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Don’t shoot the messenger

Sassy rock singer Chrissie Hynde – she of Pretenders and sometime marriages to the Kinks’ Ray Davies and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds fame [and by the way I don’t care a fig that the sisterhood might seek to take me to task for defining her by her marriages to well-known men – I’m solely interested in helping my more senior or distracted readers to ‘register’ whom I’m referring to] – has been copping some media flak this Bank Holiday weekend.

It seems that in an interview with the magazine of The Sunday Time La Hynde mentioned that in her youth she was once sexually assaulted by a motorcycle gang in Ohio.

The controversy has arisen because she admitted that she was at least contributorily negligent because at the time she was out of her head on Quaaludes and running around with people that she was fully aware were rough and potentially dangerous.  On the pretext that they were taking her to a party, the gang took her to an empty house where they forced her to perform sexual acts under threat of violence. Here’s her actual quote on the topic:

Now let me assure you that, technically-speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t fuck about with people, especially people who wear ‘I ‘heart’ rape’ and ‘On your knees’ badges … If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?

Elsewhere in the piece, her ‘common sense’ advice to women that dressing provocatively can provoke potential rapists has apparently caused a social media storm: “Don’t wear high heels so you can’t run away from him. If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and fuck me’, you’d better be good on your feet.”

At the risk of outing myself as a leather-skinned old trout by siding with the 63 year-old Hynde [my story is that I’m ‘somewhere north of thirty-nine’ and I’m sticking to it], that’s exactly what I’m doing.

There’s a gulf of difference in attitude between feminists of my generation and today’s ‘right on!’ youngsters, but you cannot put all of that down simply to time-context or nostalgia versus modern strident theoretical principle.

Yes, in my (and Chrissie Hynde’s) heyday – let’s say broadly the 1970s through to 1990s – life was much more openly sexist and ‘gender unequal’ than it is in 2015. But in those days – as now – women just ‘got on with it’ … as they had to. They had to take responsibility for their bodily health (the contraception pill had unlocked a tsunami of sexual awakening), they listened to their mothers’ and aunts’ and girlfriends’ advice … not least a list of ‘don’t’ and “Watch out for him, he’s NSIT [translation ‘not safe in taxis’]”.

I’m not letting the sisterhood down in stating this.

You ask any modern mother with a 14 year old daughter. She (and her daughter) may pay lip-service to the latest modern PC-correct campaigning slogans but – deep down on a practical level – they’re still following the time-honoured code of folklore passed from women to women down the generations for tens of thousands of years. It’s not subservience or weakness. It’s a recognition of how human beings are and how to get by on a day-to-day basis when you’re dealing with human nature (all of it).

gangIf you’re a tourist and you are told or become aware that there are certain quarters of Kingston, Jamaica … Peckham, London … Bogota, Columbia … or Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea … that are particularly dangerous [whether it be for gang violence, assaults, drugs, whatever], you tend to avoid them.

It’s just common sense – why deliberately put yourself in danger, or even take the chance?

That’s all that Chrissie Hynde is pointing out. If you dress provocatively (and we’ve all seen the celebrity magazine ‘fashion disasters’ and the photographs of hopelessly drunk, high-heeled, chest-out, micro-skirted slags parading about, or lying upon, the streets of Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester – you perm the places – city centres) then you’re deliberately placing yourself in potential harm’s way. So why do it?

Compare those two situations for a second.

If, irrespective of your gender, you’re going on holiday to Jamaica – and you’re aware of the reputation of some parts of Kingston – you have a choice … and a risk. Sure, you can visit those areas and take that risk if you wish, that’s your right. But would you?

I wouldn’t, even I was head honcho of the local Hells’ Angel chapter back home in Slough.

I certainly wouldn’t dress up in my best tourist glad-rags and totter off to downtown Kingston expecting (or even demanding) a guaranteed safe passage. And then feel severely hard done by if I had my handbag or purse nicked off me, whether by a pickpocket or simply some Yardie who stopped me in the street holding a hand gun.

drunkBy the same token, in my view, if I was a young lady, I wouldn’t dress like a ten-bit tart to go out of an evening in downtown Newcastle carrying a banner saying ‘Women of the world unite – No means no!’ and expect the men of the area to genuflect in humble respect as I staggered by, three sheets to the wind, with two of my similarly-clad mates at 3.00am in the morning.

It’s called common sense.

Okay, it maybe theoretically the case that I should be allowed to dress exactly how I like (irrespective of whether anyone else might think it provocative or not) … and indeed retain the right to say no, even if that happens to be part-way through some intimate moment or another with some guy I’d met at some point during the evening who may or may not have been de facto dishy … or indeed perhaps was nothing of the sort but for some reason on that day, in that place, in circumstances where I’d had nine shots of tequila for a dare at some point earlier in the evening, seemed like it.

But in practice?

To my mind the current era – in terms of equality and attitudes – is the greatest time ever to have lived. I’m certainly not harping on about the old days through nostalgic rose-tinted glasses. In modern terms, looking back, the 1980s were horrendous in terms of men’s attitudes towards women. I can remember incidents from my past – at discos, in the work place, just in everyday life – that would make your toes curl. Yet, as women, me and my generation ‘just got on with it’ because there was no other way of proceeding at the time. By taking some reasonable and sensible precautions. And also by avoiding plainly stupid decisions that would have deliberately placed ourselves in harm’s way – or, at least being aware of the potential dangers that might result if we did take them.

Chrisse Hynde wasn’t doing womankind a disservice last weekend. She was merely being honest – and typically in her case, brutally so. She shouldn’t be pilloried for it.

One of the plusses of growing older is that the lessons of life you learn along the way can eventually turn into wisdom which may be worth passing on. Or – if you are of a younger generation or two – dare I suggest it, worth listening to.

Each new generation doesn’t have to begin from scratch by reinventing the wheel for itself.

plentyWe’re all just trying to find a way to get by in life and, the truth is, listening to received wisdom is a healthy short-cut way to get ahead of yourself if not the entire pack. Of course modern women don’t just have to take the wisdom of their elders without question or challenge, as if it has been written on one of Moses’s tablets. By all means they should question it, examine it, even disagree with it if they wish … but equally there’s no need to discard it simply because of what it is and where it comes from.

We’re all on the same side, ladies. I just don’t get this attitude that some feminists are somehow more feminist than others. Until they finally perfect that scientific method of producing Grade A sperm in the laboratory, there are some things for which we still need men … er … aren’t there?





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About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts