Why is there a dearth of research on the psychology of female victimhood?
Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels
A high school friend took decades to learn how to not be abused.
I’m not sure she’s yet worked it all out, but her Facebook posts are a helluva lot more take-no-shit than I remember her at seventeen.
She was a year younger than I, and I saw her life laid out after my first semester in college.
We shared an invisible coat of Boy Repellent. Neither of us had dates, fantasizing about guys who’d never notice us.
What I didn’t share was her firmly entrenched low self-esteem. She married it. I never understood where it came from. She appeared to come from a genuinely Christian household — the good, decent kind, not what passes for it today. Of course, you never know what goes on behind closed doors.
I graduated high school, then stepped onto a college campus in the fall. Total reset!
I made new friends, stat. I turned out to be attractive to guys (who knew?). My life turned around in one semester. It was a new world. With dates!
It’ll be different for Caroline too, I realized.
Way, way different. With lots more abuse.
Caroline wouldn’t go to college. She would likely stay in our insular, socially constipated small town, meet new people who didn’t know or remember her from high school. She’d discover she, too, was attractive to guys.
But — the wrong ones.
There’s a wall in many feminist brains when it comes to taking the next step toward eliminating Intimate Partner Violence (IPV): The holy mantra Don’t Blame The Victim.
It served its purpose years ago when we began truly addressing IPV. Women possessed a lot less personal and political power, less money, less education. It was easier to fall into and get stuck in a bad relationship with nowhere to go, surrounded by people who didn’t understand what it was like. A woman was especially vulnerable to IPV if she suffered from, as many women did back then, the pre-feminist hangover solution to all her problems, I want to marry a rich man.
Many asked, Why did it take you so long to leave? It was an unconsciously cruel question at the time.
A lot of women didn’t know any better. I might have been one, but I was blessed with a mother who was feminist before it was cool. She taught me at a young age never to tolerate an abusive man.
I get a lot of flak for scaling the Feminist Wall. I know why. What most women really mean when they recite the mantra Don’t blame the victim is don’t unintentionally cause the victim to blame herself.
When women learn from their mistakes, many engage in a common but unhealthy side response — intentional, avoidable, or otherwise. They start blaming and beating themselves up.
Why didn’t I do/leave/learn this sooner?
Why did I put up with this for so long?
What if I’d learned this when I was [earlier age]?
Why did I let him treat me like that?
Idiot! Moron! Shit-For-Brains!
I get it. I do it too. Not regarding abusive relationships, since I’ve never walked down that staircase. I do it as I review my life and ask myself why I never went farther than I did professionally.
Woulda-shoulda-coulda destroys one’s spirit.
This is why women stubbornly resist re-examining Don’t Blame The Victim. I acknowledge the dirty little secret they’d rather not.
Women have more power than they admit, or even know. Including the ability to Just Say No to abusive men.
Nicole Chardenet focuses more on women’s contribution to patriarchy. She’s got some truly blistering pieces. She could grow more into pieces from a problem solving perspective too, maybe she will rather than only screaming into the void that women need to grow some labia. — SC on Medium
SC made a killer point, although I’d been questioning it myself for several months. When will I stop shouting, “Grow some labia!” and offer solutions?
There’s a dearth of knowledge of the female sense of victimhood and in particular the role of victims in abusive relationships.
This particular field of research appears lacking.
I investigate female resistance to personal power. I’ve explored it for awhile already on Medium, a motherlode of information on abusive men, but fairly anorexic on the subject of female victimhood psychology. Not surprisingly, it seems fairly scant off Medium, too.
Public domain photo from Piqsels
Feminism has gone as far as it can go dissecting and blaming men and ‘patriarchy’ for its ills. I watch too many women hold themselves back, yet blame it on ‘the patriarchy’.
We don’t speak up; we’re afraid of what others will think. We don’t push ourselves. We don’t try harder. We don’t challenge ‘patriarchy’ so much as complain about it.
I’m more curious about the dense patriarchy between our ears than I am about the Big P in the world at large.
My interest in preventing IPV, despite never being a victim myself, is wondering, as my forward-thinking mother wondered many decades ago, Why doesn’t she leave?
It was an uncompassionate view grounded in an era of ignorance about the female experience, but it’s a question we need to ask our sisters as well as ourselves, and a helluva lot sooner.
Why do I (or you) put up with it?
Because 2021, sisters.
I’ve searched Amazon, the library, and the Internet for research on female IPV psychology. The only real source of information I’ve found is this article by Dr. Ofer Zur, writer and psychotherapist at the Zur Institute:
Psychology of Victimhood, Don't Blame the Victim - Article by Ofer Zur, Ph.D. Victimhood psychology, on the individual and collective group level, are one of his multiple fields of study.
He breaks down the stages of victim complicity in negative experiences spanning zero to 100% accountability, measured by the power to control, prevent, or affect situations:
Non-guilty/innocent victim — There’s no way they could have foreseen or stopped the abuse — children, the mentally disabled, surprise attacks by complete strangers (rape, rampage shootings, corporate greed, etc.)
Victims with minor guilt — Those who ‘could or should have known better’ with a little forethought, planning and consideration of their actions. Like getting raped after passing out in a drunken stupor at a party or repeated domestic violence after a few incidents.
Sharing equal responsibility with the perpetrator — A man who gets an STD from a prostitute or instigates a fight in a bar. Playing chicken or Russian roulette.
Victims who share more guilt than the offender — Being an active participant in an event in which one is likely to get hurt. Like drunks who harass others, people who voluntarily join cults, or an abusive husband killed by his battered wife. Or partaking in government insurrection.
Those who are 100% responsible for their outcome — Assaulters killed by their complete stranger victims in self-defense, people who get lung cancer from smoking, mercenaries wounded or killed.
I have issues with a few of his examples — he includes under #2 Jews who suffered under the Holocaust, castigating them for ‘not fighting back enough’, and under #5, ‘Citizens who collude by passivity in their country’s atrocious acts and get hurt by other countries’ armies (i.e. politically inactive German civilians who did not fight the Nazi regime and got killed by the Allied army attacks).’ The Jews were far outnumbered by the anti-Semitic Germans, along with the ‘politically inactive’ Germans. I’m not sure what they truly could have done.
As Dr. Zur points out, “Do not blame the victim has been translated into: do not explore the role of the victim.”
Women make choices; the descent to the Seventh Level of Relationship Hell isn’t a fall down a rabbit hole, it’s a slow descent down a spiral staircase.
Those who say, “But not all women CAN leave!” are describing only the smaller subset who’ve descended to the bottom, and forget the many women who can. Those who believe abused women lack choice at every step are refuted every time an abused woman ‘finally’ leaves her batterer.
It’s best, of course, to do it sooner rather than later, as the earlier you get out the less risky it is.
Victims have choice unless they’ve been kidnapped at gunpoint.
Why women stay is a highly complex issue. Some resist acknowledging their own power. My high school friend clung tenaciously to her low self-image, rejecting with a snarky remark any suggestion she was attractive or worthy of consideration. My parents commented on how she always slouched, embarrassed by her height.
I believe we, as human beings, collude heavily in holding ourselves back, and often we oppress ourselves better than any third party or parties can.
Sometimes they truly can’t leave, and sometimes it’s simply that they won’t.
I want to make something clear to anyone who’s made it this far without leaving in a fury after dropping an angry comment bomb:
And I want feminists to stop lying to women by teaching them they have no accountability — power! — after enough shit has dropped.
I want women to stop and consider what they’re doing, and who they’re doing it with.
I want to stop them before they step too far down that nasty staircase.
I want them to educate themselves before they ever get into an ugly relationship, or after they get out of their first (hopefully last) one.
I want them to stop blaming themselves, and to know the difference between making an empowered decision to no longer tolerate crappy humans in their lives.
I want them to stop beating themselves up for woulda-shoulda-coulda.
My ideas are highly controversial ideal for some women, even though the crux is I DON’T WANT ANYONE TO BE ABUSED.
Life is a long journey with no user’s manual. We have to make a lot of mistakes along the way. Learning from them makes us better humans and inoculates us against future mistakes. We may still make all-new mistakes but the more we learn the smarter we’ll be.
When ‘feminists’ teach women not to learn from their mistakes, they harm women. They teach them to stay victimized. Worst of all, they enable abusers.
I want women to take back their power and decide to no longer allow others to abuse them.
Working on the solutions, as SC wished. Beginning with growing some labia, as I put it.
I don’t have the answers, but I’m looking for them.
Have you got the labia to listen?
This first appeared on Medium in 2020.