On being a ‘perpetual victim’

A recent trend of anti-feminists and violence against women apologists has been to say feminists treat women like ‘perpetual victims.’ This assertion is completely untrue and can be very damaging if we are ever to have a society where women feel comfortable speaking out against what bothers/has traumatized them.

The ‘perpetual victim’ trope is usually used to delegitimize women when they speak out against something they dislike or something that has traumatized them. I have seen it be used against women in all kinds of situations. Calling out abusive behaviour online, speaking out against sexual assault, pressing rape charges, any mention of street harassment, sexism or misogyny, etc etc etc – these will all warrant a “stop making yourself into a victim!” speech from someone.

In the real world, where we are all human despite how society treats us, we are all vulnerable to becoming victims. Despite this general vulnerability, actually owning up to the fact that someone or something harmed you is seen as a weakness. That weakness is not only considered to be a bad thing, but a ‘trait’ usually knit together with femininity.

‘Being a victim’ (or speaking out against the status quo) is supposed to be a shameful thing. But feminism gives women a safe space to speak out as opposed to being silent. When women raise their voices to say ‘Hey, I don’t like this!’, they are very much challenging the status quo of patriarchal oppression. They are challenging the submissive role imposed onto them that teaches them not to make a fuss. Because making a fuss means you are a perpetual victim, as opposed to a human being who wants to be heard.

The biggest current example I can give you of a submission to this trope is Emma Watson’s UN speech about feminism. Instead of centering women in her speech, she centered men, pandering to them. It felt like she was saying “We are really not so bad, we don’t have it that bad!” Bad Girl Dangerous’s Mia McKenzie has written about Watson’s speech way better than I ever could, and I really recommend you check that out.

In the context of a patriarchal society it means that masculinity is the winner ticket: so the less you act ‘like a woman’ (whatever that even means) the better. The less you complain about abuse, the better. You know that sexist joke you disliked? And that inappropriate sexual comment you co-worker made? Stop playing the victim and take it.

And then there’s the strong woman stereotype, which (in my opinion) is more damaging than helpful. Being perceived as strong often implies that you can or should accept abuse because you are equipped for it. The strong woman stereotype is extremely one-dimensional and it doesn’t leave a lot of space for humanity.

The thing about feminism is that it defines women as humans who are complex, not as one-dimensional robots. Feminism allows women to be strong and empowered, but also vulnerable and imperfect.