Thursday, July 15, 2010

Feminism is Not About Victimhood

I am always a little amused when anyone claims feminism is really just about man-hating and trying to get women to see themselves as victims. For me, the idea that feminism promotes a victimhood mentality is based on at least two assumptions:

1. That women are not subjected to any real oppression and/or sexism doesn't really exist in any systematic way (or at least isn't that big of a deal).

2. That feminists will try and to convince people they are victims even when they aren't (because of number one).

I don't really understand either of these lines of thought to be honest. The reality is women are an oppressed group. Maybe it isn't as bad today as it was fifty or a hundred years ago for many people, but women still experience all kinds of problems and threats to their livelihood just because they are women (and the majority of the people causing those threats are men unfortunately). The facts speak for themselves.

Violence Against Women:

In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted (15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12). Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually , with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation. Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting. Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides. In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

Other Issues:

Of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, 70% are female (and make up 21 of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the US). There are twice as many women as men among the world’s 900 million illiterates. On average, women are paid 30-40 per cent less than men for comparable work. Every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Women own around only 1% of the world's land. Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income. One year out of college women earn 20% less than men and 10 years later 31% less.

And this is before I even get started on the fact that women are not proportionately represented in government, we make up only 18% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about), are used as sources in only a third of stories (more than three quarters of all stories contain male sources), and make up less than 1% of department heads, editors, media owners (though more than a third of working journalists around the world are women). These are just the facts and anyone capable of empathy should be shocked by them. The work women do is often undervalued and the violence overlooked. It will take a whole lot more then just scapegoating feminism to explain them away.

When a woman says she was raped or abused she is not embracing the "cult of the victim." In fact, she is doing the exact opposite. She is fighting against every message that has ever told her that it's not only her fault if something bad does happen to her, but that she must also remain silent about her struggles. I think anyone who has ever shared their own experiences will agree that the very act of telling your story is empowering. Voicing our trauma is as revolutionary as it gets. By refusing to stay silent the victims of assault are saying, "We are here and we will not be overlooked." Feminism is not perfect by any means (who ever said it had to be?), but to be more outraged over the revelation of the status of women worldwide then the actual status of women is pretty ridiculous.

The idea that feminism wants women to identify with being powerless is simply wrong. Feminism isn't about turning women into victims. It's about pointing out the victimization that already takes place around the world. It's perfectly possible to realize one's victimization without identifying as a victim or having some sort of victim mentality. For me feminism is about telling women they aren't alone and that it is perfectly okay if they are pissed the fuck off about the way they're being treated. What is more empowering then being able to say, "I do not like the way I am being treated and I will not tolerate it?"

Feminism also fights against the idea that men are supposed to protect women and that women should expect that protection. (Which I've never understood; men are simultaneously supposed to be our protectors and sexual beasts that can't control themselves? How does that make sense?) I know it can sometimes seem like the message is "all men are evil" and "women will be defiled by those evil men" but that's really not it at all. Empowering women to take control of their own safety, while also informing them of real dangers and reminding them it's not their fault no matter what anyone says, is a far cry from playing the permanent victim. To deny that women are often victims is actually just another way of ignoring the very real suffering of far too women.

And I don't really see how that is empowering in any way at all.


  1. This deserves one hell of a slow clap. I may even repost parts of it on my blog. Because I hate when people tell me I'm playing the victim. I think that by speaking out, I'm REFUSING to play the victim. I'm putting a face to the faceless "1 in 4 women." I'm saying that we're not just statistics, we're people that you know and care about.

    I think being a feminist is one of the most empowering things you can be, as a woman. In fact, I can't wrap my head around women that *aren't* feminists, but that's just me.

  2. This is a beautiful post and I truly appreciate you for making it. I encounter so many people who label me a man hater (I am a man) and a traitor to the male sex because I am a feminist and I use all my resources to fight for the right of all women and all humnans to have their dignity and humanity recognized. I think anyone who dismisses feminism as man hating clearly are missing the point. Feminism grew out of something, reacted to something, responded to something, let's not pretend society is a Utopia. In a country that prides itself on "We hold these truths to be self evident that all are created equal" yet women and blacks couldn't vote for ages is quite troubling and proof that feminism isn't just about victimhood its about challenging the status quo and reality.

    I hate to bring up intersectionality but I experience similar ignorant push back as a proud openly gay man who fights for gay rights. They tell me that I am just playing the victim and need to stop trying to tarnish society with my evil evil way of life.


    Feminism is a wise loving politics rooted in a love of male and female being but simply refusing to privilege one over the other.

  3. Thanks you guys!

    Brit: "I'm saying that we're not just statistics, we're people that you know and care about." This exactly! A thousand times. Every time we tell people what happened to us we are challenging people's perceptions of rape and rape victims.

    antiintellect: I totally agree with the parallel between women's right and gay rights. Because really we're all fighting for the same thing. To be treated like human beings regardless of our gender or sexual orientation. Equality isn't about gender or race or sexuality at all.

  4. I always thought feminism was about equality. Why is that considered hateful?

    If expecting equal treatment is HATE...put me down as a supporter of hate.

    Great post, Alana !

  5. You have done a beautiful job of supporting your well-argued points with statistics. Sorry, I'm coming off teaching summer school. Just wanted to give you a thumbs up but reverted to my teacher talk.

  6. Hell. Fucking. Yes. I'm a frequent lurker but I had to comment to thank you so much for writing something that I feel so strongly about but could never articulate so clearly and beautifully.

  7. mac: Probably because to make it an equal playing field a few ivory towers are gonna have to be knocked down. And you know how much we love our towers. (The whole "all sex is rape" thing probably didn't help feminists too much either.)

    Star Mama: What can I say? I'm a lover of facts.

    Solangel: Welcome! I'm glad you de-lurked and thanks.

  8. I knocked my chair over in my haste to stand up and applaud this post. Bravo, Alana, this is beautifully written.

    Also--fellow commenters, you all rock, too.

  9. I think that this is key "Feminism isn’t about turning women into victims. It’s about pointing out the victimization that already takes place around the world." but I think that it's much harder to realize for some people and sometimes people who feel really strongly about feminism don't understand that. Sometimes you [generalized "you"] need to alter your approach and that can be hard to understand when you see something clearly and it makes so much sense to you. I believe it was the end of the last year when the blogosphere was talking about "every many is a potential rapist" and I just didn' I wanted to because I believe feminism is a worth cause. No, it's more than that. But I just didn't understand it and everywhere I turned, people where saying the exact same thing in the exact same way. Finally, I read a comment by someone who had the same struggle as I am and the commenter just explained it in a different way and I got it! The switch just flipped and I thought "Why couldn't the feminists have said it like that from the beginning?" Sometimes people get caught up in their passions and get into the habit of saying things in a way that makes sense to them but.. maybe doesn't to others. We're all human, afterall.

  10. Great post, very well written.
    I believe that the essence of feminism, just like the essence of religion, is meant to be a positive, empowering thing. Unfortunately, there are always those who will do ridiculous things in the name of feminism or religion, and will give others a bad taste in their mouth when they hear the word. There HAVE been militant feminists who HAVE been man-haters, just as there have been religious people who have persecuted others in the name of their religion, and have, in turn, given their cause a bad name.
    "Empowering women to take control of their own safety, while also informing them of real dangers and reminding them it's not their fault no matter what anyone says, is a far cry from playing the permanent victim." - I agree wholeheartedly with this. The only problem, though, is that there are feminist bloggers who think that advocating personal safety is victim-blaming. They shut down ANY conversation about the necessity of personal responsibility and villainize the person who brought it up as a "rape apologist," even if that person insists that a rape victim is NEVER at fault for the rape.
    I believe it's these feminists who set back the cause by shutting down potentially helpful conversations and leaving people with a bad taste in their mouth when they hear the word "feminist."

  11. Adriana: I actually regret getting involved in the "every man is a potential rapist" drama. Even though I stand by everything I said, I don't see how the conversation helped anything. The whole point is to remind women that you really never know where danger can come from, but all of that was lost. And you're right, it can be really hard to look at things outside ourselves.

    PandaDementia: Thank you! I totally agree that trying to prevent people from being sexually assaulted isn't by default victim-blaming and people can often be far too quick to jump to that conclusion. The problem for me though, is that sometimes it is. Just because someone has good intentions doesn't mean they can't also be insensitive asshat. (Whenever we focus on one individual victim's actions then I think we should probably pause and consider why that is. I also think any "tips" that have the word "slut" or "skank" in them are probably suspect.) I think it's important to just assume people have good intentions until you know otherwise though. That way if someone does say something that sounds like victim-blaming, it will be easier to explain that to them. Like you said, it keeps the possibility of meaningful dialogue on the table (though I know it can be really hard to stay calm sometimes and there will always be people who refuse to budge).

    And I totally agree with the feminism/religion comparison. (My whole attitude is basically that there are assholes everywhere. lol) Feminism definitely has a lot of flaws. I just don't think perpetual victimhood is one of them.

  12. I also think the reason a lot of people reject faminism is because of the way the movement and popular feminsits were/are shown in the media (which happens to be male owned and run). Just wanted to throw that out there because there's a lot of animosity towards feminism and there is no way it is coming from just a few of us on the internet (not that you said this).


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