Chris Brown & Rhianna – What Do We Do?

Over the past several weeks as entertainment news has been filled with the story of Chris Brown and Rhianna’s domestic drama, there have been reports of the reactions to the incident from other celebrities. It seemed that lots of well-known musicians, actors, actresses, and such didn’t want to take a stand. That seemed a little odd to me. Isn’t it obvious that Chris Brown acted badly by basically beating up Rhianna? Wouldn’t they want to stand up for “right?”

Celebrities not wanting to take a stand is problematic, but I guess they are celebrities and don’t want to get mixed up in the story. But, then again, they aren’t just celebrities, in many cases they are role models for teens (and others) and as such could have an impact on how this story is perceived and understood by others. As a teen librarian and advocate I do wish that celebrity role models would stand up and speak out against unacceptable behavior.

This has come more to my mind as I’ve been reading about teens and what they have to say about the incident. Most recently in The New York Times there is a story titled Teenage Girls Stand By Their Man. The article focuses on the complexity of teen reactions to what happened between Chris Brown and Rhianna.

My first reaction when reading about teen girl’s support of Chris Brown over Rhianna was one of horror, shock, and sadness. How could these teens say that Rhianna played a role in what happened to her? How could they support Chris Brown after seeing Rhianna’s face? But, then I read the article and realized, of course, for some teen girls, this isn’t a black and white issue. There’s a lot going on in this story which makes it difficult for teens to easily understand and interpret the situation. There’s the glamour of the celebrities involved. And, there are teen’s own struggles figuring out who they are, what they believe, what their values are, etc.

What does this teen reaction and struggle mean for librarians working with teens? Do we promote research on abuse, dating violence, women’s rights? Do we start conversations with teens about relationships and how to handle bad dating situations? Do we make sure to have fiction and non-fiction easily available for teens in order to give them a chance to investigate these topics within their own comfort level and on their own time?

The answers to all of the questions is “yes.” (You can find some useful resources in Kelly Czarnecki’s post from last month.) We also have to remember that librarians, like celebrities, are role models for teens. We need to listen to what teens have to say about the topic and find ways to help them understand their own reactions. While we might know that teens aren’t necessarily seeing the “truth” of the situation, we can’t judge them for their reactions. We can however help them to understand why relationship violence isn’t OK no matter who the perpetrator is – a boy who lives down the block, or a cute famous singer that’s on the cover of many magazines.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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7 Comments

  1. I think your last paragraph is the most important. It’s so important to give teens space to have these discussions without swooping in and telling them they’re wrong or right for having their own opinions. Yes, intimate partner violence is always wrong, and victims (overwhelmingly women, but not always) need and deserve support and respect. That’s the message that should always come through.

    But some people–teens and adults alike–aren’t quite ready to hear that message. We have to allow space for disbelief, for confusion, for grief and anger to all take their course. But what do we do when those emotions stray into victim-blaming or devaluing the experiences of others? (This has cropped up a Lot in the feminist blogosphere, but it’s happening offline too.)

  2. I wrote this on my blog because I think there’s things to be said on the issue: http://yabooknerd.blogspot.com/2009/03/relationships.html

    and also because it’s an important issue.

    ps. On a separate note, I voted this blog in I <3 your blog!

  3. I agree- this is so important but how we handle it has to be so delicate. I have heard a lot of my teens talking about this in the last month. My reaction has been to make the resources available without interjecting my own opinions. Teens will rebel to almost anything and you can’t force your viewpoint on them. They’re coming from a different mindset and haven’t experienced what I have. The best solution is to make sure that they know there are places to go, that they know there are people they can talk to if they feel that they need to. No matter what, they’re going to form their own independent decisions. Their view is likely to change as they age. It’s our place to just provide information and let them come to their own conclusions.

  4. We have had the YWCA in to do a dating violence program at many of our branches over the last few years for both males and females. Similar resouces might be available in other cities. Overall teen reaction was very positive.

  5. Celebs are afraid of being sued. Any indication of Brown’s abuse w/out the “aledge” spoken by a celeb and caught on tape is grounds for a suit. Watched Oprah yesterday and she fell into this trap twice and had to recant (2 separate times) while on air after commercials in which her staff informed her that she goofed.

    I totally agree w/ you! This is horrible and celebs have an obligation to speak out, but they have to do it w/out mentioning names.

  6. Education is definitely the answer. Teens like to see both sides of the story and, unfortunately, in this regard, this means considering the possibility that Chris Brown may not be at fault here. I have written some books about dating/domestic violence, and when I visit schools to talk about them, I ALWAYS get questions about why don’t I write books about girls abusing boys because teens seem to think it happens an equal number of times. In fact, it’s not at all equal (I’m not saying it never happens, but it is very disparate), but a lot of boys will use conduct of a girl that “drove him to it” as justification for their abuse. And, unfortunately, the girls cooperate by taking the blame upon themselves. I do believe that books can help young women to see that this, this breaking the girl down and blaming her for her own abuse, is something abusers do. If girls can recognize it when they see it, that is the first step toward being able to leave the guy.

    Fortunately, many schools are including dating violence education as part of their curriculum. In fact, the states of Rhode Island and Virginia have recently passed laws which mandate such programs in schools. These programs do work. I’ve seen it in my travels, many girls who have broken up with an abusive boyfriend because of a book given to them by a teacher or a librarian.

    Here’s the website that started it all in Rhode Island. http://www.lindsayannburke.com/ The Lindsay Ann Burke Act was named after a young woman who was killed by her abuser. Lindsay Ann’s family and other supporters of the Act are working to get similar legislation passed in other states.

    When I decided to write my first book, Breathing Underwater, which deals with dating violence, I was shocked to realize that there were no books out there on that subject for teens. In the time it took me to write the book and get it published, Marilyn Reynolds’ Baby Help came out, then Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland, then Breathing Underwater. After Breathing Underwater came Patrick Jones’ Things Change and Janet Tashjian’s Fault Line. While some authors might protest this suddenly crowded field, I rejoice in it because girls need to read about this. Boys do too. Knowledge changes things.

    As far as Rhianna, I hope she leaves him, but I doubt she will, not this time, at least. I did find some solace in a U.S.A. Today article that appeared last week, stating that some teenage girls who had blamed Rhianna for the abuse changed their minds after publication of the photographs of her face. I’m sorry this had to happen, but I am glad that Rhianna’s case is out in the open, not covered up as Nicole Simpson’s years of abuse obviously was, because it adds to girls’ knowledge, and knowledge, as we know, is power. That means librarians and teachers have power!

  7. It is rare that I do a school visit and don’t get an email, Myspace message, or Facebook message afterward from at least one high school student. Usually, I hear about the tale of an abusive relationship recently ended, or in some cases, still occurring. Other times teens will tell me stories of getting out of relationships because, like Johanna in my novel Things Change, a girl has finally realized she didn’t want to wear long sleeves all of her life.

    Here’s the most recent message I received: “Well, once i read the back of the book i knew i had to read it. I checked it out a few days before you came to our school and read the first two chapters then i couldnt keep reading….it was too much to take in at once with my ex still going crazy….Then that weekend i brought your book to finish reading thinking i could handle it better. i read your book it took me exactly 4 hours, i had to pause a few times because it was just to real and i cried a bit. But i when i was done reading i realized that i dont need to be in that kind of situation.”

    My book’s title is a lie: Things don’t Change. Teenage girls in abusive relationships need support, resources, and opportunities to reclaim their power. Empowering people is something libraries do very, very well.

    So what’s to be done? I’d love to see YALSA do a resource list that librarians could use for programs and displays that can also be sent to high school counselors. In addition to displays and programs, school visits to classrooms by authors like Alex or myself also help to set the stage for increasing awareness of this issue. Teen serving librarians should consider partnersing with organizations in the community interested in this issue. For example, the Michigan chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma – an international professional honor society for women educators—teamed up with the Flint Public Library, the YWCA, local schools, and me to do a forum on dating violence. This is an issue “on the rader” of this organization which I beleive has chapters in most states. More info on Delta Kappa Gamma can be found at: http://www.deltakappagamma.net/

    In the past, during the first week of February, the American Bar Association sponsors a teen dating violence awareness campaign. A few years ago, they shipped a kit with violence prevention tips and resources to hundreds of schools. Many of the resoures are still up at http://www.abanet.org/publiced/teendating.shtml.

    One way we connect young adults and libraries is to make sure our books, programs, and services connect with their lives. With the resources available and the headlines blaring, this is a real opportunity for teen serving librarians to make a positive impact in their community.

    PJ

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