Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Concerning Victim-Blaming

This has the potential to be an explosive and emotionally-charged blog post. The author is frequently misunderstood. Usually whenever I enter into discussions on subjects my goal is to promote correct and proper thinking. Often times when I challenge someone's reasoning, they believe I am challenging their conclusions. That is not the case. If you tell me the sky is blue because fairies made it that way, I will tell you you're mistaken. This does not mean I believe the sky is red.

Having stated that, please allow me to make myself perfectly clear on this issue: it is never, ever, ever someone's fault they were raped. Ever. Rape is the fault of the rapist 100% of the time. It's never someone's fault they are the victim of abuse, mistreatment, etc.

I am always in favor of rational discussions which move a conversation forward. Frequently, conversations stop before they get started because often one side is not interested in truth, only winning. A prime example of this is the gun-control debate, in which both sides of the issue are culpable. When someone suggests increasing gun control, the gun support crowd labels them as communist, constitution-destroying liberals. Likewise, gun control groups frequently paint 2nd amendment supporters as ignorant, inbred, rednecks who support child murder.

This attitude is not helpful. It shuts down conversation, it prevents progress, is divisive, and is harmful.

I believe the term "victim-blaming" falls, or at least has the danger of falling, into this category. There are people who legitimately victim-blame. For example, "well she should have known better than to..." is victim-blaming and not ok. It's implying that someone's choices are what led to their victimization. No, a criminal led to their victimization. Point blank.

Having said that, I have been in conversations when I suggested that people be more mindful of their personal responsibilities and was accused of victim-blaming. I believe this is incorrect and not helpful.

Humans are greater apes (hominidae). One of the defining traits of homindae (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos) are complex and difficult social structures. This means that, like us, gorillas have difficult and complicated social rules in their groups. If you violate these rules, it has consequences, fair or not. An easy example of this are the Amish. They live within their own microcosm, and have complex social rules. No dancing, no hand-holding, no watching movies, no wearing modern clothes, etc. A lot, in fact, just about all of these rules are arbitrary and have no intrinsic moral value, they exist just to exist fair or not (from our outsider perspective anyway). Are a lot of these rules absurd, unfair, and silly? Yes. Are there real, actual, harsh consequences for Amish people who break them? Yes. Why? Because we are a group of highly-evolved apes who puts great emphasis on complex social structure and rules.

I assert it is our obligation to be aware of these rules. Violating social rules can have tremendous and devastating real-world consequences. Being aware and mindful of these rules is not an implicit endorsement that the rules are ok, or good, or moral, or fair. In fact, most of the time they're not. But the rules are there. They do exist. And although it's totally unfair, there are consequences for breaking them. Being aware of these rules aids in our prosperity.

For example, if a woman decides she would like to have sex with ten different co-workers on the same night that is her choice to make. She should be aware that a potential cost for her actions are castigation from co-workers, mockery, and even potentially losing her job. Being aware of the potential consequences because of social rules is not an implicit approval of them.  And suggesting that someone be aware of these rules in order to make better informed decisions it not victim-blaming. We have social rules in place for promiscuous women. They're not fair. They're outdated. They're arbitrary. They're silly and pointless. But they exist, and violating them comes at a cost. Fair or not.

We can argue all day long the rules are not fair (and they're not). Violating unfair rules still have consequences. This bears repeating; suggesting someone be aware of these rules helps them make informed decisions about their actions. It is in no way victim-blaming. We can actively work to overcome unfair rules in society while simultaneously bearing the cost in mind for breaking these rules.

Furthermore, suggesting ways in which people can reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of a crime as reprehensible as rape is also not victim-blaming. Yes, we do live in a rape culture. Yes, our collective attitude about rape needs to change. We can admit that, work to change it, while simultaneously reducing our likelihood of becoming a victim of rape. Again, acknowledging the dangers of a situation and planning to circumvent the risks is not victim-blaming. It's not promoting rape culture. It's being smart, and aware of reality.

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