When the rape culture ‘poisons’ a victim of rape

Chrissie Hynde poses for portraits at a north London recording studio, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, following the release of her first solo venture, entitled Stockholm, six years after the last Pretenders album. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Former Pretenders front woman Chrissie Hynde put people in an uncomfortable position of criticizing a rape victim for her response to rape with her comments to an interviewer about her new book.

Hynde said she bears full responsibility for her own rape, suggesting that women bring it on with their apparel choices. That’s a shocking enough thing to say. And so is the last part of the “money quote” from the interview.

“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,” the former front woman for The Pretenders told The Sunday Times. 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 **** me,’ you’d better be good on your feet… I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”

That’s an easy one to answer with today’s must-read from Laura Bogart, writing today on Spin.

Hynde’s comments were tough to take for anyone who considers her a rock heroine, but additionally so for Bogart, who was the victim of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“I feel only a cold sadness for Chrissie Hynde,” she writes, “because I remember what it was like to be crushed by the stone-press of denial.”

These people, like Hynde, like me, can spend a lifetime divining a perfect alchemy of self-blame, a set of runes and codes where leaving the window cracked, or accepting that ride, or looking at our father “the wrong way,” or letting the neighbor boy take us out for ice cream, conjures the ache to end all aches. We do this because living under the glass jar of appropriate hemlines and moderate drinking (or better yet, total temperance), walking with our keys between our knuckles (and always in a well-lit area, never in a shortcut), getting alarm systems and buddy systems, feels safer than the alternative: an unfathomable wilderness where we can be badly hurt just because the wrong man happens to walk under our windows, or picks us up on his motorcycle, or lives one court over, or gives us his last name.

Believing that I brought my abuse on myself was like living with a shard of ice hovering inches from my heart, that one wrong move would stake me. But every time I leave the house, I risk that one wrong move. That one wrong move is called life. After several years and many panic attacks, and with the help of gifted therapists, I started to accept — slowly, painfully, and with many hiccups of “If only I’d …” — that only my abusers were to blame for my suffering. I lived in a cruel, violent world among cruel, violent people, and that yes, it could happen again.

But there should be a “soft gray spot of sympathy for her,” she says. “Since she could not manage to feel it for herself.”

As for her book, Reckless, it’s not very good, the New York Times says in its review published this afternoon.

This book recounts some brutal experiences. Ms. Hynde was attracted to bad boys, and spent time with a biker gang. “Reckless” includes a fuzzily described but harrowing scene in which the 21-year-old author is apparently gang-raped by bikers at a house that, she writes, “had ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’ written all over it.”

In her book, and in recent interviews, she has blamed herself for this incident. “I take full responsibility,” she writes in “Reckless.” This has earned her ire on social media, from commenters who have noted that the assailants and not the victim are to blame. The best response came from Hadley Freeman, the excellent Guardian columnist, on Twitter. She refused to leap on the pile of scorn, merely noting how sad it is that the great Ms. Hynde would blame herself for so very long.

“The sound this book makes is of casual strumming, not of purposeful music making,” it said. “If it were a song, you would not pull off the road to listen to it.”

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