Rihanna, that dress and the feminism debate

Global superstar, style icon, clothing designer, talented singer, spectacular performer, beautiful woman… these are all true of Barbados-born 26 year old Robyn Fenty – better known as

Update, Feb 2016:

In an ironic twist to this tale, Google contacted Kettle some 18 months after this article was published to ask that we remove/edit the image as they considered it to be obscene. Failure to do so would result in them removing their ad service from this publication. Strange times we live in when a nipple is considered offensive. Anyway, read on, it make the article even more pertinent….

Global superstar, style icon, clothing designer, talented singer, spectacular performer, beautiful woman… these are all true of Barbados-born 26 year old Robyn Fenty – better known as Rihanna. Recently, Rihanna hit all the headlines, was trending on the twitter and was the subject of countless articles.

However, it wasn’t because of any of the skills or positive qualities that have just been listed, or because she’d released a new album or premiered a new music video.

It was because of a dress.

Rihanna attended the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards last week, to be presented the 2014 Fashion Icon Award by the legendary Anna Wintour. Never the shy and retiring type, she wore a sheer, glittering dress adorned with Swarovski crystals, accessorised with a nude-coloured thong, sparkling turban and pink fur shrug.

But because of her decision to go braless and brave the cameras with her breasts on display beneath the shimmering fishnet gown, the internet went crazy in reaction.

One Twitter user blasted her dress. “Rihanna‘s just a slut that can sing,” the user wrote:

Another shockingly tweeted:

Because tagging both her and Chris Brown and drawing attention to domestic violence isn’t asking for attention?

If I had a daughter I wouldn’t like her listening to Rihanna, b4 she starts dressing like her….”

Beyond Rihanna

Now this I just don’t understand. I quite enjoy Lady Gaga’s music but you wouldn’t catch me at the post office in a dress made of bacon any time soon.

Let’s go back to the core of this. This isn’t is because Rihanna was nearly nude at an awards ceremony. The endless criticism from feminists and non-feminists alike, the spiteful tweets, the magazine and newspaper articles branding her an attention seeker and a bad role model for choosing to be essentially topless in public.

This onslaught is because of an action that we see on Page Three, in music videos, by supermodels (who could forget early Kate Moss’ sheer boob-flashing number), by breast-feeding mothers, by feminist activists (I’m looking at you, Femen), the list goes on.

Do models or mothers receive this kind of abuse? Are topless sunbathers told that they’re sluts? Are works of art blasted as pornographic for showing bare breasts? Are men criticised like this?

We all know the answer here. The answer is no. Just recently the female population went into a horny overdrive because of Zac Efron’s shirtlessness at the MTV Movie Awards. Was he critiqued or questioned? No. Grateful women retweeted and instagrammed the image for days, pining over his abs and then pointing the finger at Rihanna for essentially the same thing.

Branding Rihanna a bad role model for baring her chest, or joining in with ‘slut-shaming’ and launching a verbal attack on her hypothetical sexual behaviour is utterly ridiculous. The notion that we can judge a person’s promiscuity or sexual prowess by the amount of clothes they’re wearing is exactly the type of thinking that asks a rape victim what she was wearing.

The only thing that could make this backlash more absurd is the very fact that it was a news story in the first place. Rihanna is proud of her body, proud of her achievements and proud of who she is.

Isn’t that something we should encourage?

What do you think? Do you agree? Have your say in the comments section below.