and allow survivors to think of their experiences in new ways. Watching Kill Bill was cathartic for me, and "Man Down" has a similar, though not as intense, effect.

The road to healing is hard. It's often exceedingly ugly. Let it be.

Now, in closing, let me tell you a little story about the Bible that I think applies here. I'm no Bible Thumper, but there's this Old Testament Book called the Book of Judith (excluded in Protestant versions of the Bible) that recounts the story of Judith and Holofernes. Judith, a ravishing Jewish heroine, enters the tent of Holofernes, an Assyrian general set on destroying the Jewish city of Bethulia (where Judith lives), and violently decapitates him in cold blood with his own sword.

Holofernes did not assault Judith personally, but he greatly desired her and allowed her into his tent in the first place because he was hoping for some action. She sought revenge because Holofernes and the Assyrian army had launched an assault on her city, and because Holofernes and the Assyrian army represented a very real sexual threat to Judith and the other women of Bethulia. (We know quite well how women often fare during military attacks of their home villages or towns.) Holofernes got what was coming to him.

Rihanna's story in "Man Down" is not a new one. It exposes and releases the very real rage experienced by so many women.

Let it be.

(images via BOOMSbeat, Commentary Track Stars, and Wikipedia