Crihanna, Again: Is Acting Male as Bad As "Acting White"?


A recent trend piece in the NEW YORK TIMES continued the public parsing of the “Crihanna” debacle. Attitudes toward domestic violence among the teenagers interviewed for the story are disturbingly blasé. From the story:

“[Rihanna] probably feels bad that it was her fault, so she took him back.”

Her friend nodded. “I don’t think he’ll hit her like that again,” she said.

As a concerned Oprah pointed out a while back, Brown probably will. And my experience teaching health education to young men and women suggests that teen girls were more likely than the boys to blame women for inciting men to hit or otherwise abuse them. The TIMES article concurs:

Boys who condone Mr. Brown’s behavior disappoint, but don’t shock Marcyliena Morgan, executive director of Harvard’s hip-hop archive. “But it’s the girls!” she said. “Where have we gone wrong here?”


Katherine Jean Lopez, in a tortured piece at the NATIONAL REVIEW, reasons that “feminists are to blame” and explains:

What has happened — and what Rihanna and Chris have to do with Gloria and us — is that by inventing oppression where there is none and remaking woman in man’s image, as the sexual and feminist revolutions have done, we’ve confused everyone. The reaction those kids had was unnatural. It’s natural for us to expect men to protect women, and for women to expect some level of physical protection. But in post-modern America, those natural gender roles have been beaten by academics and political rhetoric and the occasional modern woman being offended by having a door opened for her. The result is confusion.

Over at the ATLANTIC, Ta-Nehisi Coates “meh”s the whole episode, saying the study referenced in the TIMES doesn’t offer proof that kids maintain disturbing perspectives when it comes to physical or sexual abuse. He writes:

It's a bad idea to assess your society through lens of people whose business is fame. It's a bad idea to use a few kid-on-the-street anecdotes to assess how kids feel about domestic violence. It's a bad idea to present a single opinion poll as evidence of anything. It may be true, as the article implies, that kids don't take domestic violence seriously enough. But it'll take more than a few anecdotes and a single study to convince me of that.

Coates’ beef seems to be that society is using a conversation on relationships and abuse that’s mainly about gender to provide “evidence of the pained relationship between black men and women.” It’s true, that *would* be annoying. But Coates’ sky-high burden of proof, and Lopez’s weird argument, both miss the point—that overlapping social pressures are at work here.

The Crihanna case is a mix of race and gender politics. Another thing I noticed when teaching: girls behaving dumber than they were so that guys wouldn’t think that they were intimidating show-offs. Isn’t this fear of acting masculine, which (in the context of health education and in general) hurts women, the same traditionalism that Lopez claims has been lost? And isn’t this enacted rejection of feminism rather like the black youth response to accusations of “acting white”? I’m no psychologist, but I know Coates has feelings on that.



Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.