Rewriting the narrative

Jael Goldfine at the National Women’s Law Center blog asks why it’s being treated as so disreputable to point out victimization.

While anti-victim sentiment has a long, ugly history in the American ethos, the last several years have been characterized by a new form of hostility towards victims. The idea that we are living in a “culture of victimhood” – which glorifies victimhood, encourages hypersensitivity, attention-seeking, and complaint – has become a mainstay within conservative thought, and the viral buzz-phrase has been wielded by liberal and conservative writers alike.

Yes. I’ve been watching that, with mixed feelings and thoughts. I often do see what the critics are getting at; there can be self-indulgent or self-obsessed versions, and that’s not a particularly healthy way to see the world. A decent politics is founded on giving a damn about other people’s problems as well as your own, so too much focus on outrages to the Self is a bad way to go. On the other hand…callous dismissiveness is not helpful either, and we do get to report injustices done to us as well as those done to other people.

Goldfine points out that the Stanford rape victim’s statement is a good place to look for why such things can be necessary.

But, perhaps, as believers in cultural victimhood would posit, by sharing her letter, she’s “playing the victim.”

My question is, why shouldn’t she?  The rape culture in our country and on our campuses makes victims of women. Why is sexual assault survivor bringing attention to her victimhood perceived as playing the victim, and not instead, as exposing the bully?

Because this is exactly what she has done: rewritten the narrative, revealing the bullies in the story, for everyone to see: Turner, who insisted the encounter was consensual; his father, who reduced her rape to a regrettable “20 minutes of action;” their lawyers who attempted to frame her as culpable in her own assault; and Judge Aaron Persky, who decided that the violation of a woman’s bodily autonomy is worth only six months in jail – the same sentence one can receive for stealing a library book.

This is the power of victimhood: to expose unjust power relations in a way that leaves the powers-that-be looking petty and shameful. To wrestle the public and moral narrative away from the dominant, default versions, which so often favor the privileged and powerful. To force confrontation with the violence women suffer in our society, and to disallow for indifference to the injustice of the systems that enable sexual violence, and protect those who commit it.

That also applies to the stories people are telling of encountering racism at the supermarket in the UK right now. We need to know.

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