This essay examines Rihanna’s post-assault performances and personae, both onstage and offstage, to consider how she cultivates erotic fantasy, sexual play, and intimate attachment, despite public pressures to conform to a familiar narrative of black female victimization and survival. I write this essay out of concern with how the culture of shaming and the disciplining of desire places a stranglehold on black women’s sexual experiences and explorations of longing, attachment, and erotic pleasure. Rihanna’s exploration of sexuality and intimate relationships reveal attachments to highly eroticized forms of racialized and masculinized violence. Instead of abiding by the protocols of the black female survivor of violence who repudiates her abuser, Rihanna sticks close to the scene of her assault and continues to rehearse and restage the interplay of love, violence, and erotic attachments in deliberately shocking ways. And in many respects, she performs complicity in “scenes of subjection,” to borrow Saidiya Hartman’s phrase. I argue that Rihanna promotes an erotic figuration of black female sexuality through a coalescence of sex and violence in intimate relations—one that I do not condone, but one that needs to be understood in ways more nuanced than how women’s relationship to sexual violence gets conceived through typical victim/abuser frameworks. Her post-assault performances and public image do not cohere with a therapeutic and state-sanctioned model of recovery from intimate partner violence, in which a healthy and conforming female subject emerges after being “saved” from her abuser.


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pp. 419-435
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