Girly Thoughts

May 20, 2008

Victims

Filed under: argumentation techniques,bias,Uncategorized — judgesnineteen @ 1:59 am

A lot of people like to throw around phrases like “playing the victim” and even “victocrat” to criticize movements like feminism, anti-racism, and so on. The thing is, you’re not “playing the victim” if you are a victim.

Scenario A. You’re in a class and you don’t study enough and you fail a test.

Scenario B. You’re in a class and you study enough but your teacher hates you and gives you a failing grade.

In scenario A, you’re not a victim. You’re just lazy. If I convince someone in scenario A that they’re a victim, they’re likely to think it wasn’t really their fault. That would be unhealthy because it would make them think that there was nothing they could do to get better grades, which is false. If they believed that, they’d see no reason to try harder, when in fact trying harder would be exactly what they needed to do. Since no one is actually victimizing them, they’d never find the reason for their victimhood, so they’d resign themselves to their fate of getting bad grades, which is totally unnecessary.

If you’re in scenario B, you are a victim, of your teacher’s unfair bias. If I told someone in scenario B that they weren’t a victim, they’d have to assume that the bad grade was their own fault. They’d study harder and harder and harder and never see improvement in their grades, which would likely make them feel like no matter what they do, they’ll never be good enough. That would be untrue; they would be good enough the whole time, they would just be in an unfair situation. Trying harder isn’t the answer, fighting the injustice is. They’ll never get good grades until that teacher is either replaced or learns not to be biased. But if they’re convinced there’s no injustice, they’ll let the teacher get away with victimizing them and probably others, while they beat themselves up for something that’s not their fault. And since they won’t find the real cause of the problem, they won’t be able to fix it; they’ll keep getting bad grades.

People like to say that you can’t solve anything by dwelling on victimhood, but the real obstacle to solving problems is misdiagnosing them. If the cause is not victimhood, that’s totally accurate, but if the cause is victimhood, then ignoring victimhood is just as bad as making it up when it’s not really there. This is closely related to the way people choose interpretations of discrepancies in successes in life, like wage gaps and glass ceilings and so forth. Is it because women suck at science, or is it because people in the science field suck at being unsexist? Is it because black people suck at analogies, or is it because the makers of the SAT suck at not being culturally biased? In the victim talk and in the caused by biology/caused by sociology talk, people tend to go in with assumptions about the real causes of problems that fit with their politics. I’m in favor of checking for decent studies and I urge caution in attributing anything to the inherent deficiencies of a group, because that can be and often is used to justify racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression, and clearly I think these oppressions are pretty bad.

But the victim talk can also go into things like (I know you didn’t see this coming) rape. Acknowledging that I could be a victim of rape tomorrow is not playing the victim, it’s facing facts. I can make better decisions and I can more effectively work against rape if I’m not in denial. Acknowledging that people who have been raped were victims of rape will help something; namely, it will help them not blame themselves, either for what happened or for being upset about it. That’s important in and of itself, but then, once they’ve accepted that they were a victim and not a perpetrator or someone who brought it on themselves or someone who’s overreacting, they can find the real cause of the problem and go fight it. (Obviously, non-victims of rape can fight it too.)

I know some people prefer to talk about people who have been raped as survivors rather than as victims. I use that sometimes, but often I find it to be suggestive of only certain kinds of rape (the nearly homicidal kinds) when I want to include any kind of rape. I respect the desire to take back agency and to not sound weak and pathetic, and this post is really not at all aimed at people who prefer the term survivor, those people are not the problem. But I do think it’s legitimate to call a rape survivor a rape victim. The word doesn’t have to have any implications for the character and attitude of the victim. In fact, if we really understand that a person is a victim of something, we won’t attribute their victimhood to their personal failings, but rather, to the crime of some perpetrator(s).

Being a victim doesn’t have to mean sitting at home feeling bad for yourself. It just means being on the receiving end of injustice. Yes, being a victim makes people feel like they don’t have control – because in that instance, they don’t. Yes, they have to take back control once the victimizing situation is over, and not feel like they are perpetually a victim in all areas of life. But that’s still just a matter of correctly diagnosing what is in our power and what is not. I think the people who refuse to see this and malign everyone who admits that some people are victims of certain injustices are just trying not to have to face the possibility that they’re supporting some of the victimizing, or that they’re benefiting from it, or that they’re better off relative to the victims through no credit of their own. We’d all be more comfortable if we lived in a meritocracy where you really could just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but we don’t. There are some things we can do, and I’m all for us doing them, but telling someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps while someone is forcibly holding them down is just setting them up for more failure and covering up for the crimes of the people who are victimizing them. If a victocrat is someone who’s on the side of real victims rather than on the side of people who victimize them, I’d be proud to be one.

In other words: skip the victim talk with me. Instead, you’ll either have to argue that the issue (the threat of violence, the difference in rates of success, etc) isn’t real, or that it isn’t caused by injustice.

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