Double Standard: The Parents Television Council Outraged Over Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’ Video

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Rihanna’s new music video for her song “Man Down” depicts her publicly shooting a man the morning after a sexual assault. In the next scene, Rihanna is filmed smiling and happy with friends the previous morning. But after refusing the advances of a man in nightclub, she is followed and attacked in darkened alleyway. The narrative that Rihanna has chosen to illustrate to her fans is a common one to girls and women. Yet her choice as an artist to conclude her video with killing her assaulter has The Parents Television Council in quite the tizzy. Yet male performers have conveyed similar acts of violence time and time again with little to no criticism from parenting groups, suggesting that girls committing violence is somehow less acceptable.

The Council released a statement saying that Rihanna’s status as a celebrity and personal experience with abuse gave her the opportunity to send a resonating message to girls who have been victimized — an opportunity squandered by ending her video with violence. However, it’s pretty obvious that some gender bias is happening with regards to what constitutes as offensive. Male artists often rape, kill, and mutilate in music videos — a lot of times in the name of art. Yet when women choose to express their art with violent depictions, organizations like The Parents Television Council feel compelled to come and police the message.

Kanye West’s video for “Monster” depicted white women in highly eroticized positions, draped over couches and beds as sexy corpses.  Expressionless, yet completely accessorized with makeup and high heels, the women were fetishized for their lifelessness and used as nothing short of misogynistic decorations. Kanye even spends a portion of the video rapping with a woman’s severed head in his hands. MTV banned the video and there was justifiable outrage on the internet over the video. But no parenting organizations came forward to point fingers at the horrendous anti-woman messages permeating the frames, available of course to all of Kanye’s young and impressionable fans.

The outrage over Rihanna’s video exhibits a very distinct double standard when it comes to female artists and violence in our media. Parents expect no more from Kanye when he fondles dead women in beds and playfully arranges their lifeless limbs. Yet Rihanna’s character seeks retaliation for a sexual assault and the video is deemed “disturbing.”

The same reaction followed Madonna’s “What It Feels Like” in 2001 when she hot-wired a car and ran red lights, slamming into other cars and stealing money. Madonna was described as “nihilistic” and the video was banned from MTV too. Prodigy’s 1997 “Smack My Bitch Up” video also saw intense outrage after revealing that the video’s protagonist, a cocaine-snorting vandal with a penchant for strippers, was a woman.

Banning videos and discerning what content is suitable for children should be based on content — not gender. Sadly, The Parents Television Council’s criticisms of Rihanna’s “Man Down” reveal more about what is culturally acceptable from either sex rather than prioritizing the eyes of children. Calling out artists like Rihanna while refraining from critiquing others sends children a very loud and gendered message: violent or aggressive behavior from boys is fine, but unless you’re one of those lifeless pretty corpses in the background — girls will be held to a different code of conduct.