Yesterday evening a friend and I were listening to “We Found Love” by Rihanna before our shift started at the call centre (read as: dancing shamelessly in our seats). A fellow employee/friend walked over to us, and said, “Yo, where’s Chris Brown when you need him to shut Rihanna up?” He thought this was legitimately funny.
Prior to this moment of pure idiocy, I liked, and had a lot of respect for, this friend. But as soon as the words were out of his mouth, I lost whatever regard I had for him.
At the time, I was so entirely flummoxed by his “joke” that all I could manage was a constant loop of “that’s not cool, man, domestic violence isn’t something to laugh at. It’s not funny, it’s awful,” while he kept repeating, “It’s a joke, it’s a joke, it’s a joke,” to try to placate me.
Domestic violence is not a joke. It will never be a joke. Anyone who makes it one is fundamentally disregarding and undermining the experiences of women (and men!) who are beaten down and made to feel like they’ve done something to deserve it. Making it a joke ignores the challenge that those women face when they try to tell someone, and are fearful of being shamed or disbelieved or, again, made to feel like the abuse was somehow their fault (which is all too common). A joke like that shows no respect for a woman as strong as Rihanna, who had to go through that cycle of abuse and shame, and still came out the butt of a joke.
Someone who tells a joke like that needs a reminder of what Rihanna went through: police records report that Chris Brown choked her, punched her until she was unconscious, and fled the scene. They need to be reminded that after a short period of exile, an abuser was welcomed back to the music scene with open arms, and public opinion widely suggested that Rihanna should just “get over it” and “move on.” Someone who tells this joke needs to remember that they have just contributed to a culture that silences countless numbers of women, and tells them that their abusers are more important, more worthy of protection, than they are.
A joke like this needs to become nonexistent. A person like this needs to think before s/he speaks, which is what I wish my friend had done.