Dear Chrissie Hynde, what happened to you was not your fault.
There were some fairly shocking headlines over night. “Chrissie Hynde: ‘You have to take responsibility for rape'”. “Chrissie Hynde Criticised Over ‘Rape’ Remarks: ‘If You Dress Provocatively, You’re Enticing Someone Who’s Already Unhinged.'”
Every headline screamed that Hynde was telling rape victims that they were to blame. That their clothes and their shoes enticed men to attack them.
It seemed out of character. Hynde, as lead singer of The Pretenders was a rock legend and a music pioneer. She is a pin-up for women in every respect. Smart, talented, stylish, cool and powerful. At 63, she still performs with the best in the business, is an advocate for animal rights and follows a branch of Hinduism.
It is worth looking closely at her comments. Not because her comments were in any way acceptable (they weren’t), but because of what she revealed about herself when she made them.
Yes, there is no doubt that Chrissie said what the headlines claim. She definitely said that women are to blame for sexual assault:
“If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?”
“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 f*** me’, you’d better be good on your feet… I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”
Well, yes. That is controversial. Because it is a thing that people say all the time that is (on all of those occasions) wrong. If you are “being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative,” you are not “enticing someone” to rape you. That is untrue. “Don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him,” is ridiculous advice.
But if we read on, you get a different perspective on Hynde.
Watch Chrissie Hynde perform her most iconic song, The Pretenders’ Brass In Pocket.
She told the Sunday Times magazine that when she was 21 an Ohio motorcycle gang member promised to take her to a party but instead took her to an empty house. There he threatened her with violence if she didn’t commit sexual acts on him.
Of that incident she said: “Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t f*** about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges … those motorcycle gangs, that’s what they do.
“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.”
Chrissie Hynde was raped by a motorcycle gang member.
And like so many survivors of rape, she blamed herself. She said she was naive. She said that she took responsibility.
When it comes to sexual violence, it’s sometimes easier to blame yourself than it is to to acknowledge that at that point you were powerless.
No woman wants to feel powerless. And Hynde has always been a powerful woman.
Blaming herself (and blaming other survivors) is Hynde’s way of saying: I had the power.
But the truth is, she didn’t. This thing happened to her. She didn’t make it happen. There is a difference.
Her comments about other survivors are not only silly, they are unsafe. They make women feel like they are to blame for the violence that happened to them. The fact is that many survivors already feel this way. Everyone who makes comments like Hynde’s pours cement on those feelings of guilt. It forces these survivors to stand still under the weight of shame.
There’s a lot that we shouldn’t take out of Hynde’s comments (they are, as a whole, quite offensive and wrong).
But there is one thing that we should take away: And that is that survivors of sexual assault will often try to blame themselves. They will try to say that the way they were dressed might have caused this to happen. In saying that, they will be trying to reconcile the fact that a rapist took their power.
But we can help survivors take their power back but putting the blame for rape in the only place it belongs – on the rapist.
Our response to Chrissie Hynde should be: It was never your fault. We will never blame you. And all we want is for you to stop blaming yourself.