An Emerging Problem With "Intersectional" Feminism: The Scramble for Victimhood
A few months ago, I wrote Intersectionality is the OPPOSITE of Feminism. In it, I gave several examples of causes that are unrelated to feminism taking precedence over actual women's issues -- all in the name of "intersectionality."
One of the main criticisms I've received about the article is that I don't understand intersectionality. The thing is, I do. To me, there's intersectional feminism -- a good thing -- and there's "intersectional" feminism -- a bad thing.
I understand that race, gender, ability, etc. aren't separate systems. They are all parts of our experience, and they overlap. This overlap is valuable to consider when evaluating different systems of "oppression."
But many social justice/regressive types are taking intersectionality to unhealthy extremes -- both on a personal and social level.
More specifically, the emergence of "victim creep," or, as factual feminist Christina Hoff Sommers describes it, "the scramble for victimhood," is harmful to basically everyone.
On a personal level, the perception of victimhood is horrible for you. The healthiest people are those who feel personal autonomy and accountability. People who seek to manipulate the world around them, rather than passively receive whatever the world throws at them.
Victimhood encourages helplessness and disempowerment. And, while there are times when we are victimized or things don't go our way, victimhood is largely a mindset.
I know this from personal experience. Growing up, pretty much any time I complained about an experience or interactions, my mom would respond by saying:
There are no victims, only volunteers.
It taught me that I can respond to unfortunate events by letting others control me... or I can take control of the situation, my behavior or my response to it.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. A child can be the victim of bulling, for example. Moreover, there are systematic injustices -- from standardized test questions to restroom sizes. And obviously problems like physical and sexual assault.
But, in many other cases, "victims" are actually volunteers. As I wrote in Here's How One Pretty Woman Deals With the "Constant Stares" From Men:
"Just because I get checked out a lot doesn't mean that I'm so aware of what other people might be thinking about me that I notice or care. I don't constantly walk around thinking about who might be victimizing me.
I'm way too absorbed in the present to be worried about that. I'm way too busy appreciating everyday miracles -- clouds and birds and the beauty of imperfection and the kindness of strangers -- to concern myself with such things."
Much of the time, victimhood is a mindset. To me, feminism is about empowering women -- this means encouraging people to feel a sense of autonomy, accountability and control in their lives. And even "calling out" volunteers when we see them.
But the other thing that bothers me about the "scramble for victimhood" is that it causes serious interpersonal problems.
Victimhood should not confer status. It should not give you the right to trample on other peoples' individual rights.
It's pretty ingrained in SJW culture that the more "victimized" you are, the more valid your opinion and experience become relative to others'. Moreover, the more victimized you are, the more deserving you are of assistance and support. If you're just a woman, you aren't as stigmatized as a black, trans, disabled woman.
This can lead to some strange outcomes.
For example, consider this excerpt from the recent Everyday Feminism post, 3 Important Lessons From My Mistakes as a Thin Ally to Fat Acceptance Movements:
"Because of my thin privilege, I might not think about how I’m hurting, hindering, or upsetting others. I might get so wrapped up in my own journey that I forget that it’s situated within a much larger web.
For example, I might post an image of my stomach rolls or my thighs touching on Instagram for my own benefit of normalizing my body in a sea of filtered perfection – only to have someone else kindly nudge me to say, “Umm, Melissa…”
Because whether or not something is intended for a specific audience, when we share it in a public space, other people are exposed to it.
So if I post a picture of my hips with the note “Everyone has stretch marks,” who might that feel empowering to? Me, for sure.
But is it helpful to some trans folks whose last body woe might be stretch marks? Is it helpful to people of color who can’t easily hide the physical traits that bring racism front and center in their lives? Is it helpful to disabled folks who, daily, face ableist narratives around how their bodies look and work?"
I cannot stand when someone says their own experience doesn't matter, suggests that they shouldn't be able to express themselves a certain way, or apologizes for something they shouldn't have to apologize for.
Everyone is entitled to be body positive -- even if someone else is fatter than you. Even if someone else is trans and you're not.
And, guess what?
If my body positivity (or whatever cause or opinion) makes you feel bad about yourself, that is your problem. You should maybe work on developing other parts of yourself -- other talents and interests. You should work on recognizing toxic thought patterns and coming up with strategies to overcome them, such that the mere sight of me in a swimsuit doesn't ruin your day.
The only thing you should find upsetting about this photo is the size of that wave. :P
Just because you have more "victimhood" than I do, doesn't mean you get to encroach upon my individuals rights. I'm not not going to share my thoughts, knowledge and experience, just because you believe your experience was more difficult than mine.
Yet this is a growing trend in social justice circles.
Other examples of this:
Member of German Left Youth Party Apologizes to Refugees on Facebook After Being Raped By a Migrant
"It was only with the encouragement of a friend, who accompanied her on a second visit to the police station, that she revised her previous statements and told the truth: that her alleged attacker was a refugee."
Seriously? You're going to lie about who raped you in your police report to protect refugees? What's the point of filing a police report at all? Isn't the point of reliving such a terrible memory to help the police arrest the guy? So he can't hurt someone else?
If someone rapes you, it doesn't matter if you are white or black or bi or trans. The person who raped you is scum, and you have nothing to be sorry for.
Tips for Flying While Fat
"Sitting down next to someone and it’s super tight? Don’t pretend like it’s not happening. Say, 'Looks like we get to share a personal space bubble today!' Jennifer McLellan of Plus Size Birth has said, 'Hope you like cuddling!' Laugh about it."
So... because you are a person of size and I have "thin privilege," my bodily autonomy no longer matters? Because you are more oppressed than I am, I'm not allowed to say, No, I don't want you to touch my body?
What happened to no means no? What happened to yes means yes? I throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear someone say, "I hope you like (kind of physical contact)," because it implies I have no say in the matter.
It's not cute. It's not funny. It doesn't make the subsequent physical contact okay.
I get that being fat sucks -- people sometimes stare. People sometimes make remarks. It's easier for me to shop than it is for you. You deal with implicit and explicit discrimination at work.
But I have rights, too. Whether I have a condition like claustrophobia, social anxiety, or post traumatic stress -- or whether I am simply a person who is disgusted by unwanted physical touch -- I have a right not to be touched.
I shouldn't have to "share a personal space bubble" or "cuddle" with a stranger for hours and hours on an airplane.
Want to know more? Check out First Class Cabins May Increase Air Rage - But The Economist is Wrong About Why.
5 Ways Taylor Swift Exemplifies White Feminism - And Why That's a Problem
In which Everyday Feminism demands that artists' art conform to certain intersectionality standards. For example:
"Every love interest that Taylor has ever had — to my knowledge, both in real life and in her videos — has been a straight, cis, able-bodied, fit, middle-to-upper class, white dude.
And while it’s in Taylor’s right to be attracted to and date whomever suits her fancy, her ivory tower fantasy worlds aren’t doing much to push back against systemic oppression — which, like, is what feminists are supposed to do."
I don't think you get to demand that every feminist exemplify intersectionality in everything that she does. Taylor Swift speaks out for feminist causes when she feels like it. She even writes total major F@ck You songs about the way the sexist way the media talks about her emotions and love life. See also: Blank Space.
This song is amazing, and catchy, and super badass when you consider the context in which it was written. And then the music video video came out, and it was like, BAM! Rubbing dynamite in the wound.
Women are allowed to have feelings without being called crazy. They're allowed to date new people without being slut shamed or described as a "serial dater."
With Blank Space, Taylor tackled a feminist issue that is particularly relevant to her -- while staying authentic to herself as an artist.
Because, here's the thing about being an artist:
You do it best when you feel you're being true to yourself.
I started writing music recently -- and I'm totally into it. I think about songwriting all the time. Which doesn't necessarily mean I'm good at it... but I love doing it.
And the idea of altering my art on principle -- because if I don't I'm not "feminist" enough -- makes me really uncomfortable.
I usually write my songs with a particular person or experience in mind. It would feel weird and inauthentic to make artistic decisions designed not to enhance my art or make it more authentic, but to "push back against systematic forms of oppression"...
It makes me uncomfortable.
It's like, sometimes, for logistical reasons, I go by my middle name, instead of my first name. When I do that, I feel super weird every time I introduce myself to someone. And every time someone calls my by my middle name, I feel like a liar.
Try it! Go introduce yourself to someone using a fake name. It's weird, right?
That's how changing my art so as not to exclude or offend people feels. My art, to me, is as personal as my name.
My art is also my business. You're welcome not to like it. You're welcome to disagree with it. But you're not entitled to tell me what it's "supposed" to be like, just because you're more oppressed than I am.
And speaking of censorship:
Student at $63,880-Per-Year College: Mural of Flower-Gun is "Emotionally Triggering"
Your victimhood does not entitle you to censor art. Especially something as harmless as a gun with flowers coming out of the barrel -- an iconic historical symbol of the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. Like this mural, which was approved by the Pitzer College and later modified to satisfy an emotionally triggered "victim."
Examples like this make me question how authentic claims of victimhood even are. Like, did the girl who wrote that email also never watch movies and TV shows with guns in them? Does she avoid music that mentions guns and violence? Does she never play video games, and insist that those who play video games in her presence not play games with guns in them?
Somehow, I doubt it.
It's hard to argue against the fact that equality is important. It's hard to disagree that you can't parse peoples' identities.
But it's important for everyone to recognize that their rights aren't more important than other peoples'. It's important to consider the phenomenon of "concept creep" -- in this case, victim creep -- hurts everyone. Including those it claims to be helping.
3/25/2017 03:38:07 am
THIS IS GREAT
5/2/2017 12:04:35 pm
We'd never have won the Vote if the women's rights activists of last century had behaved like this! I can't imagine the Suffragettes wasting time whining about hurt feelings or tearing each other down for not being good enough feminists, they'd never have achieved anything.
9/19/2017 08:59:50 am
The feminists of olde had a HUGE advantage over the modern ones: they were actually unequal under the law.
10/23/2017 08:39:00 am
You're almost there. As soon as you realize that intersectionality was interested as a way to unify the "oppressed" under the banner of Marxism then you'll discard it completely.
12/13/2017 09:11:17 pm
What a great article! I've been frustrated recently as a centrist feminism with this very behaviour. I find it very aggressive and judgemental. I have seen feminist men being shut out of discussions online when trying to have legitimate debates. I am tired of seeing the word 'privilege' thrown around to silence people who have a different opinion. It dismays me to see feminism in this way as I truly believe in equality. It seems to be an environment recently where if you disagree you are told that you are not a real feminist. The Salma Hayek incident sparked me to look for articles. She seems to have been villified and depicted as racist for trying to encourage people to think of themselves beyond their colour. I feel that it was a discussion where she just had a different perspective but it seems to have become a 'you can't say anything if we don't agree with you or you are racist' environment. Rather than helping, I believe it is helping to reinforce anti-feminist ideology and grow ideas such as the red pill movement as many young men that I talk to have such a negative view of feminism but not of equality. Many women have become reluctant to use the label for fear of association.
3/1/2019 12:40:24 pm
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