Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Moving past blame

As I've written about previously, I'm a fan of Chrissie Hynde's music, particularly the early Pretenders albums that were a huge influence on me. I won't repeat it all here, but her lyrics, which were both intimate and yet broad in scope, both thoughtful and abrasive in tone, really affected me. She and Patti Smith, Kurt Vonnegut, and Joan Didion, to name just a few whose work I've lived with over the years, all share an honesty in their writing that lays bare how they feel about something in no uncertain terms. I've spent most of my adult life attempting to express my own opinions and feelings with that level of clarity. That's what this blog is partly about. So, Hynde is in the Personal Influence Hall of Fame, for sure. Her photo even sits atop this page—mostly because I happened to discover that totally awesome vintage shot by Ebet Roberts right around the time I was starting this blog. But also because it's Hynde, and thus super cool. She's sort of the blog's patron saint, I suppose.

So when I heard she had a biography coming out this fall—her first—I was excited to read it. Or at least add it to the list to be read at some point. It focuses on her childhood all the way up through the early years of the band. Perfect. But then she started giving interviews to promote the book and started a bit of a controversy with some troublesome comments about sexual assault. In the book, Hynde reveals that she was raped when she 21 years old. You can find the interview excerpts all over the internet, but this is the main pull quote from it:
“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility.”
She included some more of what I'd have to call victim blaming in the longer quote. Ugh. Not so super cool. Of course I found this disappointing. Over the years, I've heard enough comments from people I respect (including people I actually know) that have made me question whether I should still respect them after all. This was different though. It hasn't made me rethink my interest in Hynde's work or reassess how important it is to me. Instead, it made me think about the issue she was discussing and how pervasive—and corrosive—certain outdated societal norms can be. I started thinking about her age and when this happened to her. And back in the 1970s, victim blaming was most definitely the prevailing attitude. Women were victimized twice—first by the assault and then by their community of friends, family, and law enforcement, who often blamed them for the crime. And while we like to think this level of victim blaming has largely disappeared, that's just not true. Plenty of people still engage in it, and plenty of institutions, by their very lack of oversight and prosecution in college campus rape cases, for example, continue to either directly or indirectly reinforce that sexual assault is not to be treated in the same manner as other violent crimes. Sexual assault still seems to be the one crime where the victim is made to feel worse than the perpetrator of the crime. It's reprehensible.

And it's in this kind of society that Hynde came of age. She was raised in an era before mine where women were mostly supposed to be seen and not heard. Which is partly why she was always such an inspiration to so many—she broke through that wall of male egos to make her own sound, to speak her own mind. So it's bound to make a fan a bit heartbroken to hear her say something so, well, out of touch. But then I remember that, 40+ years ago, she was the victim. In fact, she is still the victim in some ways, as a crime like that will affect her for the entirety of her life. So I'm not going to heap more blame on a victim. I'm sorrowful that this happened to her. I'm saddened that she hasn't been able to get help to see past blaming herself. And I'm angry at a world that conditioned her to blame herself. Because she was not at fault. I hope someone in her life can tell her that now. She deserves to hear that.

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