Chrissie Hynde/Jackie Fox (photos: WireImage/TheLipTV)
Who would have thought that, in the week Miley Cyrus hosted the VMAs, Chrissie Hynde would turn out to be the most controversial woman in music? But that’s the position the legendary rocker finds herself in, as her shocking comments about rape have created a media firestorm, with advocates for rape victims being none too pleased with the great Pretender.
Among those disturbed by Hynde’s position is an even earlier pioneer for women in rock, Jackie Fox of the Runaways, who generated headlines this summer when she came out with her own memories of being raped at a backstage party in the 1970s by the Runaways’ own manager, the late Kim Fowley. “I found myself being surprisingly angry” after reading Hynde’s statements, Fox tells Yahoo Music. One of the takeaway messages, she says, is “don’t put your heroes on pedestals. But I don’t want to cast a stone at Chrissie Hynde — just at that one particular statement. Because it’s a really dangerous message.”
Hynde got herself in hot water by first writing in fairly irreverent terms about sexual assault in her forthcoming memoir, Reckless: My Life As a Pretender, which won’t be published until September, but which some journalists have had a look at. Hynde then expounded upon her thoughts in an equally freewheeling interview with London’s Sunday Times that quickly went viral. What particularly rankled some was that Hynde wasn’t just perceived as indulging in victim-blaming, but in victim self-blame, since she was referring back to her own sexual assault at the hands of a biker gang in the 1970s — an experience memorialized in a troublingly enjoyable song on the first Pretenders album, “Tattooed Love Boys.”
“Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility,” Hynde told the Sunday Times. “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. If you play with fire, you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?”
If it seemed like Hynde might be speaking only for herself with those comments, the more incendiary passage she penned in her memoir appears to speak to the broader culture of 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.“
Fox has a direct response to that last point: “I think women probably shouldn’t wear high heels except on special occasions, but because it’s so bad for our backs and feet, not because it makes it hard to outrun a rapist. Are most of us really going to be able to outrun a rapist even in sneakers? And are rapists really going to look at a woman and think, ‘Nah, f— it, she’s wearing flats’?”
To the broader issue, Fox says, “It bothers me, because I don’t know that she’s gone out there and talked to [other] rape victims. If you had seen the messages that people sent me, so many of them were about ‘I’ve always thought it was my fault.’ We already think that anyway. So this is just telling people who’ve recently gone through this experience of being raped or abused, ‘Yeah, you’re right, it is your fault.’ But there’s no such thing as asking for it. And poor judgment is not an invitation to rape, nor an excuse for it.
“I know so many women who were raped while they were drunk or high, and they all blame themselves. To say that a woman can’t misjudge how much she’s drinking, or dress in a way that makes her feel good about herself for fear that men aren’t going to be able to control themselves, or that she has to be able to know who is dangerous and who isn’t, is asking an awful lot of men and women — especially young people.”
Other female musicians have been equally critical of Hynde’s remarks, albeit often behind the scenes and in even stronger terms. Lucinda Williams wrote on her public Facebook page: “I can’t believe this f—ing s—! Come on, Chrissie! You and Joan Jett should form a club! Jesus!!” (The mention of Jett alludes to that ex-Runaway’s ambiguous and noncommittal response to Fox going public about being raped by their manager.)
Fox has some sympathy for where Hynde might be coming from, in terms of not wanting to see herself as complicit in a situation in which she would normally be viewed as a victim. “Maybe, we’ll just say maybe, for women who came up in rock in an era when there weren’t a lot of women in it, they just thought they really had to act tough. And they’ve carried that with them. And I have no idea whether she really is that tough. If she is, good for her. But you can’t expect everyone to be that way. If you want to, for your own-self-empowerment, take personal responsibility because you feel like you need to for something you did, that is one thing. But you don’t get to make that statement for everybody else.
“I’m glad in her case that it didn’t stop her from accomplishing things and from having apparently successful relationships. But for some people, it takes a very, very long time, and for some people, they never get there. So I think messages like that make it very hard for people to heal. All you have to do is read any of the experiences of women and men who’ve been raped and how they’ve spent their lives trying to come to terms with it and get past it. And to say that it was their fault because they dressed a certain way, or they ran with a certain crowd, is just not fair.”