Chris Brown plead guilty and received 5 years of probation and 180 days of community service for beating Rihanna. I would like to problematize the issues surrounding this case a little bit.
First, let’s acknowledge that the punishment CB received is extremely light. This is a class issue. We once again get to see resources and celebrity status work for someone in ways that the average Sundjata or Earpiece could never hope for, being that we are neither famous nor are we resource-rich. We saw a similar case with OJ, and the same is true for Paris Hilton and any other celebrity that has been in trouble. In my experience (I’ve never hit a woman, and I haven’t done the knowledge on this), a first-timer of domestic violence will receive anywhere from 40 to 120 days in jail. While who you know may be important, who knows you is equally salient–if not more. This case is just one more pebble contributing to the mountain of evidence boldly shouting that this is not a meritocracy, there are several justice systems (one for people of color, one for poor people, and one for everyone else), and, of course, justice can be purchased.
Second, I have heard that Rihanna started the fight. What I’m about to say is not going to be popular, but I’m not known for holding my tongue (er…fingers) to be popular. Let’s imagine that the fight between Rihanna and CB was between me and Kevin Hart. I’m 6’4″, and Kevin is about 5’5″. If he decided that something I said was deserving of a smack, and if upon receiving that smack from little Kevin, I began to beat that man about the head, neck, and shoulders, would anyone consider what I did anything other than self-defense? Not only would I be justified in defending myself, people would likely laugh at Kevin for being stupid enough to attack someone who is almost a foot taller and significantly stronger than he is. He would be the butt of jokes and the whole nine. In fact, when pictures of his busted lips surfaced, he would be subject to further ridicule.
Now, this was not the case for Rihanna and CB. IF (I’m saying “if” y’all), Rihanna started the fight because CB was cheating on her or for whatever the reason, at what point do we say that she was in the wrong? At what point should she be brought up on charges? Do we ignore her assault because she lost the fight?
There is a chasm of difference between de jure gender relations and de facto gender relations. Socially, we tend to agree that no man should ever hit a woman. The problem is that by law, we do not recognize two genders. We do recognize that there at least two sexes (reproductive laws and policies), but not gender. In fact, much of what liberal feminists and radical feminists (on different but connected issues) have fought for is the ability to be treated equal to men. These arguments (valid indeed!) include the mantra, “Whatever a man can do, a woman can do–and sometimes better!” I agree.
By law, women are to be treated equally. Laws imply responsibility, and whether we completely agree morally, a woman has no more right than a man to hit her partner–male or female. That said, if CB had come into the house and promptly began to beat on Rihanna, I would argue that he is abusive, and I would connect that abuse to some benefit he receives in the construction and maintenance of his masculinity. However, what seems to have happened is a fight. Again, think of me and Kevin Hart.
Either women are equal to men, or they are not. Women do not get to argue that they are equal in some respects (when it is beneficial) and then sidestep all responsibility for their actions BECAUSE they are women, arguing that they are physically weaker than men. That makes no sense legally. Socially, I find it a bit repugnant that Chris hit this woman, considering his mother had been beaten for a good part of his life. On the other hand, I feel like he was in a fight, and he simply won! There is no moral or legal standing to argue that I should refrain from whooping some dude who is beating on me just because I know that I can win.
She ought to be treated as if she were some dude who hit him. Arguing otherwise, opens a door for men to argue that women should keep their place. That’s not progressive by any standards. A woman cannot murder, assault, or otherwise attack a man because he cheated on her or because she simply doesn’t like what he is doing any more than a man can do those things to a woman. Assault is assault buddy.
…there’s gotta be some rules.