Posts Tagged ‘victimology’

How Feminism Defines Women

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

The more I think about feminist theory and rhetoric, the more I realize that it is in many ways an ideology that doesn’t serve women any more than it serves men.

Even though feminism does pay lipservice to the belief that women are strong and can do anything they like; the whole feminist political framework is built around the belief that women are weak and need external help to get anything right.

In fact, feminism defines women as being weak in a number of ways:

  • Women are said to need affirmative action in order to be able to compete with men in the labor market
  • Women are said to accept salaries that are too low, and therefore salaries need to be monitored and regulated
  • Women are incapable of leaving an abusive man (and incapable of being angry to the extent that they themselves become abusive)
  • Women cannot make good choices for themselves, since they insist on being teachers or homemakers instead of engineers or executives
  • The major way that feminism invalidates women and portrays them as weak is… by claiming that women have allowed men to subjugate them for thousands of years! (this line of reasoning presumes that women are weak or stupid or both).

If I were a woman, I’d be furious at feminism, and sue the whole feminist movement for character defamation.

Personally, I view women as perfectly capable individuals, who can make their own choices in life, and make new choices as culture and society change over time.

When Personal Accountability Is a Challenge

Monday, April 13th, 2009

I’ve recently written about Intimate Partner Violence (part 1, part 2), and some time ago I wrote about the Culture of Victimhood and the absence of personal accountability in feminist rhetoric.

In this post I’ll combine the subjects of physical abuse and personal accountability, by publishing an edited version of a piece that I originally posted in an online forum, in a response to a woman who had been abused both when growing up and later on in her marriage.

The gist of what I’m trying to get across to her is that it’s possible to hold ourselves responsible for our actions no matter how difficult the situation is, and that holding ourselves responsible is not the same thing as blaming ourselves.

I feel a lot of compassion for your experience, and I agree that placing blame on a victim doesn’t lead to anything constructive, but like J, I would like to make a few distinctions.

You cannot be responsible for another person’s actions. If someone beats you up regularly in your own home, then you have zero responsibility for their actions. The person who’s doing the beating has full responsibility for his/her actions.

You however, have full responsibility for your response/reaction. You can respond in a host of different ways (maybe not when the actual beating is going on, but afterwards). You can stay, you can leave, you can call the police, you can go talk to a friend, you can do nothing, etc..

This is not to say that you are to be blamed for your response! Blame leads nowhere, and has no purpose except to put another individual down, or to put ourselves down.

But as long as you are responsible for your actions, then you can choose a different, and better, response. So holding you responsible for what you do is not about blaming you, it’s about believing that you can make better choices for yourself. It’s about trusting your innate power and the fact that the path to empowerment remains open for every human being during their whole life.

Nothing of this denies the fact that if you had a terrible upbringing then it may be awfully hard to respond in a constructive way, and to get out of a destructive relationship. Even if you didn’t have a bad upbringing, you can get sucked into a bad/abusive relationship, to the point that you hardly can see your options. But you are still responsible! You still have access to your free will, and saying that you are responsible is a way of honoring your integrity and autonomy, and not treating you like a child.

Because children… are not responsible. When you are under a certain age, you simply are not a fully autonomous individual with full access to your own free will. Therefore society has an extra responsibility to look out for children that are being abused, because they cannot even be expected to call out for help, and it is developmentally incorrect to refer to them as response-able individuals.

So children can be, and are, helpless victims of abuse. But when we extend that view to adults, as has often been done in feminist literature aimed at women who have been abused – then we start to disempower adults, and that is something I simply cannot agree with.

The “helpless victim” line of reasoning is sometimes even extended to persons who molest children, and the reasoning is then that they are simply repeating the behaviors that they themselves were subjected to when growing up. However much compassion I may feel for what these persons were exposed to as children, I still hold them responsible for their own actions. They are adults, with access to their free will, and if they choose to molest they should go to jail. And should they be pathological to the extent that they have lost access to their free will, then they have no place in a free society anyhow – they have then become “automated response mechanisms” that are programmed to do damage in society.

Again, I feel deep compassion for people who have been subjected to abuse. However, once we are adults we have choice, and we can be empowered, and as a consequence we have responsibility. I consider holding another person responsible one of the most loving things you can do. Because by doing that you show them that you believe in their ability to make better choices for themselves, and their ability to break free from destructive relationships.

None of this negates the fact that you can help abused people by being a friend, offering them a place to stay, driving them to the police or to a hospital, etc. But if you help people without holding them accountable for their own responses, then you are simply helping them perpetuate their personal tragedy.

The Culture of Victimhood

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Once upon a time it was considered morally desirable to be a person who took responsibility for your own actions. This was before we reached a cultural awareness of how prejudices, roles and external structures affect the lives of different groups of people. Once we gained insight into the ubiquity of these external structures, and how we are all influenced by them in different ways, we seemed to forget the concept of personal accountability.

Contemporary culture has a real tendency to assume everyone to be a victim, in some way or other. We live in a veritable age of victimhood, where people portray themselves as hapless and powerless individuals who don’t have any impact on their own lives.

“I cannot be successful at work because I’m a woman”
“I’m too old to be hired”
“I get bad grades because my teachers don’t understand me”
“My upbringing prevents me from having a good relationship”
“My genes prevent me from losing weight”

As you can see, victimhood goes way beyond being the victim of cultural structures, you can also be the victim of parents, genes, teachers, etc.

What to Do?

I believe that it’s fully possible to reclaim our lost sense of individual responsibility, while still seeing how we’re affected by cultural constructions and external circumstances. In fact, I believe it’s vital that we do this, since being stuck in a victim mentality means that we become passive and increasingly bitter about the perceived injustices surrounding us.

Individual responsibility does not mean that we are to be blamed for the existing external structures and prejudices! Being responsible is simply a recognition that all human beings are moral agents, who influence the world according to their own standards and beliefs. The world may influence you, but you also influence the world.

Regardless of what societal patterns are holding you down or working against you, you have the potential to implement change, and to do the best you can in any situation.

I’m not specifically talking about people who truly are victims of irreversible conditions, such as being born with a physical handicap. Still, you can always do your best given the circumstances you’ve been given, and within those limits you are completely responsible for your own life.

Feminism and Personal Accountability

So how is all of this related to the gender debate? The most obvious connection is the claimed victimhood of women that feminist discourse has never been able to transcend. Perhaps more than any other group, feminist women talk about how victimhood is at the core of their experience.

Somehow feminists haven’t been able to reconcile the claim that women are victims, and the claim that women are strong and perfectly capable individuals. I believe that this internal contradiction of feminism is due to two factors:

1. Feminism fails to distinguish between the personal and the political, instead claiming that “the personal is political”. However, this stance makes it difficult to see that you are always accountable and have significant power on a personal level, even if societal structures limit you in certain ways.

2. Feminism holds men personally responsible for the structures that oppress women, instead of recognizing that these structures have crystallized into being due to survival instincts and biological differences between the sexes. This second failure to see the difference between the personal and structural, leads to women feeling like victims on a personal level. After all, if men are personally responsible for having oppressed women, are women then not personally responsible for having accepted this oppression?

The feminist conflation of the personal and the political, keeps a lot of women from seeing what I believe to be a core truth: there is no contradiction between fully exploring how your gender role has kept you from living the life you want, and accepting full responsibility for your own life!

Future Gender Warriors

It’s also very important for men not to fall into the “victim trap”, once we start seeing and exploring how societal structures and our gender role have constricted or even oppressed us, simply because we are men. Even as we are mapping out how the traditional male gender role is limiting, and how feminist theory has added new ways of keeping men down, we can still retain our sense of agency and trust in our ability to effect change.

Men and women alike who are aspiring to move beyond the rhetoric of feminism, need to avoid making the mistake that feminism made regarding personal accountability and victimhood.

As long as you’re accountable you can also change your circumstances, but as soon as you label yourself a victim you can only endure your circumstances. This is a key distinction! Needless to say, no constructive social change has ever been implemented by people who act or think like victims.