Processing Victim Blaming and Chrissie Hynde
I grew up listening to a lot of rock and new wave. My parents were hippies that moved to Los Angeles in the early 80s, on the crest of the new and no wave scene. There was incredibly interesting music happening all around them, and consequentially, all around me as I was a kid. I was born in 1984, which put me smack dab in the middle of The Pretenders’ musical career. I always heard Chrissie Hynde’s voice on our huge stereo speakers and my father would tell me what an amazing woman she was. He would tell me how she was a powerful woman that made it in a predominantly male industry, working her ass off and being the best. She could sing like an angel, wail like a banshee, and slay on guitar.
As I got older, Chrissie Hynde became one of my rock heroes. I cut my hair like her and dyed it dark, rimming my eyes will heavy kohl liner on the bottom. I’d wear menswear inspired pieces unbuttoned low with tight jeans, vests, and heels. I did karaoke to “Tattooed Love Boys” and winked when I sang the lyric “I shot my mouth off and now you show me what that hole is for.”
I used to think that line was incredibly sexy until I came across article after article about Chrissie Hynde and her victim-blaming of rape survivors.
Shame on you, Chrissie Hynde.
It takes a lot for a celebrity to break my heart, but you managed to. When I found out that you were a victim of sexual violence, I thought we could stand in solidarity together through a shared experience. I thought that maybe, just maybe, you would step up to the plate and use your platform as a famous voice to help other women who are recovering from such atrocities.
Alas, no. Instead of using that place of privilege to lift others who have experienced this hurt, you suggest that it is their fault.
My knee-jerk reaction is to say “Fuck you, I can’t listen to your records again!” I want to break up with my love for you and The Pretenders. I want to hate you so that it doesn’t hurt that one of my heroes has betrayed me and other rape survivors in such a way.
Emotions aside – the more I push myself to think about things, the more I get what she is saying. It makes me very sad. Victims of sexual assault process things differently: no person and no assault is the same. Instead of accepting that things happen that are out of your control, some rape victims feel the need to claim responsibility and say that it is their fault. It allows the victim to assume a modicum of control over the atrocities that they have experienced.
Chrissie was raped by a member of a motorcycle gang. He offered to take her to a party that she wanted to go to, but instead he took her to an empty field where he proceeded to rape her. Hynde says: “Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. 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.”
While one must always be wise and protective of themselves, some of the kindest, most wonderful men that I have had the privilege of knowing have been bikers. They have protected, defended, and loved me as though I were a member of their family. One of my best friends of many years came from a family of bikers. They and their friends always treated she and I with the utmost respect and surprised me with their open-mindedness. My parents’ generation either stayed hippies after it was no longer cool, or they became bikers or sold their souls and became Republicans. Luckily, most of the bikers that I knew were deeply loving people.
While I agree that it is stupid to hang around someone that has an “I Heart Rape” or “On Your Knees” pin, it’s hard not to trust someone who presents themselves as a friend. You want to think that they are just kidding, trying to look macho for their friends. Sadly, the truth is that you can’t trust everyone that presents themselves as such.
I went through the same thing for a while. I never blamed any other victim for their experience, but I blamed myself for mine. Back in 2007, I went to an acquaintance’s party by myself. I had just had surgery on my appendix a couple of weeks prior and for some reason, my 22-year-old brain thought that it would be fine to go to this party by myself and with an empty stomach, no less. I then did what my 22-year-old self did at that time – imbibe as much free alcohol as I could to drown out the feelings of sadness and depression consuming me regarding my failing relationship, social anxiety, and recent loss of my job.
While at the party, I met a charming fellow named Jimmy. I made it abundantly clear to him that I had a boyfriend and I was just there to make friends. I told him I liked his garish Sonic Youth tattoo that was just large, bold black letters spelling out Sonic Youth approximately a quarter-sleeve large on his upper left arm. What I should have said was “I like Sonic Youth,” but he was cute, charming, and an excellent conversationalist. I may have been flirting a bit, but I made it abundantly clear that I was involved. Since he was my friend the hostess’s friend, co-worker, and next-door neighbor, I afforded him with a lot more trust than I might have normally done so.
When they wrapped up the party because of a noise complaint, I followed him one house down to his place in order to peruse his record collection. When I walked in, there were neither player nor records in sight. He kissed me and I kissed back, but then quickly stopped and told him no. The buses had stopped running, so he offered to let me sleep over and he would sleep on the couch. For some reason, I trusted him. I fell asleep in one of those deep, alcohol-induced slumbers. When I woke up, Elliott Smith was playing while Jimmy on top of me, inside of me. I cried and asked him to stop, but he continued until he was done. I threw up and cried, and allowed myself to fall asleep in his arms. I had no where to go and literally no money except for bus fare. I was mixed up and ashamed of myself, afraid to call my mother and felt that it was my fault and I could not call the police. He tried to comfort me, which was horribly sick and fucked up. The worst part was that I ended up having sex with him again, as an act of some kind of twisted Stockholm Syndrome, maybe so that I could try to assert control in some horrible way.
“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,” said Hynde.
I did paint myself into a corner, but no one forced my rapist to hurt me. No one said, “You have GOT to put your penis in this girl while she is clearly passed out.” I mean, tears aren’t exactly the best lube. Kind people do not have sex with a person who is weeping and begging them to stop.
“If you play with fire you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”
It’s this kind of logic that kept me from reporting my assault. I had to protect him from my angry boyfriend who was ready to absolutely destroy him, protecting my boyfriend at the time from going to jail. I was doing all of this protecting of other people except for myself and the women that most likely were his subsequent victims. According to RAINN, every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. There are 293,000 REPORTED sexual assaults each year. That’s not counting the exponential numbers that go unreported in part because of attitudes like this. Because of that, 98% of rapists will never spend one day in jail and are free to continue hurting others.
Hynde continued to suggest that women dressing provocatively are to blame, and not the men that attack them. “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?” she said.
“If I’m walking around and I’m very modestly dressed and I’m keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I’d say that’s his fault. But if I’m being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who’s already unhinged – don’t do that. Come on! That’s just common sense. You know, if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him …. If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and fuck me’, you’d better be good on your feet … I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”I was wearing jeans and a red and white striped crewneck tunic sweater when Jimmy raped me. Several years prior, when I was held by my throat on the beach and thought I was going to be killed, I was wearing a knee-length black dress and denim blazer.
The first time it happened, I was seven and it happened behind my best friend’s dollhouse. I was wearing carnation pink shorts and a turquoise t-shirt then.
What do these assaults have in common? First off, none of them were my fault, and no assault that you have experienced is your fault, either. Secondly, none of these went reported because I was too frightened. I had heard too many attitudes like Chrissie Hynde’s and felt that I would never be taken seriously. I felt that I had done something to bring it upon myself, even at seven years old.
Attitudes like this also are damaging toward men. Men are victims of sexual assault, too. We can raise better people! Since when are men just animals, victims of their own sexual depravity? Last time I checked, I was engaged to a kind, sympathetic man raised by a strong feminist. He deeply cares about the well-being of others and is working toward a degree in psychology so that he can help heal people. The male friends that I have are also kind, sympathetic men who are protective and care about my well-being as well as that of others in general. Since when are we surrounded by cavemen governed by their raging boners and hatred of feminine power and individuality? The statistics may be terrifying, but we have to give men (and perpetrators of other genders) enough credit to not just say “Oh, boys will be boys.”
You’re better than this, Chrissie. You made a name for yourself in a primarily male field in the 70s. You are a legend. Treat your fans (and yourself) with the respect that we all deserve. Forgive yourself so that you can forgive others who are hurting and need your support. We are all in this together and we have to be one another’s ally. The world will never heal if we do not help each other heal, first.
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