Monday, October 12, 2015

When idols fail us

The recent bruhaha over Chrissie Hynde's "rape apologia" is illustrative of the kind of political pressure artists -- particularly female artists -- face of late. There is only one right answer to the question "are you a feminist?" There is a correct way to talk about rape and abuse, and if you fail that test, you aren't just wrong, you're evil -- a "rape apologist," a "victim blamer." It's so routine and predictable it would be laughable if it weren't a such a dangerous mode of thinking. Ann Friedman writes that although we shouldn't let Chrissie Hynde "off the hook," there needs to be room for women to define their experiences however they see fit, even if it's not "politically correct":
Ultimately, all survivors should be empowered to talk about and deal with their experience however they want to — and I don’t think they should have to label themselves as “survivors” or become political spokespeople in order to do so. Perhaps there’s something self-protective in Hynde’s shouldering the blame and refusing to be considered a victim. In a recent Vanity Fair interview, Rihanna explained how awful it is to be publicly associated with an experience she has no desire to keep reliving. “For me, and anyone who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, nobody wants to even remember it,” she said. “Nobody even wants to admit it. So to talk about it and say it once, much less 200 times, is like … I have to be punished for it? It didn’t sit well with me.” I don’t want women to have to conform their stories to an acceptable feminist narrative designed to counteract harmful stereotypes, and I don’t want all famous women who are survivors to be forever identified with that experience.
Feminism should allow women to define their experiences how they see fit, even when their perceptions don't jibe with current ideology. However, when it goes beyond feminism and communities made up of survivors of abuse and becomes something more symptomatic of the kind of leftist moralism that's been getting a lot of attention from grumpy liberals resistant to identity politics and victim culture. I'll go one further and add that Hynde is a musician and not a politician or thought leader, and she alone gets to define what happened to her. Understandably, people are going to be mad, but maybe she's doing what she's doing to move forward the only way she knows how. Or maybe she's just not that up on all the current feminist talking points. As one of those pesky liberals who abhors victimhood as an identity, I feel for her. But I also think we're putting unreasonable expectations on artists whose livelihood depends on their making art, not influencing policy. (Case in point: I've been a fan of my favorite singer-songwriter for over two decades. I have no idea what his political tribe is, or if he has one at all, and I like it that way.) And once an artist positions herself as a feminist or an activist, she's forever held to even greater standards.