You think I like feeling this angry all the time?
“Don’t you just think this kind of stuff always makes women feel like victims?” My friend’s father was scrolling through this very site after someone had mentioned that I wrote regularly at Role/Reboot.
“No?” I said, with a question mark, “I don’t?”
This is not an essay about my friend’s father, as he is neither the first nor last to level the charge of victim-creation at writers like me who try to change—and if not change, at least document—a culture that still treats women as something distinctly other than people (and even labels them as such).
The argument goes something like this; women only feel like “victims” about the wage gap, the glass ceiling, rape culture, street harassment, violence against women, the objectification of female bodies, paternalistic bullshittery over basic health care, and the attempted decimation of reproductive rights because feminists on the Internet whine about that stuff.
Maybe if we the Internet feminists (a loose network rather than a monolithic organization) stopped drawing red arrows at misogyny, making lists of violators, screenshotting the worst offenders, highlighting the headlines, retweeting the death threats, and sharing our own personal experiences, maybe these “problems” would go away. Maybe we are the problem, for aiming our spotlights in dark and ugly places, for spending so much time dwelling.
Maybe we like marinating in it, that concoction of rape-apology and women-just-don’t-like-science and women-are-harder-to-animate and girls-make-our-company-look-like-a-joke and it-was-consensual-by-the-end and maybe-she-shouldn’t-have-been-drinking and sorry-if-you’re-offended.
Don’t you just think this stuff makes women feel like victims?
You think I like feeling like this? You think I like feeling buried every day in headlines that could be tagged The Worst Thing You’ll Read Today, only to be trumped by the next story? You think I like watching Golden Girls to fall asleep because everything I read reminds me how little our country values female lives (two game suspension is the answer, by the way) and female well-being?
Just stop reading that stuff, you might suggest, and sleep easy. You say, don’t read about another botched sexual assault investigation at another storied university, another start-up founder who beat his girlfriend, another judge who measures the legitimacy of rape in skirt inches. Don’t subject yourself to it and maybe you’ll feel like less of a victim.
Does not reading it make it less real? Does not writing it?
I can see why a father of two daughters might want to pretend that this is all the product of the overactive feminist imagination. I can see how painful it might be to imagine that your daughters’ futures will not be shaped only by their intellect and drive, but by biases that you, their father, can’t fix. That they might make 77¢ (or less, if they are black or Latina) on the dollar because they didn’t ask for a raise when they could have, or they did and they were penalized, or they took time off that was granted to them but not their husbands.
I can see how horrifying it might be to acknowledge that your daughters might be among the 20% who have been or will be sexually assaulted, or the 25% who experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner. I can see how it could hurt to acknowledge that they have almost certainly been harassed when going about their business, that they may have been groped, threatened, or called “bitch” by a stranger for refusing to respond to “compliments.”
I can see why it might be easier to pretend it’s all in our heads. To make us doubt our own experiences, to question the credibility of our stories. We have a term for that too, gas lighting, and it’s its own form of misogyny.
So no, I don’t think “this stuff makes women feel like victims.” I think our society is still deeply, fundamentally sexist. I think the evidence—anecdotal and statistical—is there if you don’t bury your head in the sand, if you don’t refuse to read “that stuff,” if you listen to the experiences of women close to you.
It doesn’t cheapen me to address the uneven hand that women are dealt. It doesn’t make me feel less than to call attention to paternalistic and/or objectifying and/or discriminating policies, stereotypes, assumptions, and attitudes that have shaped and will continue to shape my experience. I don’t feel victimized by articles about shit that happens to women; I feel victimized by the actual shit that happens to women.
I didn’t build this shit castle, and if you want to spritz perfume in the form of the singular success of a few—look, she did it—and pretend it doesn’t stink, that’s on you. But I believe that only by pointing out the smell will we ever even begin to clean it up.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.