Creative Destruction

December 8, 2006

The Quintessence of Victim-Blaming

Filed under: Blogosphere,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 6:02 pm

The comments thread of my previous post here on Creative Destruction has been completely derailed. I wanted to talk about Realpolitik in the Blogosphere (and why liberalism always loses), and for some reason, everyone’s talking about a flame war that CD wasn’t even involved in. I don’t mind of course. Quite the opposite: I’m really grateful for the opportunity to discuss this, and I’d rather it were on CD, where I have the greater audience.

But if it’s to be discussed here, I’d rather it happen in the comments, through the positive actions of the CD constituency, than foist in on them by way of posts. So I will continue only to raise issues arising which have wider significance, and leave the “sordid details” to the comments or on my own blog.

I maintain that I am completely innocent of culpability for what happened. Amp argues that I’m not. In particular he claims that two of my posts as they were written were inherently objectionable and also that they “galvanised” the attack against me.

I agree that the first post was rendered inherently objectionable by a typo, and I apologise to Q grrl and the other feminists for that. I disagree that the second post was, but whether it was or wasn’t is a “sordid detail” which I’ll take up with him in the comments. It’s this “galvanised” argument I want to focus on. This is not merely victim-blaming. It is the quintessence of victim-blaming. There are two forms of the argument – a forward, and a backward version.

Forward

The forward version takes the following form:

  1. The Victim(s) does X
  2. which galvanises
  3. the Attacker(s) to do Y,
  4. where Y is inherently offensive against the Victim,
  5. Y does not legitimately meet the Attacker’s needs resulting from X,
  6. and the Victim is blamed.

Counterexample: Suppose you were to physically attack me, and in the process of defending myself I hit you. It would not be victim-blaming to blame you for your own injury, because hitting you was a legitimate way for me to meet my need for self-defence arising from your attack.

If instead I beat you to a pulp, then the argument is victim-blaming. In particular it is an example of the “offensive victim” variant, which I’ll discuss below:


Offensive Victim

Example: “The Palestinians got what was coming them, firing rockets into Israel like that.”

In this variant of the argument, X is (or is characterised to be) an offensive act, while the disproportionate nature of the response is justified, downplayed, or ignored.


Stupid Victim

Example: “I heard that he hit her again. Can’t say I’m surprised, I knew he was bad news the moment I saw him”.


Unguarded Victim

Example: “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”

The victim is blamed for failing to protect himself. There is a considerable overlap with the Stupid Victim. The Unguarded Victim is often given “advice”. For example, on how not to get raped.

And vice versa. It is very difficult to offer genuine anti-rape self-help advice to women, particularly feminist women, precisely because it is perceived as victim-blaming. What distinguishes real advice from victim-blaming is that real advice recommends appropriate avoidance and response to likely danger scenarios, while victim-blaming “advice” tries to “prevent” the rape that just happened, and recommends stereotypical virtuous behaviour as a purported defence against stereotypical attacks.


Innocent Victim

Example: “She was asking for it, dressed like that”.

In this version the only objection to X is that it galvanised the attack. This is victim-blaming in its purest form.

Backward

The backward version of the argument takes the following form:

  1. The Attacker(s) does Y
  2. which galvanises
  3. the Victims(s) to do X
  4. where Y is inherently offensive against the Victim
  5. X is inherently offensive against the Attacker
  6. but X does legitimately meet the Victim’s needs resulting from Y,
  7. and the Victim is blamed.

In this version, the offensiveness of Y and/or the appropriateness of X are downplayed or ignored.


Equivalent Victim

Example: “I just caught the two of them fighting.”

Where the victim was merely defending themself.


Blamed Victim

Example: “Daran derailed the thread”.

This has a similar reversed dynamic, but instead of holding victim and attacker equivalent, the unprovoked attack is downplayed or ignored and the legitimate response is portrayed as the primary offence.


Little bit to Blame Victim

This variant exists in both backward and forward forms

Forward example: “Well, you must have don’t something to provoke him!”
Backward example: “I know he started it, but you were fighting too.”

In this variant, the blamer grudgingly admits that the greater part of the blame lies with the attacker, but still insists that the victim bear some of the blame. This is unfair to a wholly Innocent Victim because even a little bit to blame is closer to equivalence than to innocence.

Edited to typos, markup, and to clarify the backward scenario.
Edited to add internal links.
Edited (19 December) to further clarify the backward scenario, and to add the “little bit to blame” variant.

24 Comments »

  1. There is a great potential for the “offensive victim” (um?) and “equivalent victim” to be mutually contradictory.

    I think offensive victim is a plausible explanation sometimes, but out of all the victim blamings you present here, it is the one with the most potential to be victim-blaming in itself.

    The problem, specifically, is that it tends to overemphasize the power differential between the offensive victim and the victim of offensive victims offense, often concluding that someone who is less powerful can not truly be anything else than a victim if the more powerful one responds in any way.

    Comment by Tuomas — December 8, 2006 @ 6:26 pm | Reply

  2. There are some other victim-blaming discourses which don’t involve the “Galvanising” dynamic, which I will blog about shortly

    Comment by Daran — December 8, 2006 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  3. Bear in mind that any or all of the elements may be disputed.

    Edited to add: and usually are.

    Comment by Daran — December 8, 2006 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  4. it is the one with the most potential to be victim-blaming in itself.

    They all have that potential.

    Comment by Daran — December 8, 2006 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

  5. In this variant of the argument, X is (or is characterised to be) an offensive act, while the disproportionate nature of the response is justified, downplayed, or ignored.

    Therein lies the key word.
    [edited to add: And where the problem lies. “The disproportionate nature” must be established first. Of course, if one has already established it as disproportionate, then it is victim blaming. If not, then it fails. And as this disproportionateness is not so easy to establish, I suspect the whole act of denying the disproportionate nature becomes “offensive victim” -blaming by “justifying, downplaying or ignoring”, and we get some wonderful circular logic.]

    They all have that potential.

    Most others have minuscule potential or basically none at all.

    Others are recognizable — in the skeleton form — as victim blaming. [added: and thus wrong by most people, I reckon]

    Bear in mind that any or all of the elements may be disputed.

    Edited to add: and usually are.

    Of course, but rarely in the skeleton form in which I’m disputing the “offensive victim” framework. It is not generalizable as some others are.

    [edited for speling prolbems and clarity]

    Comment by Tuomas — December 8, 2006 @ 7:58 pm | Reply

  6. I should clarify that by “skeleton form” I mean stripped of cherry toppings and dishonest argumentation in the form of “I’m not saying they deserved it, but they deserved it because…”

    Comment by Tuomas — December 8, 2006 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  7. I maintain that I am completely innocent of culpability for what happened. Amp argues that I’m not. In particular he claims that two of my posts as they were written were inherently objectionable and also that they “galvanised” the attack against me.

    You know, anyone reading this would be likely to conclude that I had said that it was entirely your fault, and that the people who flamed you aren’t due any blame. That would, of course, be inaccurate.

    Comment by Ampersand — December 8, 2006 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  8. Amp, just admit that you are bad and evil so that Daran will be happy. Or satisfied. Or something.

    Comment by Robert — December 8, 2006 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

  9. “The disproportionate nature” must be established first. Of course, if one has already established it as disproportionate, then it is victim blaming. If not, then it fails. And as this disproportionateness is not so easy to establish, I suspect the whole act of denying the disproportionate nature becomes “offensive victim” -blaming by “justifying, downplaying or ignoring”, and we get some wonderful circular logic.]

    Exactly. I ripped into Radfem and ms_xeno on my blog, but everything I said was a direct response to what they were saying and doing. I didn’t raise any “blackface” claptrap or do anything remotely equivalent. I didn’t intentionally misrepresent them, and if I did inadventantly, it was always in their power to post a correction. I was not posting to an audience they couldn’t reach.

    Oh, and another thing. I never said they lied. I said they misrepresented what I said. I have a three strikes policy. Once is a misunderstanding. Twice is carelessness. Three times and you’re a liar. They’ve had their two strikes.

    Comment by Daran — December 8, 2006 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  10. You know, anyone reading this would be likely to conclude that I had said that it was entirely your fault, and that the people who flamed you aren’t due any blame. That would, of course, be inaccurate.

    This is a strawman. Anyone reading this would be likely to conclud that you “argue[] that I’m not completely innocent of culpability”. And that is what you are arguing.

    I believe I am completely innocent. If I am not, tell me what I did wrong.

    I’m not trying to get you to admit that you’re evil. That’s not the point. I want to know what I did wrong, and if the answer is “nothing”, I want to hear you say that.

    Comment by Daran — December 8, 2006 @ 9:05 pm | Reply

  11. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING COMMENT IS OFF-TOPIC, IRRELEVANT, AND DOWNRIGHT STUPID

    Um, sorry, had to know. How do you guys get that gray vertical line to the left of your cut-and-pastes from other posts? How are you including the smileys and such?

    Please show mercy on my computer-illiterate ass, but feel sorry for me ’cause my smileys look like this🙂

    Comment by ebbtide — December 8, 2006 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

  12. Whoa…the smiley transformed!!!

    Comment by ebbtide — December 8, 2006 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

  13. [blockquote]quoted text here[/blockquote]

    But use angle-brackets (greater and less than signs).

    They do not nest properly.

    Comment by Daran — December 8, 2006 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  14. If I am not, tell me what I did wrong.

    I told you, on the previous thread. You disagreed, but on what I see as unreasonable grounds. I think we’re past the point of productive discussion, on this particular question.

    Comment by Ampersand — December 8, 2006 @ 11:14 pm | Reply

  15. In this variant of the argument, X is (or is characterised to be) an offensive act, while the disproportionate nature of the response is justified, downplayed, or ignored.

    “The disproportionate nature” must be established first. Of course, if one has already established it as disproportionate, then it is victim blaming. If not, then it fails.

    Who decides the disproportionate nature? I ask because it can be rejected altogether or in part and that rejection could be viewed as justifying, downplaying or ignoring the disproportionate nature.

    Comment by toysoldier — December 9, 2006 @ 9:25 am | Reply

  16. Who decides the disproportionate nature? I ask because it can be rejected altogether or in part and that rejection could be viewed as justifying, downplaying or ignoring the disproportionate nature.

    That is a good question.

    The response must be based upon the needs created in you by the attack. It must not go beyond meeting those needs. Only you can decide what response you need to make.

    The response should be tailored to the attack. That means paying close attention to what the attackers are doing. That can be hard when they’re pressing the big red button marked “Do not press” and the red clouds are impeding your vision.

    Be careful with the truth. Don’t misrepresent them. If you find you have misrepresented them, withdraw the claim.

    Never underestimate the power of a tactical retreat.

    Remember that your attackers are human, and are probably reacting because you pressed one of their buttons by accident, or because they have conflated you with someone else who has.

    I’m not sure where I stopped defining a proportionate response, and began advising on how to make one.

    Comment by Daran — December 9, 2006 @ 11:29 am | Reply

  17. Daran:

    The response must be based upon the needs created in you by the attack. It must not go beyond meeting those needs. Only you can decide what response you need to make.

    This is IMO a very dangerous attitude. By this reasoning cops who are spit on can decide that the proper response is to shoot the otherwise unarmed spitter.

    Comment by Marcella Chester — December 9, 2006 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  18. Marcella has a point. It is more than possible to overreact to a small infraction or to take an unintentional act as malicious and intended. Granted, there cannot be a neutral arbitrator for every instance, but if left in the hands of the victim would he not portray the infraction to work in his favor, thereby making his response proportionate even if it were not, and vice versa?

    Comment by toysoldier — December 9, 2006 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  19. Hi Marcella. Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad I got here before Tuomas, who has a remarkable knack of pissing off the people I’m trying to talk to.

    This is IMO a very dangerous attitude. By this reasoning cops who are spit on can decide that the proper response is to shoot the otherwise unarmed spitter.

    I certainly agree that the police should never shoot unarmed spitters. In that scenario, the spitter is an offensive victim.

    But before we get into discussing the details, do you agree that I’ve capture the quintessence of victim-blaming with this post? I’m not asking if you agree that this is what happened to me, only if you agree that I’ve accurately described the process and some of its variants as generalities.

    Comment by Daran — December 9, 2006 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  20. Marcella has a point. It is more than possible to overreact to a small infraction or to take an unintentional act as malicious and intended. Granted, there cannot be a neutral arbitrator for every instance, but if left in the hands of the victim would he not portray the infraction to work in his favor, thereby making his response proportionate even if it were not, and vice versa?

    She certainly does have a point.

    This is a particular problem for moderators, as I am finding when I view these two threads on CD with a moderator’s eye, rather than as a participant.

    As thread-starting moderator, It’s my job to make these spaces as safe as I can for Amp, Marcella, and the other players, while allowing reasonable criticism of them. But what’s reasonable?

    My own criticisms of them are of course reasonable*, because I am a reasonable person. Criticisms I don’t agree with are by definition unreasonable, because if they were reasonable, I would agree with them. This is, of course, all completely circular, but it’s a circularity the moderator can’t escape from. His or her job is to decide which of these unreasonable criticisms are so unreasonable, that action is needed, and which should be allowed to stand in the interest of free debate.

    *Apart from the occasional snark, which, of course, seem reasonable at the time.

    Comment by Daran — December 9, 2006 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  21. His or her job is to decide which of these unreasonable criticisms are so unreasonable, that action is needed, and which should be allowed to stand in the interest of free debate.

    That is fine. However, this kind of renders your criticisms moot. If the (un)reasonableness of criticisms is determined by the moderator, and the moderator finds them fair, then the person subjected to them is in no position to protest.

    Comment by toysoldier — December 9, 2006 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

  22. I’m glad I got here before Tuomas, who has a remarkable knack of pissing off the people I’m trying to talk to.

    I suspect some of those people are permanently pissed off by me.

    Comment by Tuomas — December 9, 2006 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

  23. You may well be right, Tuomas.

    Puts on moderator hat.

    This thread has not been derailed. I would like to politely request that it remain un-derailed. The topic is the “quintessence of victim-blaming”. Please try to avoid referring to recent events. (I should edit the main posts, but I am exhausted, and there are other things I need to do, so I might take me some time.)

    Thank you for your cooperation.

    Comment by Daran — December 9, 2006 @ 11:33 pm | Reply

  24. […] very conservative family may have given you wacky advice, but at least they don’t blame other people for their own […]

    Pingback by Feminist Critics — January 13, 2007 @ 3:50 pm | Reply


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