Tuesday, November 01, 2005

blaming the victim.

i am home from work today. the combination of the four hour board meeting and a low-level sore throat i've had for the last week has rendered me useless to nonprofitland. so here, finally, is the overdue musing on feminism and victimhood promised last weekend. rudimentary and rambling, but here nonetheless.

why is it so bad to be a victim? feminists often complain about the “blaming the victim” phenomenon, which is an abhorrent practice (you’d think by now the phrase “she was asking for it” would have been thoroughly eradicated from our collective lexicon. you’d be wrong). but on the other hand, third wave feminism is very, very reluctant to take on the subject position of victim. hugo notes:

i don't know many authentic feminist scholars and instructors who are intent on convincing young women that they are being victimized by the big bad patriarchy.

he’s correct – feminist activism has consciously moved away from pointing out victimization to preaching empowerment. i think that this is, in many ways, an understandable development. on a practical level, there is less technical, legal discrimination and victimization of women (though we still weren’t able to pass the ERA, so this doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies). on a theoretical level, i can see that it makes more sense to take the active position of empowering oneself than the passive position of being victimized by external forces. no one wants to feel powerless - it’s much more enjoyable to feel empowered.

but in all of this clamoring for empowerment, have we lost the ability to make people see why women deserve to be empowered in the first place? are we unable to convince people that the reason we need empowerment is that we still lack societal and cultural power? women are still victimized, all the time, all over the world. we are victims of sexual harassment. we are victims of rape. we are victims of pay inequity. we are victims of impossible beauty standards. we are victims of double standards. we are victims, every day.

why are we so ashamed to admit that? why are feminists less inclined to stand up and point out these injustices, the victimizations big and small, as they continue to happen? are we “blaming the victim” ourselves?

i’m trying to think about how narratives about women’s strength, courage, and conviction could possibly work together with the continuing, eye-opening disclosure of women’s victimization to further the cause of women’s equality. are these two phenomenons somehow mutually exclusive?

i don’t think they should be.


Mike said...

I think what's key here, and I don't mean to start an argument, is that while may be much more enjoyable to feel empowered, it is much easier to be a victim. For women, and for men, for everyone. Sadly, I think that most people take the easy way out, and that is a detriment to many movements, or causes, or whatever. Also, I think it is because victims garner more attention, sadly, that people seem to notice them more, and think that that's what things are about, and forget about the equality, or rights, or whatever it is. I don't know...just a quick thought I had...

Zendo Deb said...

Being a victim of a crime is one thing. Accepting victim-hood as your identifying personality trait, or your political stance is another.

Many people - men and women - are victims of crime. I was beaten to a bloody pulp many years ago and spent a day and a night in the emergency room and several weeks recovering. I was a victim of a crime. A VERY violent crime. I am not a victim every minute of every day.

Victimization usually gets people to think that others should come to their rescue.

I achieved a level of professional competence that let me have the "good managerial" job, making a large salary. Sure I fought against the dinasours of the coproarte world who would discount my work. But I also had to work against the "she only has this position because of some affirmative action program." There were smart women along side me who did not achieve as much because - in part - they were not willing to work 10 hour days, come in on weekends when it would be helpful.... they were not victims of some corporate conspiracy. They made a choice. Many men made similar choices. Looking back, I cannot say that I made the right choice, only that I made a choice that was right for me at the time.

Zendo Deb said...

we are victims of rape. we are victims of pay inequity. we are victims of impossible beauty standards. we are victims of double standards. we are victims, every day.

It is true that women are raped every day. I want to see 2 things happen to combat this. 1) incredibly harsh penalties for offenders. In this story a judge let a youthful offender off with little more than a warning. He went on to commit 8 more rapes. 2) Every woman should be armed and trained to defend herself. Fighting back is always a good idea. I think firearms are the best way to fight back. Others have other opinions.

Beauty standards - I ignore them. I haven't always, but they celebrate genetic freaks - too tall, to thin, unhealthy. You can make a choice.

Pay inequity - as I said above, I believe much of this is a question of choices.

Double standards - set your own damn standards (see Beauty above). It would be nice if you could explain what you mean or give at least an anecdote.

And I am not a victim every day. See my thoughts on this subject in Refuse to Be a Victim.

Maggie said...

My mother recently got into a yelling match with a speaker at a Take Back the Night rally who was promoting self-defense classes and said "No one needs to be a victim! I can defend myself from ANY situation I could find myself in! And you could too!"

My mother just spontaneously yelled "NOT ALWAYS!" My father broke her nose, and she's worked with domestic violence groups ever since, so she realized what a nasty message this woman was sending to people in the audience who had been assaulted: if you had been a little tougher, there's something weak about you, you should have seen this coming...

In trying to resist victimhood, people can do a real disservice to those who have been victimized.

(also, my mom noted that this particular Take Back the Night rally had speakers call for applause 'for the men' FOUR times!)

kate.d. said...

if you had been a little tougher, there's something weak about you, you should have seen this coming...

this touches on the idea that women should also be responsible for the misbehaviors of men. instead of telling men to, you know, stop hurting us, we should go to 8 weeks of self-defense and set our brains on "hyper aware of our surroundings" at all times.

that'll do the trick.

Zendo Deb said...

There are no guarantees, and there are some situations that you will be unable to handle. However, you should still do everything in your power to resist.

Having been the victim of a violent crime, I can tell you will regret - for years, if not forever - if you feel there is anything you might have done, that you didn't do.

If you do nothing, you will be a victim. If you do everything possible and still fail - well you may technically be a victim, I believe you will feel differently about the situation.

But let me say again - there are no guarantees. You could become a 7th degree black belt in Karate and still be defeated. You could study Krav Maga with Israeli defense forces and still face to many attackers. That does not excuse you from taking SOME responsibility for your own safety.