The XX Factor

A Few Ways of Looking at Rihanna’s Rolling Stone Interview

“I like to be spanked. Being tied up is fun. I like to keep it spontaneous. Sometimes whips and chains can be overly planned-you gotta stop, get the whip from the drawer downstairs. I’d rather have him use his hands,” that’s what Rihanna told Rolling Stone in this week’s cover story, excerpts of which hit the web today . She was describing the autobiographical nature of her recent single “S&M.” In the same interview, she also addresses the beating she received at the hands of ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, and the subsequent publicity (“I didn’t want people to see me cry. I didn’t want people to feel bad for me. It was a very vulnerable time in my life, and I refused to let that be the image.”). She also gets into the cycle of abuse in her own family:

I actually feel really bad for my father… He was abused too-he got beat up by his stepdad when he was young. He has resentment toward women, because he felt like his mom never protected him, and unfortunately, my mother was the victim of that. I’m not giving him excuses. Right is right and wrong is wrong. I still blame him. But I understand the source.

Finally, she goes on to say that she believes she enjoys pain because of the abuse she lived through as a kid: “It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something I noticed until recently. I think it’s common for people who witness abuse in their household. They can never smell how beautiful a rose is unless they get pricked by a thorn.”

Rihanna comes off as entirely human and thoughtful in this interview. She’s a young woman who has had to deal with a private tragedy under the glare of the media, which is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Sexual desires are complex and whatever she gets off on is her business. However, I wonder if I had a teenager who was a huge Rihanna fan, how I would explain this interview to them. I don’t believe that pop stars necessarily have a responsibility to be role models, but adolescents historically aren’t the best with nuanced messages. How does one both express the seriousness of domestic abuse while Rihanna sings lyrics like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones/But chains and whips excite me”?