Chrissie Hynde. Billboard.com
A 1980s rock singer claims responsibility for being sexually assaulted, and feminists are furious.
Perhaps rock stars and feminists have never been very comfortable with each other, but if they had, a beautiful alliance took a hard blow last week when Chrissie Hynde, who sang with the 1980s British rock group The Pretenders, committed the ultimate feminist faux pas.
In her recently released memoir, Reckless, which she discussed with the Sunday Times, the 63-year-old says that she took “full responsibility” for her own experience of sexual violence at the hands of an Ohio bikie gang when she was 21. At the time she was drunk, high on drugs and scantily dressed when she hopped on the back of a gang member’s motorcycle to hitch a ride to a party. Instead she was taken to an empty house and sexually assaulted.
In taking responsibility for the part she played in an experience that she would no doubt rather forget, she has apparently sinned grievously by identifying the root cause of the horrible events on that unfortunate evening, namely, her carelessness towards herself.
If honesty is the best policy and we learn from our mistakes why is it that feminists and victim support groups are taking her to task for pointing out the error of her own ways? Apparently the prevailing notion that thou shalt not judge applies even if you are judging your own actions. How dare she think!
Perhaps Chrissie could have crafted her statements with a little more finesse, but just like a rough diamond there is something of value beneath the uncut gem of her honesty. What is commendable is that she has been brave enough to be honest with herself since her assault, and is willing to share the lessons she learnt the hard way.
Yes, it is true. The gang of bikies committed a crime — they are not guilt free — but the person who had the greatest responsibility for protecting her, Chrissie herself, was off duty by choice that night. She made a series of bad choices in getting drunk, high on drugs and getting on the biker’s motorcycle, which had the collective result of putting her in harm’s way. It would have been far easier for Chrissie to simply play the blame game and not take responsibility for her own actions but instead she has been courageous enough to look the reality of her mistakes squarely in the eye and make better life choices.
By feminist standards, however, Chrissie has committed a dreadful crime, taking a swipe at a sacred myth that feminists desperately want to believe. She has called out the sisterhood on their fanciful ideology that a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her body, showing that this way of thinking is a falsehood that is potentially dangerous and damaging to women who choose to live as its disciples. That a woman can be intentionally careless with herself and expect to suffer no unintended negative consequences is a nonsense, and that also applies to men who choose to live by the same rule.
Dressing provocatively and getting wasted is how many young women are encouraged to get their fun fix on any given weekend, but heaven forbid if, like Chrissie, you mention that this particular notion of fun could involve bad outcomes. Preventing bad outcomes sounded empowering to women last time I checked, the power of blaming in the aftermath — not so much.
Why is it that we teach young people doctrines to live by – whatever happens, it is never your fault – which they cannot apply to the real world without encountering collateral damage? If we as a society are hell bent on denying that some things are wrong, or even simply that the safety to danger ratio is disproportionate, and would rather deny mistakes rather than face them, it is little wonder that history repeats itself.
We tell children not to lie because honesty matters, but when they grow up we tell them that truth is relative – make of everything whatever you like. It is this cult of relative truth that has poisoned western culture with an insidious deceit and made it so dangerous for women.
Thank goodness Chrissie has been brave enough to stop pretending.
Helena Adeloju is a freelance journalist who lives in Melbourne.