Monday, April 16, 2007

a frustration, and a vindication.

today, i opened the mail. this is an ordinary occurence. what is unusual is the amount staring me in the face when i looked at the water bill. 96 dollars. what?? the last one was half that.

and can i back up a wee bit and also point out that we even have a water bill? we rent, for chrissakes! we're shelling out over $1400 a month on rent alone for a one bedroom near the edge of the metro's reach in virginia. and there are no utilities included. that's right, not even water. for which we are now paying $100 a month.

i cannot wait to find a new place in six weeks. i don't care if i have to devote my life to it during the month of may, by god, we will find a place that isn't costing us close to half our net income to live in.

before i got home and had my evening semi-soured by a stupid piece of paper, i was thinking i would post about the day's little vindication. i emphasize little; it will probably please no one else but me, really. but when i pulled up twisty this afternoon and read this post, i felt a twinge of recognition. in reference to the comment thread of a previous post about the kathy sierra situation, she opines,

I find that feminists of the empowerful, slo-mo kickboxing variety are sometimes impatient with women who have been publicly screwed over by the Establishment. These feminists seem actually to be critical of women on the wrong end of a beatdown...According to these feminists, the women who cry uncle have allowed themselves to become “victims rather than people.” But look here. Who are they trying to kid. Women can be kept in line with intimidation, and the whole world knows it. Aren’t people who have been raped and intimidated and harassed and threatened with death “victims”? What the fuck is wrong with that word? It describes the situation perfectly.

so it took about a year and a half of strolling around the internet to find a post that mirrors my own stated discomfort about the way "victim" has become something of a dirty word in feminist circles:

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?

i posted this almost eighteen months ago, and twisty's post is the first time i've seen the sentiment echoed since then. not just in explicitly feminist circles, but anywhere. what is that about? why is this a question that we are reluctant to take on - hell, that we apparently aren't even considering taking on? i don't know, but i'm just glad to see that i'm not the only one wondering about it.


Cinnamon said...

When my mother left my father she stayed in and eventually became the house manager for a nonprofit organization that was a "Shelter for the Victims of Domestic Violence".

And at the age of 12, when I was admittedly a bit up in the air about damned near everything in my life, this description of this house that felt safer than anything I'd ever known bothered me immensely. Why? Because I felt, and admittedly still feel, that once those women got to the house, they stopped being victims and started being survivors. The word survivor signified that the rest of their life would be affected by something they had encountered, but they were no longer in a place to be victims. They were safe, they were protected, they were in a place where they could begin healing and moving on.

Consequently, I hate the word victim. Yes, at one time I was the victim of incest. I was the victim of abuse. I was the victim of sexual harrassment. I was the victim of pay inequity. But now, now, I am the survivor of those things. I feel that placing emphasis on the victim portion of all the things you describe, places emphasis on what the wrong that is being done, and not the fight that is engaged against it.

And as always, I respect you and your intellect so feel free to dissect this. No need to feel like you'll hurt my feelings or anything like that. I love that you are so often able to write things that make me say "Yeah, but but!" It makes me respect you all the more.

kate.d. said...

cinn, i certainly see your point. language is really powerful, and it has a real mental effect, for sure. and i don't really have anything against a shift from "victim" to "survivor", in a personal or communal (like in DV shelters) sense. i can absolutely see why people would choose that descriptor.

this is interesting: I feel that placing emphasis on the victim portion of all the things you describe, places emphasis on what the wrong that is being done, and not the fight that is engaged against it. so the question is, are there contexts in which it makes sense for us to emphasize the wrong being done? i think so. i guess one of my points in the original post is that if we overemphasize the fight for empowerment, are we in danger of losing sight/perspective about what the fight is against? how bad it really is? how pervasive?

like everything else, i'm sure it's a matter of finding a balance. that elusive equilibrium, right?

Kate said...

I sympathize with the frustration, and felt a similar surge of vindication with Twisty's post the other day too.

As someone who is both a victim and a survivor, I also can understand the conversation starting in the comments with cinnamon. I think we need to acknowledge that we are currently victims of an oppressive society and that we are simply not "empowered" enough to have moved out from under that. But I think it's important to also acknowledge where we're headed, and the things we have survived/beaten. That's why I really identify with both terms.

Cinnamon said...

Thanks, Kate D. You've made very good points. I think its necessary to talk about what is victimizing us as a group, or as an individual so we can share info and then create solutions. And that I'm in favor of. I guess I have more of a problem with saying "We're victims of sexual harrassment." insted of "We're survivors of sexual harrassment." Even as a group it seems more powerful to me. And I think it is a lot easier to make change when people feel powerful.