I also don't think that my thoughts on any of this have settled into much of a cohesive post, so this will mostly be a stream-of-consciousness response / expansion on the coherent, articulate thoughts over at Cara's post.
I've talked about the troubling rhetoric around the terms "victim" and "survivor" before. That post, though, focuses more specifically on the trouble with the word "survivor," and the implications of that term and the universal "healing process" that it implies.
Cara's post, though, focuses a little more on the word "victim," and that side of the rhetoric. It's all part of a similar discussion, I think.
A little excerpt from Cara's post, to start it off:
I understand the desire by those who have been raped or abused to use the word “survivor” instead of “victim,” to take the focus away from what someone else did to them and gave them no choice about, to something positive that they themselves have accomplished. But let us be honest for a minute: is there more to it than that? Is there really something there that has to do with shame, with constant admonishments either directed specifically towards them or towards women everywhere, saying “don’t be a victim”? Is there a desire to get away from that embarrassing, horrible word? I tend to use the word “survivor” myself. And I have to wonder.
And if it’s about shame, about stepping away from “victim,” is there any way for there to not be a touch of self-blame in the reasoning?
“Don’t be a victim.” “I won’t be a victim.” “Women always want to play the victim.”
The insult in “victim” is that victims are weak and helpless. Victims are whiners, attention-seekers, cry-babies. They want to dwell on the negative.
My first response to her post was a loud (out loud), "THANK YOU."
It's always unexpected, and so incredibly relieving, to hear other people making arguments along the same lines that I've been making...the arguments that I assume are n the margins, are unpopular. Of course, just the fact that the two of us (and some of her commenters) are saying the same kind of thing doesn't mean that it's not a marginal argument, but it does mean that I've got a little company here on the margins. And that's always a pleasant surprise.
Cara, and a couple of the people in her comments, put into words the other side of my problem with the rhetoric; they open the conversation up even further, beyond my old discussion of why "survivor" doesn't fit everyone and into why it is that "victim" is such a derisive term.
Lea, in the comments of cara's post:
There seems to be a time limit on how long people are comfortable with someone being a victim. It might just only be for a day, or a week, maybe even a few months, but it is never on the victimized woman’s terms. But I think that because so many women are not believed about their experiences with violence, that ‘victim’ becomes a powerful word of acknowledgment. It grants permission to be vulnerable, fragile, to feel ‘degraded’ if she needs to, to take time, to break under pressure if that is all she is able to do. Disparaging the identity of ‘victim’ silences us, it says “get over it and shut up”. People don’t want to hear the rawness, the complexity of violence, they want it in tidy packages that don’t challenge them, or demand any recognition or support.
This, I think, is another big part of why I have been, and still am, so resistant to the limited rhetoric of "surviving" sexual abuse and assault.
I risk getting too personal, too "lying on the couch talking about my mother," but I think the only way to start this off is to acknowledge where my investment in this whole discussion comes from.