This hasn’t been a good year for women in the music business. First, there was the whole Joan Jett/Runaways thing, then there was the Billboard poll asking if people believed Dr. Luke or Ke$ha, and now Chrissie Hynde has somehow decided that it was her fault that she was sexually assaulted by a motorcycle gang when she was 21 years old. Oh, and she also thinks that if you’re wearing high heels, you deserve to get raped because it’s “enticing.”
In an interview with the Sunday Times promoting her new memoir, she candidly discussed how she felt that she was to blame for her gang rape because “however you want to look at it, this was all my doing, and I take full responsibility.” Why? “You can’t fuck about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … Those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do.” She went on to say that, although a member told her he was taking her to a party instead of the vacant house where the assault occurred, “You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say, ‘Whose brush is this?’ You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive.”
I really wanted to be angry about her comments. I saw the headline that she made some statements that blamed rape victims and thought “What the fuck?! Why would Chrissy of all people do that?” This is a woman who lived the life — unapologetically — and who is one of the godmothers of rock. She sang “Smelly Cat” with Phoebe and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I have idolized this woman. She’s part of my Holy Trinity of Rock, alongside Lita Ford and Blondie. (The Trinity is subjective in nature, so I get that yours might be different). There’s just no way that she would think that any woman deserved to be sexually assaulted — even herself.
But I was wrong.
I get her mindset, though. I really do. I spent a good portion of my twenties blaming myself for the abuse and sexual assault that I suffered at the hands of an ex. To see her say, “If you play with fire you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?” echoed in me, because I thought that for a long time. I knew the guy was scum — our relationship started as the product of date rape — but I stayed with him. I was playing with fire. So he smashed my face in repeatedly. Wasn’t it my fault for doing that? I stayed with him, even gave him a key to my apartment. I didn’t file a police report whenever the cops would come. After all, I chose to let him stay in my life.
It took a long time before I realized that no, it wasn’t my fault.
And it breaks my heart that Hynde is 63 years old and still blames herself for something that wasn’t her fault.
Some of her statements are really fucked up. Such as: “If you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him.” The idea that she wouldn’t think that it’s controversial to say, “If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and fuck me,’ you’d better be good on your feet” feels like it comes straight from the pages of Reddit’s Red Pillers or some of the more fringe elements of the Men’s Rights Movement.
Is it a generational thing? Women that are my mother’s age, or my grandmother’s age (who is only 2 years older than Hynde), don’t talk about sexual assault and rape like women my age do. When it happened to them, no one discussed it. There’s a reason why the culture of victim blaming exists. The argument that many of these women grew up with is that if you’re in an environment of drugs and alcohol, if you’re not living the good life with a husband and kids and church, it’s no wonder you “got yourself in trouble” as the euphemism goes.
With the advent of third wave feminism and the internet, and a much better understanding that women are fully able to allow themselves to live however they want to live without the need to answer to anyone, we discuss these things more openly. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that the more I involved myself in female-positive environments, the more confident in myself I became. I shifted my view from “victim” to “survivor.”
I was wearing clubwear the night I was assaulted because a group of us had gone to a rave, but my halter top didn’t say “come and fuck me” on the front. My fishnets weren’t emblazoned with different sex acts that I wanted to participate in. Yes, I drank a lot that night, but I didn’t start drinking until I got home, as I was the designated driver. I also passed out in my room with the door closed in my own home. I hadn’t even kissed or directly had a conversation with the guy that assaulted me that evening. I didn’t “ask for it.” I didn’t paint myself into a corner. Attending Burning Man dressed in pasties and hot shorts isn’t asking for it. Trusting someone who says they are taking you to a party isn’t “asking for it” — regardless if you are high or sober.
This logic is what enables those who prey on others to complete their assaults. Rapists are rapists. Regardless of the circumstances, they will rape. But when we keep saying that women shouldn’t put themselves into situations where they are vulnerable, it’s maddening and damaging. It’s the reasoning that allows sex workers to feel like they don’t deserve consideration when they are raped. It’s the reasoning that allows women who are assaulted at BDSM shows to not report it — because the very nature of the event is “playing with fire.” It’s faulty logic. It’s outdated, and we shouldn’t think like this anymore.
Even now, people who think they are enlightened flood the comment sections of these articles saying “Yeah, Hynde’s comments were fucked up, but women shouldn’t put themselves in that situation.” Honestly, what bothers me the most is that we’re still having this conversation, even after the efforts of Slutwalk, of women and men openly discussing rape culture and the idea of consent, and the fact that it’s plain insulting to insinuate that women (or men, because sexual assault isn’t limited to one gender) deserve to get raped because rapists can’t control themselves. That is the crux of rape culture — that because a female bartender didn’t carry pepper spray while walking to her car after working at the bar, she deserved her sexual assault. Or that a man deserved to be raped outside of the club because he happened to have a few too many drinks while wearing assless chaps. I just don’t understand how anyone could logically come to the conclusion that by someone simply living their life, they deserved to have it shattered into pieces.
While I don’t think that Hynde deserves a pass for her ignorant statements, I don’t think that the universal skewering is appropriate. It muddles the conversation and puts Hynde back into the “fight or flight” mode that has allowed her to remain a victim who deserved what happened to her.
If anything, Lucy Hastings’ comments to The Guardian need to be repeated over and over until Hynde cannot open a paper, magazine, webpage or letter without seeing it, and hopefully she realizes that it applies to her: “Victims of sexual violence should never feel or be made to feel that they were responsible for the appalling crime they suffered, regardless of circumstances or factors which may have made them particularly vulnerable.”