Reaction Part 2
I wanted to clarify some things from this post and the relating comments thread. Again, I don’t mean this to respond to any particular individual or blog I saw that linked me, because I still don’t like call-and-response blogging (though I feel like I’m doing too much of that in the comments, and might back out of responding for a while). Reading reactions that launched in a completely different direction than I intended really helped solidify my own reasons for having written the post, and some of my own beliefs and feelings about the issue.
Before getting into it, I wanted to clarify (just for clarification’s sake) what my main themes in that post were:
- The mindset that leads to victim-blaming in rape is part of a wider cultural phenomenon where we expect women to behave in a way that legitimizes their abuse.
- You don’t get to ask “why didn’t she fight back” if you have ever participated in this wider cultural training. And you have. So you don’t get to ask, because the answer is already available, and all signs point to you.
- Abuse exists on a continuum. At the far end are physical actions like rape, which we sometimes can recognize as violent and inherently wrong. At the near end are daily social interactions that are invisible and accepted as appropriate behavior and inherently right. We have to recognize and disallow the near end before we can ever move to the far end. Teaching women to fight off rapists is just a band-aid applied to everybody but victims, to make everybody but victims feel better about the existence of rape. We can’t teach women to fight off rapists unless we teach them to fight off you every time you interrupt them, and unless we teach you to graciously accept that as an appropriate reaction.
Yeah, That’s Awful, That Women Are Taught To Act Like That. Good Thing I Don’t Put Up With That Shit
I need to find a way to shorten this reaction, because I see it a lot. It’s the “I’d Never Put Up With That” reaction, INPUWT, and every time I hear it, it sounds like bullshit to me.
Not to say that everybody who has ever proclaimed on the internet that they do not put up with one kind of bullshit or another is lying. And not to say that social and cultural roles haven’t changed enough over the years that more women may feel more comfortable setting more boundaries, and more men may feel more comfortable accepting those boundaries as legitimate and appropriate.
I think the INPUWT response is more about supporting the status quo than it is about rejecting it.
Victims are kind of the losers of society. Nobody wants to be one. Nobody can possibly understand why other people allow themselves to become victims. When people witness an interaction between a bullying asshole and their victim, they usually come away with at least as much revulsion for the victim’s behavior as they do the bully’s. Why did they take it is as, if not more, disgusting a thought than Why did that bully act that way. That’s status quo. That’s rape culture. That’s the result of othering victims, which is what makes people susceptible to being victims in the first place. If you can perceive of a certain class of person as wholly different than you, with impenetrable and irrational thought processes, strange and alien needs, and possibly disgusting and ridiculous practices, then it becomes a lot easier to dehumanize that person enough to abuse them without remorse. Because, I mean, they are so crazy and needy that they like that shit, and don’t even realize, in their tiny slow brains, that they don’t have to take that shit. It’s a good thing you are not like them at all, because you are somehow smarter and better than that, somehow immune. Somehow a different class of human completely.
It’s sort of the Right (Wo)Man’s Burden, to feel pity for these strange souls who don’t realize that there’s a more civilized way to live. If only they knew that they could come out of those abusive homes, blinking in the sunlight, and see that there is a better way to live. You could show them, because you know how they should live their lives better than they do. Right? (Answer: wrong.)
I get suspicious when the first reaction to “hey, victimization exists” is to loudly proclaim that you are too smart/bitchy/cool/mature/something to be a victim, but yeah, too bad for those other victims and all, maybe someday they’ll wise up and realize they can…
Can choose to be hated, victimized, and ostracized for vaguely different reasons? You know, for being a bitch instead of for being a victim?
Because that’s the other thing. The choice here is to be a classical victim – passive, quiet, compliant – or to be a victim with a false sense of power, a victim who uses louder and different words to experience the same damned thing. Whether you’re being harassed because you’re quiet or you’re being harassed because you’re loud, you’re being harassed because you’re female. And to be female is to be automatically placed in a class of people that is worth harassment. You can’t escape that by “not caring” if you’re called a bitch; being called a bitch already indicates that you’re being victimized. “Not caring” if people hate you doesn’t place you outside of the class of women who accept their abuse with resignation; they’ve stopped caring if people hate them, too, have accepted that as the way it is. They’ve found a way to live with that hate, just like the people who “don’t care” about being a bitch.
A victim secretly likes the way she’s treated. A victim can’t live without the abuse. A victim is weak. A victim is slow and stupid to realize her own victimization. A victim relies on emotional reasoning rather than assertive logic. A victim is dependent. A victim is too deaf, blind, and dumb to notice the world around her. These aren’t actually inherent qualities of victims, but they are the intended reactions to victimization. The purpose of victimizing a person is to force them to act in these ways. The entire end game of abuse is to create a person who acts in these ways. An abuser wants to justify their abuse, and so they both imagine and force qualities onto people that allow them to think that person deserves, wants, and needs the abuse. Nobody has inherent victim qualities. Abusers create those qualities, through their abuse, to feel justified in damaging another person down to their core. And the magic of it is, once a victim believes she has inherent victim qualities, then she, too, will believe what the abuser believes: that she deserves it, needs it, and secretly likes it.
Other people outside of the direct abuser/victim relationship who believe the same thing also believe that not performing these behaviors mean they don’t deserve it, need it, or like it, and thus won’t be abused. It’s the flip side of the same coin: if you believe that the way a victim acts is what makes her likely to be abused, then you believe that not acting in those ways will make you less likely to deserve abuse. Which doesn’t mean that you have somehow placed yourself outside the social order of abuser/victim by your savvy wits and plucky courage. It means you buy the abuser’s belief structure wholesale.
Abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it can’t maintain itself without external support. There are very obvious ways that people can contribute to the maintenance of abuse. Ask any woman out of an abusive relationship, and I’m sure she can regale you for hours with tales of, “I told his father that he was beating me and his father told me he has a temper and I just need to learn how to avoid it,” or, “I told my boss I was afraid he might come stalk me at the office and needed to change my extension, and my boss told me to keep my personal life at home,” or, “I told my marriage counselor that he had threatened to kill me and they told me I needed to work harder to understand his emotional state.” We’d all like to think we’d never do something like that, of course, though I’m pessimistic on that account. I think when people imagine that they’d never do such a thing, they’re imagining some Afterschool Special kind of abuser, who has a scarlet A on their forehead. When that kind of guy swaggers onto the scene, it’s all too easy to suss out which side you should be on. Which is why that kind of guy doesn’t really exist – he wouldn’t last very fucking long, would he? Imagine if your brother’s wife came to you and said your brother was abusive; likely you’d stutter and stumble and then eventually end up telling her that she just doesn’t get your brother, that he’s not like that, she’s misinterpreting his actions, because your other option is to throw in with the victim and stand up against your whole family, who can’t believe you’re saying your brother is that kind of man.
What I’m trying to say here is that even in the most stereotypical anecdotal sort of abuse validation, you’re more likely to choose the wrong side than you think. And when it comes to the more subtle forms of abuse validation, most of us do choose the wrong side, every day. When you say something like, “Well, I would never put up with that sort of shit, because I was raised better/learned better/am too strong,” victims around you hear two messages: 1) they do not have any of these qualities that you have, which is why they deserve to be abused and you do not, 2) all she has to do to escape abuse, duh, so easy, is to start acting in a way that gets her called a bitch in daily social interactions. Which somehow isn’t abuse and is wholly different from her current experience. Right?
Let me try to be more succinct. I’ve got three points here.
- Pretending that the only thing separating you from a victim is your willingness to be called a bitch is victim-blaming, because you are saying, in effect, that if a woman was just more willing to be called a bitch, she wouldn’t be getting victimized. (Maybe she could stop wearing short skirts in public, too.)
- Pretending that being willing to be called a bitch doesn’t make you a victim of the same old shit is a false sense of power that is used to differentiate yourself from those “other” victims, and keep you from throwing in common cause with them to rally against abuser’s behaviors instead of policing your own.
- Engaging in INPUWT isn’t an argument that puts you outside rape culture, but squarely within it. INPUWT insinuates that you believe you have acquired some sort of power over your victimization that other victims refuse to take. In fact, the power you have acquired is the (false) assurance that you will not be victimized, provided you are willing to buy into victim-blaming. Which is the exact same deal that “classical” victims strike with their abuser.
I’m not saying that people who go all INPUWT are all consciously thinking, “Fucking victims deserved it.” And I’m definitely not saying that INPUWT is a useless tactic, that women should stop setting boundaries and not putting up with shit. What I am saying is that anybody who thinks they are so conscious, brave, and insightful that they operate outside of our culture has acquired that sense specifically because it is a part of our culture and benefits our culture if you think that you are inherently different and better than a despised class of victims. To think that you have acquired some magical ability to not be part of a stigmatized class – some magical ability to be an individual rather than be like those other women – is a barely-there privilege that is granted to keep you from unifying with all those other women. To identify with them is to identify yourself with a whole host of unsavory characteristics, victim characteristics, and it feels much more personally empowering to identify yourself with “bitch” characteristics, which is victimhood with a bullhorn. There is no woman alive who gets out of this place unscarred. There is no woman alive who does not have a myriad of beliefs and traits in common with victim-women. And there is no woman alive who does not desperately want to disassociate themselves from those traits, because we have been trained to think of these traits as legitimizing the hatred and abuse we are all working to escape. The problem isn’t with women who accept certain behaviors and traits, and the problem can’t be solved by pretending you are exempt from those behaviors and traits. The problem is believing certain behaviors and traits legitimize, cause, or are the natural precursor to abuse.
I want to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with being a woman who is willing to be called a bitch because she sets her own boundaries. But you can’t use the master’s tools to take down the master’s house. You can’t assume that your willingness to do such a thing puts you outside the house, distinct from other women, distinct from their alien choices to be abused, exempt from the whole “it’s your fault if you’re abused” philosophy. You can’t assume that there is something fundamentally different between you and women who are victimized, that all that is needed to avoid abuse is to make the correct personal choices. Well, you can assume that, it’s a personally comforting assumption to make, but you can’t assume that while believing you are not a part of rape culture at the same time. Believing that any behaviors or traits or personal choices makes one more or less worth being/likely to be abused, believing that you have the capability to be exempt from the game if you just play the game differently, believing that abused women just need to be taught to play the game the way you do, are the master’s tools. Quit usin’ ‘em.
Next installment, Reaction 2.5, whenever I get around to it: Full and Free Consent Cannot Exist Between Unequals. This one bothered a lot of folk, I know.