For they do say things, these anti-feminists. DARNED things! Things that sound very dismissive, and critical, and devastating, until you realize that they make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Today, we will be discussing my two very least favorite statements in the history of discussion about feminism. They are:
1. Stop playing the victim! And,
2. Why can’t you take responsibility for yourself?
I hate these statements, so much, you guys. Whenever somebody makes these statements, in the context of a discussion about feminism, I want to hit him or her in the face, with a dictionary, in the hopes that some knowledge of the English language and all of its many definitions for words will somehow penetrate that person’s skull. Because, in all the many years I have seen people employ this rhetorical tactic, I have almost never seen anyone use it in response to someone who is actually pretending to be a “victim,” or shirking actual “responsibility.”
I have, however, seen people use it (frequently!) on folks who are actual victims. Of, like, crimes.
For example: have you heard about this Double X thing? Ha ha, yes, of course you have, because I am slow. However, it is illustrative, in that two separate writers on that site combined their powers to create a near-perfect example of how this rhetorical tactic actually works!
Short version: Linda Hirshman, in the way-back-long-ago, wrote that women who don’t leave their abusers are bad and stupid and wrong, and we should shame them, because that is very helpful. Megan Carpentier, at Jezebel, wrote about Linda Hirshman’s statements, in a manner that basically amounted to, “um, FALSE.” Linda Hirshman can hold a grudge, apparently! Because then she wrote an article to the effect that (a) since current Jezebel writer Megan Carpentier and former Jezebel writer Moe Tkacik have both been raped, and (b) Moe Tkacik did not report her rapist, and Megan Carpentier did not report her FIRST rapist (important distinction, there: take note of it), that (c) Megan Carpentier and Moe Tkacik are personally responsible for the fact that their rapists may have raped other ladies, so (d) everybody who writes for Jezebel is a hypocritical rapist, Jezebel is a website for rapists, and if you read Jezebel you are going to get raped, and it will be your and/or Jezebel’s fault, so there.
Which, you know: this argument (Megan Carpentier didn’t report her rape, and is therefore responsible for rape, and also should not write about rape, ever) would not make any sense EVEN IF MEGAN CARPENTIER WERE NOT CURRENTLY SEEKING TO PROSECUTE HER (OTHER) RAPIST RIGHT NOW, WHICH IS SOMETHING SHE HAS WRITTEN ABOUT MANY TIMES, ON JEZEBEL, LINDA HIRSHMAN. But this is not the point; the point is that the “responsibility” argument is used in the piece, like so:
Given the high level of risk the Jezebel life involves, it is surprising that the offense that arouses the liberated Jezebels to real political fury is the suggestion that women like them might be made responsible for the consequences of their own acts, or that there might be general standards that define basic feminist behavior. Suggest that women report the men who rape them for the sake of future victims, say, or that women should be asked why they stay with the men who abuse them, or urged to leave them, and the Jezebels go ballistic.
Um, “responsible” for what? The crimes that someone else may have commited? Crimes committed against them, which were, pretty much by definition, performed against their will? Both, apparently!
Which, understandably, pissed a whole lot of people off – people like the folks at Feministe, and Feministing, and, um, Jezebel – and they wrote about how this was a really stupid move on Linda Hirshman’s part. ENTER THE BRESLIN – Susannah Breslin, that is – who responded to all of the criticisms of Hirshman (because Hirshman herself was… having a sandwich? In the bathroom? Crying about all the mean girls on the Internet? God only knows; maybe she was just so busy telling other women to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY that she couldn’t take responsibility for writing her own response) as so:
It seems to me that “feminist” sites like the aptly-named Feministe are interested in having it both ways. They want all the power their feminist foremothers promised them—and the right to play full-time victims of the patriarchy. Get over it.
“But, Sady,” you are saying, “you must have quoted this out of context! I even clicked through to the link to the Feministe piece, and it still makes no sense whatsoever! Especially given that the Feministe piece was not at all victim-y!” To you, I say: nope, it didn’t make any sense in context, either. And I read Susannah Breslin’s blog! I like some of her writing! This was still a weird piece: one that managed to address all of the criticisms thus far aimed at Hirshman and/or the site with a resounding, “no, YOU shut up!”
Because that’s how these conversations go, and I have been through them one million times (in e-mails, in blog comment sections, in real life):
1. Somebody makes a dick move.
2. You say, “wow, that was a dick move.”
3. They say, “OH MY GOD TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS STOP PLAYING THE VICTIM.”
This allows the maker of dick moves to avoid owning up to his or her own dickishness, or the fact that s/he is the aggressor in the situation, and to pretend that the real problem is that you object to the situation s/he has created. Now, there is something that a person who employs such a tactic is, very obviously, not taking – it begins with the letter R, and rhymes with “phlesponsibility for one’s actions” – but let’s avoid that one, for the moment. Let’s talk about what victims are.
Because the “victim” role is passive, isn’t it? I’m not speaking, here, about people who have been victims of crimes, like rape or abuse, since we all know that you can take every imaginable precaution and do everything that you learned in self-defense class and terrible things can still happen, which are not your fault, but the fault of the person who does the terrible things to you. I’m talking about what the word “victim” usually summons up. I’ve known people who actually do “play the victim,” for whatever reason: they’re reactive, passive, unwilling to do anything to advance their own interests. The world happens to these people, and they rely on other people to take care of them, and to take pity on their weaknesses. They define themselves as weak, and they live up to that self-definition.
These people tend not to be feminists. Because feminists – whether or not they have been victims of crimes – are engaged in continual acts of strength. To be a feminist is to be, on one level or another, an activist: actively engaged in confronting the problems of the world and seeking to change them. They confront injustices. They speak up. They refuse to shut up. They cause trouble. They take responsibility, not just for their own happiness, but for the betterment of the world around them. They also (especially if they are lady feminists) continually make the point that they are not weak, they are not passive, and they are not incapable of independence or self-determination. They are, in short, about as far from being victims as possible.
Because victims say, “what happened to me was fucked up, my life sucks, the world sucks, and there’s nothing I can do about it: I guess I’d better stay at home and weep and hope that some big strong person will come to save me.” Feminists, on the other hand, say, “what happened to me was fucked up, and I think I know why it happened, and I want to change the entire goddamn world so that it stops happening to other people. Also, I think I can do that. The world-changing thing, that is.” Which is a lot of responsibility to take on oneself, especially for a group of people that are supposedly so damn irresponsible.
“Playing the victim?” Hell, there are a lot of people out there who would probably like more feminists to act like victims: it would shut us up and get us out of the way, at least. However, when I look at my own personal life, it’s pretty clear to me that, if I am meant to be playing the victim, I am not doing a very good job – because, alas, when people act like shits, I continue to tell them that they’re being shitty. And that’s not “playing the victim.” That’s refusing to be one.