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via moominmuppet

http://eminism.org/blog/entry/291
"Reclaiming 'victim': Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative 'victim to survivor' discourse"

The article discusses the rigidity of societal narratives around people who have been subjected to violence. I quote from it below the cut-tag.


Excerpt:
The society views victimhood as something that must be overcome. When we are victimized, we are (sometimes) afforded a small allowance of time, space, and resources in order to recover–limited and conditional exemptions from normal societal expectations and responsibilities–and are given a different set of expectations and responsibilities that we must live up to (mainly focused around getting help, taking care of ourselves, and recovering). “Healing” is not optional, but is a mandatory process by which a “victim” is transformed into a “survivor”; the failure to successfully complete this transformation results in victim-blaming and sanctions.
This is really useful for me right now because lately I'm very aware that many societal narratives don't accurately describe my experience.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/756612.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
graymalkin13
Jan. 12th, 2012 08:48 am (UTC)
I'm very aware that many societal narratives don't accurately describe my experience.

Damn right they don't.

The constant guilt and self-blame I feel are probably linked to this phenomenon somehow, although I can't point to any specific way in which I'm a victim. I haven't been subjected to physical violence since my early 20s, and I am truly over that. So what am I supposed to have become a "survivor" of? -- what am I supposed to be fine about now? Having cancer and the physical and emotional changes brought about by the surgery? I definitely haven't "healed" emotionally from that. But my guilt and self-blame go back farther than that. Having a chronic illness? becoming disabled? I don't know. In the end, it seems like no one really completes this transformation. Life changes us. Society doesn't want to make room for that.

I must read the entire article. Thanks for posting this.

Edited at 2012-01-12 08:48 am (UTC)
graymalkin13
Jan. 12th, 2012 09:07 am (UTC)
OK, I read the article. Wow. It's excellent.

Since I've had cancer and will deal with the after-effects for the rest of my life, the quotation from the oncologist was particularly interesting to me:

Whatever has happened, you can choose to whine and complain about it, or to profit and learn from the experience. Whining is not only unproductive, it also pushes away your support network. Friends and colleagues will listen for just so long, but then it is time to move on.

I posit that there is no way to profit or learn from having cancer, or any number of other horrendous events. (If you're one of those folks who feels "blessed" by having a serious health problem that teaches you the meaning of life, lucky you. I don't feel that way.) A doctor who suggests that there is is disingenuous and condescending beyond belief. To state that a person who "chooses" not to profit and learn from such an experience must be "whining and complaining" is ridiculous -- and condescending beyond belief.

The thing about your support network deserting you strikes at the heart of the matter (in my experience): You must "recover" and stop complaining (i.e. mentioning your problem) as soon as possible because your problem makes other people uncomfortable. It reminds them of their own vulnerability and it marks you as damaged, as having lost status, and thus risky to be around, since this loss of status is contagious.

(The larger political implications are quite interesting as well.)

The nature of a "support network" is an interesting issue. Seems like in society in general, a support network is a diaphanous and fragile thing, not to be truly relied on for fear it will evaporate, as the oncologist threatens. It's definitely a threat that victims must live with -- the loss of their support network due to their own unworthiness.

I feel fortunate that to have a real support network, where nobody is going to leave because one of us is complaining too much. It's a pretty small network, but I treasure it. (O hai firecat!)

Edited at 2012-01-12 09:17 am (UTC)
firecat
Jan. 12th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
I posit that there is no way to profit or learn from having cancer, or any number of other horrendous events.

You can learn that life sucks sometimes, and that you previously had no idea how much pain and inconvenience and indignity it was possible to be in. Somehow I don't think that's what the oncologist had in mind. Of course, the oncologist has a vested interest in not hearing patients complain about their cancer and the difficulties of the treatments the oncologist puts them on.

The thing about your support network deserting you strikes at the heart of the matter (in my experience): You must "recover" and stop complaining (i.e. mentioning your problem) as soon as possible because your problem makes other people uncomfortable. It reminds them of their own vulnerability and it marks you as damaged, as having lost status, and thus risky to be around, since this loss of status is contagious.

Yeah. I think there's one other, slightly less damning reason people don't like to hear complaining: They feel like they should be able to do something to make it better, and they can't. The "should be able to do something" is one of society's narratives that's unhelpful.

Seems like in society in general, a support network is a diaphanous and fragile thing, not to be truly relied on

Yep, that's definitely what the narratives around life difficulties told me. And there's some truth to it sometimes, and at other times not.

I'm glad we're networked up!
graymalkin13
Jan. 13th, 2012 12:59 am (UTC)
You can learn that life sucks sometimes, and that you previously had no idea how much pain and inconvenience and indignity it was possible to be in.

I already knew life sucks sometimes. It's true that I learned about levels of pain and indignity I had never before imagined, and I guess I learned that pain and indignity won't kill me. However, I don't think learning that improved my life. Or my outlook, which you know is totally negative anyway. ;-)

Of course, the oncologist has a vested interest in not hearing patients complain about their cancer and the difficulties of the treatments the oncologist puts them on.

Heh -- for sure. It's pretty risky to count a doctor as part of one's support network...

I think there's one other, slightly less damning reason people don't like to hear complaining: They feel like they should be able to do something to make it better, and they can't. The "should be able to do something" is one of society's narratives that's unhelpful.

Yes and yes.
firecat
Jan. 12th, 2012 11:18 am (UTC)
Yeah, being chronically ill doesn't fit neatly into society's narratives, that's for sure.
nancylebov
Jan. 12th, 2012 01:33 pm (UTC)
Neither "victim" nor "survivor" feels right to me. Maybe I can come up with something.

From casual reading of people who do pull together pretty good lives after some disaster, it seems as though a lot of them spend a year or two freaking out or collapsing first.

It's possible that part of the problem with the victim/survivor dichotomy is that it doesn't leave space for natural processes of healing-- it's all supposed to be a matter of choice.
firecat
Jan. 12th, 2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
I haven't experienced violent abuse and I don't want to speak for people who have. But when I think of bad things that were or are part of my life, it generally seems that identity nouns oversimplify my experience.
graymalkin13
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:04 am (UTC)
It's possible that part of the problem with the victim/survivor dichotomy is that it doesn't leave space for natural processes of healing-- it's all supposed to be a matter of choice.

Well put! And it seems like the dichotomy also doesn't acknowledge that "healing" can take any number of forms, depending on the individual, and people who go through that process don't necessarily end up in the same place.
nancylebov
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:40 am (UTC)
Weirdly enough, it was the movie Napoleon Dynamite which put me onto the idea of natural processes, and how much they get left out of the usual narratives.

The movie is about natural maturation, rather than healing-- but I noticed that it isn't the usual story.

Mild spoilers:

N lbhat zna frrzf hafcrnxnoyl hfryrff naq naablvat ng gur ortvaavat bs gur zbivr. Ur znxrf fbzr tbbq pubvprf gb trg n unccl raqvat, ohg vg'f nyfb whfg gung ur'f tebjvat hc.
johnpalmer
Jan. 16th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
One thing about the entire discussion that bothers me is how it makes "victim" out to be a bad thing.

Someone punctured my car tires; I'm a victim of vandalism. That's not a bad word. Should I call myself a "survivor" of vandalism because I had plenty of cash available to fix the tire, and a working doughnut-spare? No. There's nothing wrong with the word "victim".

People who try to play the "victim to (survivor, or whatever)" game are probably trying to use "victim" to mean something else. Until they recognize and acknowledge what that "something else" is, they're working from faulty premises.
firecat
Jan. 17th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
Yeah, I agree. I think the premises are "someone subjected to violence is broken, and it's that person's responsibility to become unbroken ASAP."
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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