Rihanna’s Controversial ‘Man Down’ Video: Violence, Assault and Rape

Lemme get this out of the way: the plot of Rihanna’s video for her song “Man Down” follows the singer as she experiences aquaintance rape and responds by shooting her rapist.

(TRIGGER WARNING: obviously, this video contains scenes of gun violence and, while it does not depict a graphic sexual assault, could be potentially triggering.)

So…yeah, there’s a lot to talk about here.

A lot of groups, including the Parents Television Council and Fox News are attacking Rihanna, saying that it’s not right for her talk about liking violent sex and at the same time condeming men for being violent with her and raping her. So, lemme explain this real simple concept to them:


See, consent is this thing where you and your partner have both agreed that you’re okay with what’s going on. You’ve said “Yes” and what’s gonig on is a mutual experience and there is respect for both (or all, if it’s that sort of thing) involved. Consent is really important. Because consent is what seperates Rihanna’s perfectly valid interest in exploring her own kinks with a willing partner who respects her and will take care of her during sex and someone beating and/or raping her out of a need to feel power and to exert control. Do you maybe see the difference between the two?

With those concepts out of the way, let me talk about my own feelings about the video. FIRST of all, I really, really wish that Rihanna had ended the video with information on how/where victims of rape can seek help. But this is just a THING with me, I think that information like that should be spread as often as possible. And here is why:

Because to me, this video is pretty much saying “This is where our rape culture leads.”

Before we get in deeper, lemme explain. “Rape culture” means that in our day to day lives, despite the general consensus that rape is bad, we still take a lot of steps to dehumanize women and make it seem like they are just bodies to be made available to men whenever they want. It also means that we police what we think should and should not be considered “rape,” IE: if the girl was drunk, high, if she flirted with her rapist, if she was wearing revealing clothing, sometimes even if she just wasn’t a virgin before she was raped, well, then it wasn’t really rape, was it? Basically, we outwardly condemn rape, but then encourage and trivialize it.

And that’s kind of what happens in this video. Basically, we see Rihanna’s character vacationing, enjoying herself and then dancing and making out with a man. When she draws the line and leaves the club, he follows her and rapes her…so she retaliates by murdering him in cold blood.

In real life, if Rihanna’s character had sought to take legal action, she would have been subjected to a bevy of questions. Did she do anything to lead him on? How was she dressed? Well, she did show interest in him, didn’t she think maybe that made him think it was okay to rape her? How much had she been drinking? And any other number of things said to basically take the blame from the person who chose to rape her and put it on the woman who has just been sexually violated.

For me, the outcome of this video is saying “If you don’t start taking us seriously, if you don’t start going after the rapists, then maybe victims will begin taking things into our own hands and people will die.” Is this realistic or likely? I don’t think so. But I do think it makes it’s point: a woman retaliating by killing her rapist is not the way to solve the problem (through the entire song Rihanna is saying things like “I didn’t mean to end his life/I know it wasn’t right” and “Cause I didn’t mean to hurt him/Coulda been somebody’s son”), but the way to solve the problem often isn’t made available. Legal action against rapists, ending our rape culture and teaching all people not to rape will work far better than telling victims (especially women) to just not get raped and then leaving us to our own devices if we are.

It’s very likely that’s not what Rihanna intended with the video, it’s a purely personal interpretation. But Rihanna did have this to say about “Man Down”: “Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence.” And the video itself has been sparking discussions about the prevalance of rape among young women…statistically 1 in 4 women will be raped in her lifetime. And that is scary.

If you have been a victim of rape or sexual violence (or you know somebody who has and is looking for help), RAINN offers confidential anonymous counseling both online and over the phone and also offers resources to help find counseling centers and for male victims. And for anyone who just wants to help out, RAINN is a non-profit and a small donation would greatly help them expand their efforts to help victims.