FAQ: Isn’t feminism just "victim" politics?

updated 01May07

No. Women as a class are subjected to real hardship and oppression just because they are women. This is unjust. Pointing out that women are disproportionately victimised is accurate analysis, not “playing victim”.

Witchy-Woo on the “will you women just stop whining” subtext:

I think that those who would rather avoid acknowledging the global injustices that women face, those who deem themselves successful in the struggle, those who find it easier to accuse us of ‘whining’ rather than critically examining their own role in those injustices when we speak about them, are further enabled in their deliberate ignorance by the “you can help yourself” school of thought. Individual solutions for collective problems don’t work.Not everyone can help themselves. Should we stop speaking about that because it’s percieved as ‘whining’? Many, many women actually are victims – and many more still are survivors – should we, as feminists, really be saying “shit happens, get over it – I have” when, globally, the making of women as victims (and survivors) is systemic and political? I’m thinking, not.

I’m thinking the “stop whining” response is one that comes from those who’d like to close us down, shut us up, make us be quiet.

Read the whole thing.

Kevin T. Keith posted the following list from the UN about the worldwide traditions of impunity for violence committed against women:

  • Violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world.
  • It is estimated that between 113 million and 200 million women are demographically “missing.” They have been the victims of infanticide (boys are preferred to girls) or have not received the same amount of food and medical attention as their brothers and fathers.
  • The number of women forced or sold into prostitution is estimated worldwide at anywhere between 700,000 and 4,000,000 per year. Profits from sex slavery are estimated at seven to twelve billion US dollars per year.
  • Globally, women between the age of fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined.
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her. Domestic violence is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of region, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion.
  • It is estimated that more than two million girls are genitally mutilated per year, a rate of one girl every fifteen seconds.
  • Systematic rape is used as a weapon of terror in many of the world’s conflicts. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women in Rwanda were raped during the 1994 genocide.
  • Studies show the increasing links between violence against women and HIV and demonstrate that HIV-infected women are more likely to have experienced violence, and that victims of violence are at higher risk of HIV infection.

KTK (Sufficent Scruples) then analysed how sexism leads to inequities in healthcare provision for women.

Ginmar (A View From A Broad) wraps the whole issue up in a gloriously clarified rant: One Simple Thing

Society is based on the notion that women are things to be used up and discarded. Therefore, while it is possible to work within a framework of society, one has to be very careful as to how one goes about it. Feminism is nothing less than an insurgency in society, disturbing the very framework of our lives. You have to brace yourself for hostility and hatred when you’re an avowed feminist. You’re disturbing people who’ve never much thought about women except when those damned women didn’t do what they were supposed to.

There’s a lot more to read on women’s oppression. It really exists.

About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

6 comments on “FAQ: Isn’t feminism just "victim" politics?

  1. […] “Isn’t feminism just ‘victim’ politics” at Feminism 101 — my crude reply would be because women can’t simply stop playing it when they get bored, but there you’ll find a better answer […]

  2. The allegation feminism degenerating into victimhood was as I recall a tad more nuanced then a claim that women are not victims. I’ll speak briefly about Rorty’s argument that portions of the American Left degenerated into victimhood politics. (The man is a staunch leftist mind you)

    It is not bringing attention to people who have been made victims, nor is it striving against injustice which characterizes it as victimhood politics. These things are classic struggles, and not simply by feminists but they distinguish themselves because the central theme is not being a victim.

    It is when feminists get into arguments about “who is more oppressed” not only between groups, as Geraldine Ferraro did in the election with her comments. Or even between each other over who has the worst tale of oppression in order to give the individual feminist more credit than her opponents in an argument. When on another thread on this site you have posters getting into how some senses are more privileged then other senses, it might be time to consider that you’ve taken it a tad too far.

    The defining aspect of a person should not be that they were a victim. If being a victim is treated as such it denigrates the rest of the persons experiences. People do not remember T.E. Lawrence as a person who was raped and tortured in a Turkish jail, they remember him for the things he accomplished, harrying a far superior foe and even as an outsider rallying Arabs to his cause, and his assessments of the middle east.*

    Yet in feminism there is a strong tendency to define people based on how they were victimized. This goes so far to even insist to people who have led an otherwise fine life that they are in fact victims, they simply don’t realize it. This is victimhood, and its not to be denied out of hand because there are in fact victims, it should be confronted along the way just as the injustices and affronts to humanity should be. It may be a minor aspect it may be a result of people getting caught up in rhetoric but it should be acknowledged and renounced all the same.

    *If you object to me using a man, know that this is a result of having to read a slew of military history books. His example is the most forthcoming.

    • The thing is though, T.E lawrence joined the army. He was an upper class, privalidged person (The was the son of a baronet.) He embarked on a career based on principles of violence. He was not raped and tortured for being a man. Whatever violence befell him, horrific and condemable as it was, he was really as institutionally privalidged as a person can get and was a perpetuater of imperialistic, patriarchal class sructures and . He is really irrelevent to this topic.
      The point is, when establishing the reality of womens experience of violence, one if speaking a truth that is ignored, denied, dismissed and mocked. Identifying wrong and shouting about it, that it is unacceptable and abomenal and indefensible, is actually the opposite of ‘victim’ politics. Femminests do not reduce women as victims, they fight to elevate women as People.
      Excuse the dyslexia, spellcheck not cooperating.

  3. You’ve missed the idea behind the criticism by a long shot.

    The idea is that feminists will take a situation where they aren’t victims of an actual crime and will try desperately to turn it into about them and how they’ve been victimized because of it.

    That or that fems will make up/believe insane stuff to convince themselves that they are being abused by society or men or whatever and wala victims.

    They could also mean they could take minor trivial shit latch onto it and act like it’s caused them (or their gender) grave hurt.

    So yeah those are the victim politics arguments that I’ve heard (and no I don’t believe every one so don’t shoot the messenger, i.e. me).

    There’s a great example of that
    “Society is based on the notion that women are things to be used up and discarded”

    Such an extraordinary claim with no extraordinary proof, rape’s gone down over the years, as has assault and murder victims are far more likely to be males.

    To a casual observer like me who has never encountered such attitude would see such statement as a huge exaggeration or completely made up and I would then classify the speaker as paranoid, delusional or having a victim complex.

  4. There’s a great example of that
    “Society is based on the notion that women are things to be used up and discarded”

    Such an extraordinary claim with no extraordinary proof, rape’s gone down over the years, as has assault and murder victims are far more likely to be males.

    To a casual observer like me who has never encountered such attitude would see such statement as a huge exaggeration or completely made up and I would then classify the speaker as paranoid, delusional or having a victim complex.

    You said it yourself, you’re a casual observer, and a man, and if you keep yourself ignorant, you get to dismiss the complaints of women and furthermore, not have to do jack shit about them. There’s no self interest there at all.

    The trope really ought to be: Feminists have noted the horrible, numerous, and endless ways in which women are being victimized, and rather than getting upset at the notion that women are being victimized, people are upset at the revelation of it. So much for your ‘shoot the messenger’ complaint—it’s used against feminist Cassandras.

    And for society using women up and discarding them, consider all the unpaid work that would cripple the economy if it were properly re-imbursed. Child care, home care, cooking, etc., etc.,—-in poorer countries, such labor amounts to doing everything to keep people alive. So, yeah…try harder.

  5. All of what you say is quite right and needs to be pointed out, however, I can’t help feeling that you are playing down the very real problems associated with the idea of “victimhood”.

    Surely there is at least a debate here about how helpful it is to encourage women to think of themselves as victims. I haven’t read all that much around this subject, but even I am sure I’ve seen feminist critiques of exactly this issue. Wasn’t it Naomi Woolf who said that this kind of argument “urges women to identify with powerlessness, even at the expense of taking responsibility for the power they do possess” ..? (It was — I just looked it up.)

    I can’t help feeling that you are glossing over some very real distinctions between pointing out victimisation, and turning it into an identity. This is a more of a live debate than you are making out, surely?

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