When That Bitch Better Have Your Money But the Woman Who’s Saying it is Black — Yeah That, That Changes Everything
A few days ago, Rihanna released a music video for the song Bitch Better Have My Money. Since then the internet has literally blown up with responses to the video, some claiming the video is ‘anti-feminist’, some even positing that the treatment of the white cast, rich woman whom Rihanna and her crew of friend enact a initial ransom and revenge on, is racially charged. I’ve read a number of good responses arguing why these stands don’t necessarily hold up, but none which have bluntly stated that there was no need to have racially charged discussion on the video. I think there wasn’t; in fact, critiquing the video in this way has undermined it’s feminist potential.
I’m not going to lie, BBHMM is marmite production. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, and either emotional response is valid. You don’t have to like the video — if it’s not your cup of tea, turn it down. Don’t watch it, switch it of, flip the channel, open a new window — the methods of avoidance a numerous. I myself love the video, but I’m not here to persuade you to like it. I’m also a Tarintino fan and have the entire Kill Bill volumes on dvd, but i’m not here to persuade you to like him either. I mention Tarintino because the levels of goriness, violence and sexual innuendo in BBHMM was immediately indicative a style and cinematic genre he is a renowned for. What I am more interested in, is why response to one production made by a man involving women who fight and kill each other, is widely accepted as entertainment, whilst summaries for Rihanna’s video read ‘a black woman’s revenge on a white women’s supremacy’.
Now, let’s not forget my question is: was there ever a need for such readings? My answer to that would be no. Rihanna is one woman, indeed with melanin in her skin, but not everything a black woman does and says has to be racialised. She is also not the only participant in the hostage. She is the obvious ringleader of a crew of done over and desperate girls who are holding the accountant’s wife ransom, but there are at least three other members, only one more of which is a person of colour. The other two are white, one is actually blonde and so not that different looking to the woman under their custody.
Though the woman is maltreated and tortured in the video, we never see Rihanna physical, touch this woman herself. The insinuation is all there, but her pose carry out most the torture while she saves herself for the slaying of the big guns: her accountant. With so much of the harm being done by woman who are of the same complexion as the accountant’s wife, I don’t understand how readings where ‘black women’ are taking sole ownership over the revenge in the narrative have come about. Surely the indication is that hard done by women as a whole are claiming their dues. Is this not an empowering feminist standpoint?
Another complaint that people have made against Rihanna depiction is the high sexualisation of the video. The accountant’s wife is undoubtedly highly sexualised in the video. She is in some scenes almost naked and I think in the most graphic scene, she is nude, roped around her private parts and swinging from the ceiling being pushed by Rihanna’s cohorts. If your not into this sort of thing, there is nothing I could possibly tell you that would make you feel this was okay. The extremity of the scene is going to be either ingeniously or repugnantly viewed and that’s fine. I’m sure the producers, the director and Rihanna herself was aware of the controversy this might spurn. However, to claim tha Rihanna is using the sexualisation of her victim to enforce ‘black self-empowerment’ is also a blinkered view of the visuals of the video. This is namely because Rhianna herself is quite sexualised in it.
In the final half of the video when she has her tete a tete with her accountant we she appears wrapped up fresh like thawing chicken in transparent latex and when she commits her final act of revenge, she is naked. Both Rihanna, and the accountants wife appear in high sexualised and nude ways in the video. The messages and the meanings attached to their nudity is also fluctuating — at one instance it suggests fragility and vulnerability, the next strength and yes empowerment (remember, both Rihanna and the accountant’s wife are survivors) so to suggest Rihanna’s empowerment is achieved directly through the accountant’s wife’s oppression is flawed; remember the accountant himself sees his wife as a disposable pawn, as he refuses to meet the demands of Rihanna’s dues and come to his Ms’ rescue.
Now there is a brilliant Guardian article which has been written about how a racial reading of BBHMM in a socio-historical context is relevant to the narrative, and how it can be seen as a celebration of black femininity against patriarchal structures of dominance which include white women. (Let us not forget, misogny is a mindset and attitude. It doesn’t always have a masculine physical form or even a penis.) I’m not going to go into it too deeply, as I’m still questioning why, with all the grey matter i’ve gone over in the video’s visual aesthetics, black and white have been posited against each other in the first place; what I am more concerned by is why women who go by the term of feminist, and thus are supposed to recognise and understand the marginalisation and inequality faced by women (of all colours) would undermine Rihanna’s self-empowering intentions and accuse it of ‘black misogyny’ when quite frankly, more brash, angry, extreme voice should have rush to the table to at least defend the video, if not celebrate it. Is it because not enough is being shared about how intersectionality effects feminism? Or is there an over sensitivity to the subject of sex and sexualisation still? Or have we all lost our sense of humour? (The video was ridiculously kitch).
I don’t have the answer, but it does feel like a great shame this has been the reaction and I would hope to see more solidarity in future.