Victims Wanted

I’ll try not to ramble on too much here; I’m really pressed for time. But in pondering the unrelenting claim by Feministe bloggers and readers that asking why victims and survivors of domestic violence stay is always victim-blaming, a few other why? questions occurred to me and I had to get them out of my head and on the page:

Why do they so desperately need victims and survivors to be offended by this question?

I’ve said numerous times over the past week, that I am a survivor of three decades of abuse, and I am not always offended by the question. I don’t believe it’s always intended to blame me. Doesn’t my perspective count for anything? If so, why is everyone frothing at the mouth over it? And if not, why not? Because it doesn’t fit their agenda?

Why do they insist on imposing this doctrine on people? Because where there’s no victim there’s no cause? The more victims they have and the more ways they can invent for us to be re-victimized (and brainwashed into believing it) the more stuff they have to rally around and shout about?

Why is it so difficult for them to think outside the box? Why, as so-called advocates for the abused, can’t they just be happy that I’m OK; that I’ve moved beyond being a victim and encourage other people to do the same? Why do they insist on trying to steal my agency; on telling me what to think, how to feel and how I should express it?

Isn’t there enough actual abuse taking place in the world? Do they really need a Victims Wanted sign in the window?

Now I’m braced for the onslaught. Thinking for one’s self and asking uncomfortable questions which challenge people’s thinking, gets you into very deep, hot water with these people.

Now let the frothing begin.

By the way, here’s another genius who admits to not reading all the material, but yet has the nerve to assume that I have no experience with domestic violence. Par for the course. Like I’ve said before, if it doesn’t line up with their preconceived ideas, it can’t possibly exist.

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17 responses to “Victims Wanted

  • Pipkin

    Lottie, come on. You’re making this huge artificial distinction between Group A: Angry Feminists Needing Victims and Group B: DV Victims. You’re totally ignoring the fact that feminists who are DV victims have told you that they are hurt by the question, “Why did she stay?” It’s great that you’re not hurt by the framing of that question, but clearly others are and would like you to be sensitive to that.

    “Why do they insist on trying to steal my agency; on telling me what to think, how to feel and how I should express it?”

    Really? No one has denied the importance of trying to figure out why DV happens. What people are criticizing– as Marcella did– is the framing of the question, which, to many DV victims, appears to put the blame on the abused/raped/murdered.

  • Pipkin

    Sorry, forgot:

    “Why do they so desperately need victims and survivors to be offended by this question?”

    I think you’re seeing people trying to explain to you why the question is objectively offensive to some people (as you have seen them attest on Feministe), and interpreting it as some kind of political campaign to make people feel offended.

    Here’s another voice telling you that I immediately felt offended by your initial “why did she stay” comments, before any supposed campaign was launched at Feministe to make me feel that way. Again, it’s great that you’re not sensitive to the question, but you should recognize that others (myself included) are very much so.

  • Lottie

    I am not ignoring that other people are offended by it. I am acknowledging that other people are offended by it. That is part of the purpose of my “campaign” – to try and empower victims and survivors by saying they don’t have to be offended by it. Is that really being insensitive to their feelings?

    I really don’t understand why this is such a terribly difficult concept to grasp.

    Really? No one has denied the importance of trying to figure out why DV happens. What people are criticizing– as Marcella did– is the framing of the question, which, to many DV victims, appears to put the blame on the abused/raped/murdered.

    That has nothing to do with trying to steal my agency – the point which you quoted above this response.

    But I do wonder how much of victims’ feelings are a direct result of being told over and over again that the question is inherently accusatory?

    I think you’re seeing people trying to explain to you why the question is objectively offensive

    It is not “objectively” offensive. If it were, well-meaning people would never ask the question (which they do) and I would be offended by it as well (which I’m not). The fact that it’s not “objectively” offensive is the very reason it’s even being debated.

  • Pipkin

    “That is part of the purpose of my “campaign” – to try and empower victims and survivors by saying they don’t have to be offended by it. Is that really being insensitive to their feelings?”

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Yes!

    “I really don’t understand why this is such a terribly difficult concept to grasp.”

    Lottie, it’s unlikely that I (and many other readers at Feministe) are stupid and have difficulties grasping concepts. The way you’re making your arguments is more likely the problem. Insensitive, arrogant comments like yours above start to stack up and make it difficult to give you the benefit of the doubt in this discussion. Just FYI.

    “But I do wonder how much of victims’ feelings are a direct result of being told over and over again that the question is inherently accusatory?”

    Golly, I’d say that being assaulted has a lot to do with my shitty feelings after being assaulted.

    It would be helpful and awesome if you could sympathize with those women who are coming from a different standpoint than yours.

  • The Difficult Questions. « Gary William Murning Online

    […] July 16, 2008 This is partly in support of my friend Lottie, who’s been getting quite a bit of flak recently for addressing very genuine and much-needed points in a debate from a position of experienced authority. I won’t go into the details here, and nor will I link to the website where all of this occurred (it’ll send them a pingback, if I do, and I really don’t need them bringing their shit over here!), but if you want to read more about it, all the relevant information can be found on Lottie’s blog. […]

  • Lottie

    The way you’re making your arguments is more likely the problem. Insensitive, arrogant comments like yours above start to stack up and make it difficult to give you the benefit of the doubt in this discussion. Just FYI.

    This reminds me of the whole “You shouldn’t have made me hit you” routine. It’s virtually the textbook definition of victim blaming.

    I am not responsible for other people’s erroneous inferences.

    Golly, I’d say that being assaulted has a lot to do with my shitty feelings after being assaulted.

    I know that. I was assaulted too. I never suggested that the abuse itself wasn’t the sole cause, only that there are other factors which compound the shitty feelings after the abuse (which doesn’t seem to be in dispute at all, by the way) and that maybe we could at least try to examine the idea of taking a different approach to helping victims and survivors cope with it, on the off chance that it might help.

    But you know what? You are absolutely right. I don’t know what I’ve been thinking. I mean, how could I even consider the slightest possibility that there just might be other, additional ways to help victims cope with the aftermath of their abuse, and all that it entails? I am truly warped.

    What kind of horrible monster must I be to publicly bare my soul about this for the very first time? To share the absolute horror of my own abuse, along with the progress I’ve made (and continue to make), hoping that it might, in some small way, help other victims and survivors who are out there wondering if things will ever get better. It’s so incredibly insensitive and unsympathetic for me to remember what that felt like and reach out in understanding to say that it can, in fact, get better, and that despite what anyone else says: it’s not you’re fault; that even when ignorant jerks do blame victims, those idiots’ words don’t have to be part of our reality. How dare I suggest the possibility that anyone would ever overcome that, much less that a dreadful human being such as myself could have anything at all to offer in the way of support along that road? I’ve been such a fool!

    I am a horrible, uncaring, evil individual whose sole purpose in all of this was to cause a shit storm and ruthlessly inflict additional pain on wounded people.

    If there is a hell, there is a very special place just for me right in its core.

    It would be helpful and awesome if you could sympathize with those women who are coming from a different standpoint than yours.

    You mean the same way you and all those other women have sympathized with me despite my coming from a completely different standpoint? Oh wait…

  • Mike

    Well, you’d be going to hell anyway: painting a target on your back like that is tantamount to suicide, and we all know that it’s a mortal sin.

  • Lottie

    I considered it worth the risk. And it was.

  • Lottie

    Pipkin: I’m going to answer this here because Marcella will more than likely delete my response if I post it over there.

    Someone who works with domestic violence victims and survivors made this comment:

    Many of them are not “victim-blaming” as we think of it, but are really curious as to what happens in DV situations.

    I responded as follows:

    […] Why burden victims further by drilling into their heads that they’re always being blamed, when you understand that it’s not true? That seems more like re-victimizing than genuinely wondering why?

    Your response:

    Lottie– again– what other force (not at all related to actual DV victims) is drilling this into victims’ heads? DV victims are telling you that your language is burdensome to them.

    You don’t seem to be understanding my question. I keep wondering why it is so burdensome (and don’t forget, I’ve felt it too) and people keep responding with variations of “because it’s burdensome”. It’s circular and doesn’t answer the question.

    Additionally, I would like to explore potential ways to help victims and survivors feel less burdened by it, or perhaps not burdened by it all, since we can’t control what other people say or how they think. That is never going to happen if we never even consider the possibility that it can.

    But I’m sure you’ll tell me how insensitive and unsympathetic this is…

  • Pipkin

    Lottie, I’m bowing out of this because you using rhetoric like “there’s obviously a special place in hell reserved for me” makes it difficult to engage in a discussion with you. I never said you were a bad person (I don’t know you, how could I possibly make that judgment?); I do think your argument and your style of approaching its critics are weak. That is not a personal attack! You posted an argument on a public blog; I criticized the argument. Now you say that I’m implying you’re a wicked person?

    Three last points:

    1. You said that I was engaging in “classic victim-blaming” by saying that arrogant comments like “I don’t get why you’re having trouble grasping this concept” made it hard to continue this discussion. Uh… huh? What in the world does my criticism of personal attacks during a discussion have to do with blaming a victim for a crime?

    2. You said, “I keep wondering why it is so burdensome (and don’t forget, I’ve felt it too) and people keep responding with variations of “because it’s burdensome”. It’s circular and doesn’t answer the question.”

    People have tried to help you understand the burden. They’ve said to you repeatedly that they find it burdensome *because it makes them feel that they are being blamed for a crime that they didn’t commit.* When people have said that, you have responded by saying that they don’t *really* feel that way– feminists have made them feel that way. Or you have implied that that’s not the right or helpful way to feel. Or you have implied, as you *just did*, that there is no logic to how they feel.

    Your response to people’s efforts to explain their feelings to you is what I’m saying is insensitive and unhelpful. I respect the fact that being asked The Question doesn’t make you feel blamed. I’m not telling you that you should feel differently. But you should, in my opinion, respect the fact that The Question makes other women feel blamed, and don’t tell them or suggest to them that their feelings are illogical/bad/not of their own accord. I don’t think you’re going to get much beyond where you are now in exploring subsequent causes of guilt after assault if you don’t respect that.

    3. “You mean the same way you and all those other women have sympathized with me despite my coming from a completely different standpoint?” Dude, if I hadn’t sympathized with you despite your different standpoint, I wouldn’t have followed all of your posts!! I wish you wouldn’t think that you’re being vilified when actually people are trying to talk to you and explain their side of the story to you.

    So, that’s all from me. I don’t know how to respond to comments like “I am a horrible, uncaring, evil individual whose sole purpose in all of this was to cause a shit storm and ruthlessly inflict additional pain on wounded people” except to say that I never said or implied anything about you personally, and it sucks that you’re putting words in my mouth like that.

  • Lottie

    Lottie, I’m bowing out of this because you using rhetoric like “there’s obviously a special place in hell reserved for me” makes it difficult to engage in a discussion with you.

    Sorry you don’t appreciate sarcasm. I sometimes find it useful in expressing my feelings. And that part wasn’t intended for you to engage.

    1. You said that I was engaging in “classic victim-blaming” by saying that arrogant comments like “I don’t get why you’re having trouble grasping this concept” made it hard to continue this discussion. Uh… huh? What in the world does my criticism of personal attacks during a discussion have to do with blaming a victim for a crime?

    My comment about victim-blaming was in response to a specific comment you made. You don’t get to rephrase and say you didn’t mean it that way. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me.

    2. You said, “I keep wondering why it is so burdensome (and don’t forget, I’ve felt it too) and people keep responding with variations of “because it’s burdensome”. It’s circular and doesn’t answer the question.”

    People have tried to help you understand the burden. They’ve said to you repeatedly that they find it burdensome *because it makes them feel that they are being blamed for a crime that they didn’t commit.*

    All you’ve done is define the burden. I know what the burden is. So all you’ve done is exactly what I said before: I wonder what makes them feel that way, and your response is “because they feel that way”. You haven’t answered the question, you’ve simply restated it using more specific phrasing.

    When people have said that, you have responded by saying that they don’t *really* feel that way– feminists have made them feel that way.

    That is complete and utter bullshit!

    I have never, ever said that they don’t really feel that way. In fact, I have said repeatedly that I know they do, because I did too!

    And I did not say that feminists made them feel that way. I said that feminists want to control the language we use when we discuss it (and they do) which I think might create barriers to finding new potential ways of dealing with it. That is not the same thing as saying that feminists made them feel that way! Not even close.

    Or you have implied that that’s not the right or helpful way to feel.

    No I have not. I have said and implied that it’s an unpleasant and unhappy feeling (and that’s an understatement) and that I wish we could find a way to help women heal from it and not feel that way anymore. That is not the same thing as saying that it’s a wrong or unhelpful way of feeling. Not even close.

    Since we can’t control other people and stop them from asking the hurtful question, I just wonder if there might be ways for us to learn new responses (in fact I know there are and will blog about that another time) through therapy or counseling or whatever so that other people’s words (which we can’t control) don’t hurt so much.

    Or you have implied, as you *just did*, that there is no logic to how they feel.

    I did no such thing. I said logic was lacking in the discussion we’ve been having about how people feel. And it is. But that is not the same thing as saying that people’s feelings are illogical. Not even close.

    When I ask “Why xyz?” and someone responds, “Because xyz”, that is not logical because the question has not been answered, it’s just been restated. But that is not the same thing as saying that “xyz” is illogical.

    You know, Pipkin, you said that the problem is in how I’ve presented my argument. I wonder if part of the problem could lie in your (in)ability to comprehend it. I’ve received a lot of flak and disagreement, but I have yet to see anyone misinterpret my words as severely as you have.

    3. “You mean the same way you and all those other women have sympathized with me despite my coming from a completely different standpoint?” Dude, if I hadn’t sympathized with you despite your different standpoint, I wouldn’t have followed all of your posts!! I wish you wouldn’t think that you’re being vilified when actually people are trying to talk to you and explain their side of the story to you.

    And if I didn’t sympathize with other people, I wouldn’t have followed this discussion as closely as I have either (I tried at Feminste, but Marcella kept deleting my comments). And I wish that you would stop acting like I’m trying to vilify or criticize others when I’m actually just trying to talk and explain my thoughts on the subject.

    Guess that road doesn’t run both ways, though.

    And I wasn’t putting words in your mouth. It’s called sarcasm. It’s not the same thing.

    PS – I know I’m being vilified by at least one person. I’d post the email for proof, but Marcella refused permission. And I can certainly understand why she would…

  • Mike

    I’d post the email for proof, but Marcella refused permission. And I can certainly understand why she would…

    Well, if you can’t refer directly to what she says, she controls the discourse.

  • Lottie

    Oh, she’s all about control. And you’ll be reading more about that soon.

    Stay tuned.

  • Anna S

    I’ve read most of the posts you and Marcella have made, and I’m wondering, especially with your response to Pipkin above, if you’re not talking past each other. You’ve said in a few spots that you’ve only been reading the feminist blogosphere for a few months, so I’m curious whether you have a background in academic feminism. My main background is actually in the academic philosophy of language, but I have a strong interest in feminism, and the two combined led me here. Phrases like ‘framing’ and ‘linguistic construction’ are kind of like candy to me.

    So I’m going to try to answer your question ‘why do they think it’s burdensome?’ from above. To be perfectly clear, the question we’re addressing here is “Why do victims think the sentence ‘Why did she stay?’ makes them feel that they are being blamed for a crime they didn’t commit?”. (Substituting the actual question for ‘it’ and Pip’s phrase above for ‘burden’.) Hopefully that’s both clear and accurate.

    Your answer to this question seems to be (at least in part) ‘they feel that way because feminists told them they should’, and you draw further conclusions that the feminist movement somehow needs to create victims to survive or have something to rally around. I’m going to leave aside the ‘create victims’ claim here (I consider it self-evident that as long as there is documented evidence [rape statistics, domestic violence statistics, etc] that women are in fact treated materially worse than men across a vast spectrum of paradigms in daily life, feminism will never need to *create* victims to be important or find rallying points). That leaves the ‘because feminists told them they should’ as at least a partial answer to the ‘why do they find it burdensome’ question, with the implication that feminists are increasing the burden for victims.

    I would suggest there is a far simpler reason than academic feminism that victims might think the sentence ‘Why did she stay?’ makes them feel they are being blamed. It’s the linguistic construction of the phrase, and the way we’re all trained to interpret language. (Wait, don’t run away yet, I wasn’t being at all sarcastic there.) Here, the subject of the discourse in which you’d find the sentence is DV, and ‘she’ is the subject of the sentence. English speakers learn from birth that the subjects of sentences are the tokens around which the discourse revolves. When a victim is the subject of the sentence, you’re talking about the actions/motivations of the victim. And what did the victim do in this sentence? ‘Stay’, which has a negative connotation in the context of discourses about DV. I think everyone agrees that it is better on the whole if a victim manages to escape successfully. The opposite of this success (and ‘success’ has a positive connotation) is if the victim ‘stays’, ergo ‘stay’ has a negative connotation. So looking at the sentence, the speaker is linking a victim (‘she’ ) to an action that connotes negatively (‘stay’ ) in the context in which the sentence token is uttered (a discussion on domestic violence). Is it any wonder that many victims feel predisposed to feel blamed, even if the intent of the question was entirely innocent? A negative connotation towards the victim is built into into the question at a semantic level.

    It’s still a step to go from associating the ‘she’ with a negative connotation to outright blaming the ‘she’, but I think the semantics of the sentence are enough to at least leave many victims feeling defensive at the outset of the conversation, not because feminists told them they should, but because the phrasing of the question places them in a negative space in the discourse to begin the dialogue. I would venture that even in the complete absence of feminist theory, the question would remain offensive to many victims, simply by its nature (because it links the victim to an action that is considered negative by its very semantics, whether or not the questioner intended the *question* as negative).

    This is why people suggest ‘Why couldn’t she leave?’ or ‘what kept her from leaving’ as alternatives. ‘Leave’ is a word with positive connotations in the discourse of DV, so by linking it to the subject ‘she’, you’re creating a more positive linguistic representation for the victim’s actions, even if you’re discussing the *very same actions* that you’d be discussing under the ‘stay’ question. This positive representation places the victim in a more supportive linguistic space at the outset of the discussion, leaving them feeling less persecuted (or blamed) when we begin to talk about how to help. The wording of the question in the particular context of domestic violence predisposes a hearer to find ‘why did she stay’ more negative toward the victim than ‘what kept her from leaving’, based merely upon the common definitions of the words involved and the subject/action relationship that forms the basis of English semantics.

    I hope that made sense (I have a tendency to go on a bit, and I was typing fast so this is train-of-thought rather than something beautifully structured), but maybe it’s a different explanation, or a different way of explaining, than others have tried.

  • Anna S

    I didn’t intend the smiley face there, they were supposed to be close-parentheses. Clearly I fail at wordpress.

  • Lottie

    Anna,

    Thanks for your comment. I fixed the smiley for you. It just does that when you close the parentheses after an apostrophe or quotation marks. I didn’t change the content at all, I just added a space between the word and the close-parenthesis.

    OK, now that’s taken care of…

    I’m planning to write another post when I have the time, attempting to clarifying my thoughts on the subject. I will make a few short points right now though.

    I’ve read most of the posts you and Marcella have made […]

    Actually, Marcella deleted at least a half dozen of my comments, so there’s no way for anyone else to get an accurate picture of how that discussion went. I suspect that was the general idea.

    Your answer to this question seems to be (at least in part) ‘they feel that way because feminists told them they should’,

    No.

    Many of the women I’ve been discussing this with admit to knowing that the intent to blame them is not always there. They say they don’t care. They feel blamed anyway. That being the case, I wonder if that feeling might be a direct result of the trauma that was inflicted on them – not that they’re flawed, but perhaps injured.

    I think that many feminists reinforce those feelings when perhaps we should be teaching victims and survivors different coping skills, rather than nodding along with their feelings of being blamed, even when they admit to knowing that it’s not always the case.

    When what I feel battles against what I know, I want to try and understand why; to find where the conflict lies so I can work on correcting it. I don’t enjoy feeling like shit and I don’t believe anyone does. That’s why I would like to work on realistic solutions (expecting the rest of the world to conform to what makes us comfortable is not realistic) with the goal being to help these women find relief from the very real burden of this question.

    and you draw further conclusions that the feminist movement somehow needs to create victims to survive or have something to rally around.

    I have drawn no such conclusion. I was asking questions, trying to understand why there seems to be so much of this “nodding along”. People who work with DV victims and survivors admit to knowing that the intent to blame isn’t always there, as do victims and survivors themselves. So I wonder why they keep acting as if that always is the intent.

    Is there some vested interest in not trying to help women overcome the feelings that many acknowledge as conflicting with reality? That is not a conclusion. It is a genuine (and I believe legitimate) question, and it concerns me very much.

    Basically, I was thinking out loud. It’s part of what I do on this blog. This is where I brainstorm and write about ideas as they occur to me. Sometimes they’re in the rough phase, but I believe it’s part of the learning process.

    As to how you say the language is processed – not everyone interprets the question in the same way. How does that and the fact that victims and survivors admit to knowing one thing and feeling another factor into all that you have said about what the phrasing implies?

    You seem to be saying that there is an objective interpretation of what these words imply. Clearly, that is not the case. If it were, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

    Thanks again for commenting.

  • A Few Clarifications « Rambling On

    […] July 22, 2008 There appears to be some confusion about the intent of my recent post, Victims Wanted, and I would like to try and clarify a few things. […]

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