Updated: Mar 12
Don’t blame the victim? Don’t BE the victim
Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash
Blame my anti-feminist mother for my belief that women are far more in control than many of today’s feminists would have you believe.
That women in 2022 are not necessarily helpless victims of ‘the patriarchy’ and the smart ones define how they will allow others to treat them, particularly men.
“Never let a man hit you! The first time he hits you should be his last! Leave him, right then and there!”
“Never let a man control you, tell you what to do, or who you can associate with.”
“Be very careful when a boy tells you he loves you when he’s pushing you for sex. They’ll say anything to get what they want. Take full responsibility for birth control; if you get pregnant he can walk right out on you.”
“Don’t EVER let a man abuse or hit you. Did I mention this? My ex-husband never hit me and neither has your father. If he hits you once he’ll hit you again, regardless of what he says. Oh, he’ll apologize and try to make it up to you and swear it will never happen again, but it will!”
I wish more women had grown up with my ‘anti-feminist’ mother.
I’m mystified as to where she got her strong, empowering, personally responsible First Wave Feminist beliefs, because she was born during the Depression and got married after the war. She never seemed to have gotten any of this from my grandmother (who died before I was born), nor did my mom ever read much feminist literature, except maybe when I was in college and bringing books home.
Still, my mother who used to rage about ‘those damn women’s libbers!’ was one of the most feminist women I’ve ever known.
She taught me to be authentic to myself, to be personally responsible for my life and safety, and never, ever, to be a victim.
It’s her fault I believe women have more say in whether they’re abused than they think.
Because I decided never to let a man treat me that way.
Because I paid attention to misogyny in boys and men — even though that word wasn’t in common use when I was young — and identified early on who some of the high-risk guys were.
Military men. Athletes. Lawyers. Men from certain cultures and religions. Republican conservative men. Any culture, in other words, dominated by men and particularly an exaggerated sense of masculinity. While not all members of the aforementioned groups are necessarily abusers or misogynists, the smart woman approaches them with caution.
She also is careful not to let herself be led astray by her hormones if she’s unfortunate enough to be attracted to ‘bad boys’ and hyper-masculine men.
There’s still a part of me that thinks Adrian was out of her ever-lovin’ mind for falling in love with Rocky. He was a big dumb palooka whose thing was beating the crap out of other men. Why on earth didn’t she think he might turn on her when he gets angry?
The reason why he didn’t is because it’s fiction and Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay.
To my knowledge, he is not nor has ever been a physical abuser of women, and he’s famous for his hyper-masculine movie characters. So for sure, hyper-masculine doesn’t necessarily mean ‘abuser’.
I wonder, though, how Rocky would fare in real life. I went out with a guy once who told me he liked to box. I went very much on my guard immediately. It wasn’t a deal-killer but my red flags went up.
We wound up not going out again, though, because he was immature and turned things I said into double entendres for sex. He said he hadn’t been laid for over a year. I knew why.
Some women figure out misogynist identification for themselves. I did too. I figured out on my own that homophobia is a red flag for potential misogyny. Not the sort of garden-variety homophobia from men who are okay with gay guys but don’t want a man looking at him at the urinal, but the kind of vicious, defensive homophobia that indicates a severe underlying insecurity, and hostility to women.
(Add that to the Danger List, ladies!)
Mom raised me to believe that I am in control of my life. That I decide who gets to spend time with me. That I should never allow a man to mistreat or abuse me. That the sooner I get out of a bad relationship the better.
I don’t know how well that works, personally, because I’ve never been abused in a relationship. I’m not attracted to misogynist men, and they‘re not much attracted to me.
Not all mothers (or fathers) teach their daughters not to be victims. Maybe they don’t realize they have (or had) a choice.
I don’t fault them for that.
But I think feminism fails women when it mindlessly recites the mantra, “Don’t blame the victim!”
There’s a place for that, certainly. Blaming women for the way they’re treated by how they dress, what they were doing, or whether they had the audacity to do it without a man around in a public place where any guy could just walk up to her and proposition her — it’s not harassment, man, she was just standing there lookin’ all hot and alone! — has been women’s lives since forever.
Feminism challenged the notion that women are not responsible for their own victimhood, and that was a very empowering and important notion.
But at some point, we need to recognize that while inequality exists, and men are still more physically powerful than us and that women must still, unfairly, be hyper-vigilant about the potential threat men pose, we also, in 2019, have more choices than your mama did, and, like my mother taught me, we too can decide who gets to spend time with us.
Like it or not, victimhood stops with the image in the mirror.
Like it or not, when a woman returns to an abusive man, especially early in a relationship before it’s gotten complicated by marriage and children, she gives him tacit permission in his Neanderthal brain that it’s okay to hit her again. He may not think that, consciously, and may even be genuinely sorry he hit her.
But he will get emotionally triggered one day and he will lash out and it will be a little easier this time.
The more she returns, as feminists well know, the harder it is to leave. Because at some point the choice really is removed. She’s so beaten down, or so legitimately scared for her life, or the safety of her children, that she doesn’t dare leave.
But she has choice at the beginning.
She has choice when she’s approached by the guy for the first time and he buys her a drink.
She has choice the first time she has sex with him, an act which imprints on the controlling, misogynist male’s mind that she is now his property and he owns her.
She has choice the first time he puts her down in public and she lets him.
She has choice the first time he tells her what to wear or demands to know who she’s been with (I went out with my girlfriends tonight, I already told you that!) and she allows him to get away with that behaviour.
She has choice the first time he hits her.
She may not realize along the way she has these choices, which is where we must work harder to make sure she understands that she should never let a man treat her this way.
Feminists are telling ‘good men’ they need to stand up to sexism, misogyny, and other expressions of ‘toxic masculinity’ more, that men need to be allies for women rather than just lip-service-paying ‘feminists’. I agree.
I also think what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. We need to challenge ourselves, each other, to make the right choices in life and decide not to be victims.
We need to challenge our friend when she gets involved with a man who sets off our Bastard Detector.
We need to remind her that she can do better than that guy. That she deserves a decent man in her life, one who will treat her better. We need to make it clear by our own actions and choices that we decide not to let anyone who mistreats us into our lives.
“Don’t blame the victim” has its place.
But now our new, complementary rallying cry should be:
“DON’T BE THE VICTIM!”
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