I have a lot of opinions and since the words in the title cause so much controversy, there should be no surprise that I have some strong opinions about those too.
Victims are not weak because they are victimized. Let’s get that straight first.
The arguments over campus censorship, trigger warnings, and safe spaces mostly come from misunderstanding. People who oppose the idea of these believe that they contribute to the privileged college student who refuses to feel uncomfortable. It’s no surprise that the main critics seem to be white men, who are very much used to never feeling uncomfortable ever since our entire society is built to cater to them. The main argument usually follows some sort of “don’t be a pussy, suck it up” mentality, or that the best way for victims to recover is to simply suck it up and move on.
This actually uncovers a much deeper problem that lingers throughout our culture. We hate victims. Obviously, this shows through things like victim-blaming, where a victim is blamed for the crime rather than the perpetrator. But I also remember my mom telling me many times to “stop playing the victim” whenever something shitty would happen. Granted, I understand where she was coming from a lot of the time since I was a manipulative little shit and I liked to pose myself in a position where I was the one being put upon. I used that position to gain sympathy and to make others look worse.
I think that we’re all conditioned to think that all victims are just looking for sympathy and attention and that’s why we disregard them. We praise the victim who can easily move on with their lives, who uses their trauma to strengthen themselves.
I feel like any one of my regular followers would understand how problematic that is. Anyone who has experienced trauma has to deal with it, and they should be able to work through it how they choose. Two years ago, I was fingered by a stranger in a Vegas club. It fucked me up for weeks, I felt dirty. My best friend at the time told me I deserved it because I wore a short dress without spanx and that I should stop being a victim because “honestly being fingered isn’t that bad. it’s not like I was raped.”. I knew I wasn’t wrong, that I had been assaulted and it wasn’t my fault. I felt shitty because I knew I would never receive justice- that women are fingered by strangers on dance floors all the time by men they could never identify and that those men would go on to violate women again and again. So although I was mentally destroyed and was experiencing some serious detachment from my body, I soldiered on and tried to forget it. That’s how I dealt with my assault, and honestly how I deal with most of the shitty things that happen to me.
But that trauma is also the reason I will not enter a club to this day. That’s the reason I hate being in crowded bars and why I always wear shorts under my dresses.
The measures I take to avoid reliving that moment are what trigger warnings are for. And there are an infinite amount of triggers for people and there is no way to protect everyone from experiencing anxiety or panic, but professors are doing what they can to stop whatever they can. Trigger warnings are there so that a rape survivor doesn’t have to sit through a 20 minute video about rape, that students who’ve seen their loved ones murdered don’t wait through a graphic slideshow of murder scenes. Safe spaces are similarly in place so that these students can talk to their professors about their experiences knowing that the professor will not judge them for it. Safe spaces are also put in place for students who frequently face harassment to not be harassed (what a concept.) There are still campuses where GLBTA and black students get death threats. The only problem with trigger warnings and safe spaces is that they have to exist because there are still a significant population that seeks to harm them.
All of this trails from our hatred of victims as a whole. However, that hatred is coming from the system of oppression. They are the perpetrators who demand that their victims accept their abuse. It’s like a slave owner who beats an enslaved person and tells him to suck it up and get back to work. So many people are taking issue with Colin Kaepernick sitting for the national anthem, not because he’s exercising his constitutional right to sit, but because he’s sitting in protest to police brutality (Obviously, people are also taking issue because they perceive it as disrespectful, but this post is about victimhood, so…) People like that little Fox News piece of shit telling him to stop being a victim because he has not yet been killed by police. They’re trying to discredit his cause by calling him a victim, by calling the black communities that are threatened by police victims, when the reality is that these communities are being victimized and it’s not their fault.
Kaepernick’s protest in itself is a departure from victimhood. He’s the victim who’s soldiering on like they want him to, except he’s fighting his own oppressor rather than pretending oppression isn’t happening. What are victims supposed to do to stop being victims? The oppressors will trap them as victims knowing that whatever they do, they will be frowned upon for their victimhood. They give them the choice between dying in the streets, or facing national judgement and punishment for daring to challenge the system.
We see the same backlash for rape victims, where a person is victimized by rape and by the judicial system. The system is set up so that a rapist can rape someone without fear of justice. The victim remains unheard unless they draw national attention and expose the crimes against them. Buzzfeed recently discovered that the Baltimore police report over a third of rape cases as unfounded without any investigation past the initial report because the victims did not fight back hard enough against their attackers. We see repeatedly that a woman can be raped behind a dumpster and the rapist will be out of jail in the time it takes to form a habit.
There is positive change though, because people relate more to victims than to attackers. The huge backlash from the Brock Turner case came after the victim released her letter to her rapist. People could empathize with her, rather than the wealthy white man claiming how it wasn’t really his fault because of alcohol. We saw that he was in the position of power, that the victim was vulnerable and he abused his power so he could violate her.
What I’ve been trying to explain in my convoluted and disorganized writing, is that the association of victimhood and weakness is toxic and one of the most clear examples of how patriarchy destroys empathy, and that the only way to overcome it is to fight back despite the pressure not to. Often we see people criticizing feminism as a group of women claiming victimhood, and frankly it is but it’s not a bad thing. We’re literally saying “stop fucking oppressing us” and fighting back rather than taking it lying down. We claim victimhood because it takes the power away from those who victimize us. That’s why Kaepernick and the chain reaction he’s started is so important. The oppressors are threatened because their power is trickling away, and they only get angrier and weaker as it goes.
Victims are not weak because they are victimized.