Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The trouble with heroes

Of course I was disappointed when I heard about Chrissie Hynde's new memoir:
Hynde went on to say that women who dress provocatively while walking down the street drunk were also to blame if they were attacked. “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?” she said.
“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.
“If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and f*** me’, you’d better be good on your feet ... I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”
Well controversial to those of us who recognize Hynde is engaging in old-fashioned victim blaming. And as if that wasn't bad enough, Susan Brownmiller did the same thing:
Culture may tell you, "You can drink as much as men," but you can't. People think they can have it all ways. The slut marches bothered me, too, when they said you can wear whatever you want. Well sure, but you look like a hooker. They say, "That doesn't matter," but it matters to the man who wants to rape. It's unrealistic. I don't know what happened to the understanding people had in the 1970s.
Which tells you just how ingrained the notion is that men cannot be expected to control themselves - if a woman wears certain clothing, men assume she wants sex and nothing she says or does will dissuade them from raping her and it's her own fault for expecting men to obey the law. Brownmiller is 80 and Hynde is 64, and so you might expect that attitude as a carry-over from people who were raised at a time when there were no rape crisis hotlines, rape test kits, etc. However it was especially shocking for Brownmiller since she wrote a ground-breaking book about rape, "Against Our Will." I had been a Facebook friend of Brownmiller until this happened and then I argued with her - and then friends of hers - and then she de-friended me for my refusing to back down on calling this out as victim-blaming. And that was fine with me. 

Today's case study in the importance of not having heroes: Susan Brownmiller. She was instrumental in making rape a political issue with her landmark 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, but now she's let a "kids these days" urge overtake her feminist sensibilities. In an interview with The Cut's Katie Van Syckle, Brownmiller gets downright victim-blame-y, sneering at girls today with their booze and their clothes and their asking-for-it.
Chrissie Hynde was always a hero of mine. But as Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett writes in the Guardian:
The problem with having heroes is that, one day, they will open their gobs and inevitably say something you don’t like. The dawning realisation that an independent, sentient being’s value system doesn’t match entirely with yours can feel like a shock, especially in the digital age where the heroes you choose, and the quotes and photos of them that you share, have become a language conveying to others your own sense of identity. Learning to accept that you are going to feel a certain level of disappointment in your hero or heroine is an important rite of passage into adulthood.
I think Cosslett is right to make the connection with being a rock star in a man's world and Hynde's belief that she wasn't really a victim:
It might be thought that experiencing rape would automatically make you empathetic to other rape victims, but in a culture where women are encouraged to blame themselves for this crime, it’s not surprising that some victims would then apportion blame to other victims, too. It’s a curiously conservative mindset coming from an ex-punk, but also a relic of the era in which Hynde came of age. A time when, if you were a woman wanting to carve out some space for yourself – particularly in the music industry - you were on your own.
I think even more so, Hynde thought of herself as one of the guys, therefore should be exempt from being treated like a woman, like a helpless. So Hynde is in deep, deep denial. Although such an ability to identify with men against women probably helped her make it in the music industry. The denial is clear in this quote from 2014:
She's equally sceptical of the idea that a lack of female pioneers held women back in the music scene in the 1970s. "I just didn't have the confidence," she says. "There's always been women doing this, just not that many. I don't know what the feminists have to say about it. Over the years, you'd hear, 'We weren't encouraged.' Well, I don't think Jeff Beck's mother was saying, 'Jeffrey! What are you doing up in your room? Are you rehearsing up there?' No one was ever encouraged to play guitar in a band. But I never found it harder because I'm a woman. If anything I've been treated better. Guys will carry my guitars and stuff – who's going to say no? Guys always tune my guitars, too."
Actually that's not true at all that no one was ever encouraged to play in a band - John Lennon's mother bought him his first guitar. Paul McCartney's father had played in a jazz band in his youth and encouraged Paul to take piano lessons. But of course the lack of encouragement isn't only about families - although of course when Jeff Beck was growing up in the 1950s women were still expected to aspire primarily to motherhood, maybe doing some school teaching or nursing before they were married. Not to mention the sexist attitudes of men themselves, who already dominated rock and roll.

Really, Chrissie Hynde, you have no fucking idea what you're talking about. But as I said, Hynde considered herself one of the guys - so of course she's going to dismiss the claims of feminists, like many men of her generation.

And the horrible irony is that in her personal affect she was every feminist's dream - independent, talented, powerful and sexy. Who wouldn't want to be Chrissie Hynde? In so many ways she defied gender constrictions on women, including dating much younger men: her first husband Jim Kerr was eight years younger than her, her second husband was fourteen years younger than her, and her most-recently publicized relationship was with a man 24 years her junior. But then a male rock star would do the same thing with women. And Hynde is one of the guys.

At least Hynde didn't betray a book she wrote about rape. But on the other hand, she's one and a half decades younger than Brownmiller - or for that matter, Gloria Steinem - and really should know better by now.

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