Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blaming the Victim

When reading the articles this week about violent and victimized bodies, I was surprised at the lack attention given to the phenomenon of blaming the victim. Two articles in particular stuck out to me as overlooking this important theme. Jocelyn Hollander discusses in her article, “Vulnerability and Dangerousness: The Construction of Gender through Conversations about Violence,” that everyday conversations reinforce views of women as vulnerable to violence and men as potentially dangerous. She points out that though men are most often targets of violence, women fear being a victim of violence much more than men. She claims that this is because widely shared conceptions of gender associate femininity with vulnerability and masculinity with dangerousness. In her discussion, however, Hollander fails to consider that this fear of victimization is exacerbated by the knowledge of the blame that will be attributed to a woman if she is victimized.

Hollander points out that women who are seen as being at the peak of sexual desirability are considered the most vulnerable. She does not, however, consider that this may be due to the fact that society is likely to blame women for being raped because by being sexually attractive or dressed too provocatively they were in some way “asking for it”. Angela, a participant in Hollander’s study highlights this in her statement, “I have a feeling for these young girls, when they’re running, and they wear this little provocative stuff. And I make [my daughter] cover up.” This shows that Angela is not only fearful of her daughter being victimized, but also that she knows that society places fault on women who decide not to “cover up.” Women in this study also frequently mention walking in groups, avoiding sketchy areas at night, asking men to walk them to their cars, and practicing other protective measures. While these examples support the author’s point that women feel more vulnerable to violence, they also speak to the idea that women are required to take these steps in order to avoid double victimization. In other words, women that do not take precautionary steps are often blamed for any violence directed towards them. Women should not walk alone at night, wear tight clothing, travel alone, and go running by themselves, along with a multitude of other constraints. Women know that should they violate anything on this expansive list of restrictions on their personal agency, they are not only more likely to be victimized, but also blamed for their victimization.

Brent Staples article, “Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders his Power to Alter Public Space,” also neglects this theme of blaming women for their victimization. In this reflection, Staples discusses his experiences as a black man walking the streets of Chicago. He explains the multitude of constraints placed on him to give other pedestrians, especially women, a great deal of space so that they do not feel threatened by his presence. We see through the eyes of a young man facing the stigma of discrimination, and fearing that one false move might set off an altercation. Throughout the article, however, I could not help but consider the perspective of these women walking the streets late at night, clutching their purses close to them and crossing the street. Just as discriminatory beliefs create a societal fear of the young, black man, these beliefs also tell women that they should not be walking alone at night, flashing around their money, and talking to strangers. Women are not only fearful that they may be victimized by some strange man on the street, but also that they will be blamed for their victimization. It seems, then, that it is not just discriminatory beliefs about young, black men, but also sexism and blaming of the victim that is causing women to cross the street.

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