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Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders, has a new autobiography out in which she talks about how she was once raped by a guy in a biker gang. Which is horrible, and to make matters worse, she is coping with that memory by telling herself and others that it was her fault. And to make matter even worse still, she expands upon that broken thinking by telling other women that if they get raped, it’s their fault, too.
We’ve been over this territory many times before: telling women, as Hynde does, that if they wear high heels then it’s their fault they get raped because they should have planned to be able to run away from their attacker, leads to more and more ridiculous situations until we’re all in burkas being told that we deserve to get raped because we blinked the wrong way or showed a bit too much ankle.
It’s a pretty stupid thought process, but it IS what we should unfortunately expect from a woman coming out of rock and roll in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, to get by in a severely misogynistic culture, sometimes it can seem easier if you have to become one with the misogynistic culture. Become the “cool girl” who doesn’t care if she gets groped or raped, who doesn’t go out of her way to help other women, and who in fact helps enforce the existing hierarchy.
And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Hynde was already playing that role. In 1994, she had some truly shit advice for other women interested in getting into rock and roll, including insisting that they shave their legs. Because nothing says “rock” like spending a lot of time and money conforming to society’s expectations of you, am I right? She also suggests that women don’t sound “hysterical” by “belting” or “screeching,” which is in fact hysterical considering that “hysterical” is derived from a sexist idea that a woman’s over-the-top emotions come from her uterus, and considering that there were a number of amazing female singers who were about to hit it big by belting and screeching in 1994, like Courtney Love and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney.
Hynde’s first point of advice is the worst by far, though: she says that women shouldn’t “complain about sexist discrimination.” Because again, quietly accepting abuse is SO fucking rock, right?
It actually reminds me of Hilary Clinton, in a way. Bear with me: Clinton has the chance to become the first female President of the United States of America. Her toughest liberal competition right now is Bernie Sanders, who is way more radically progressive, and he’s spent decades maintaining a remarkably unwavering democratic socialist platform. If Sanders were anything but a white male, I don’t think he’d have a chance in hell. Those privileges balance out his radical ideals in the same way that Hilary’s conservative centrist ideals balance out the fact that she is a woman.
In other words, it’s really, really, really hard to be both a member of a marginalized group AND a radically progressive thinker who is accepted by the majority. People like that can kick off movements and inspire generations to come, but they also tend to get murdered.
So Chrissie Hynde worked hard and fought through a lot of sexist bullshit to be a woman in rock for that long, but she wasn’t good enough to do it without throwing other women under the bus. She wasn’t strong enough to do it without telling herself that the horrific things that happened to her were her fault. Because if we believe that something horrible is our own fault, we also get to have the optimistic hope that we can prevent it from happening again. It’s a comforting idea, but I much prefer to understand that shit happens and we should all fight back as best we can, even if we end up pissing some people off along the way. Because that’s truly rock and roll.