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Feminism As a Victim Mentality Disorder
Feminism as a Victim Mentality Disorder
The feminist way of perceiving the world is both an expression of and an encouragement to disordered and irrational thinking. In particular, feminism manifests many elements of a victim mentality disorder.
In general terms, a victim mentality is a learned personality trait in which one believes oneself to have been harmed in a manner that is both undeserved and for which one bears no responsibility. The feminist victim mentality tends to ascribe negative intentions to men and to believe that men in general (or patriarchal society) are responsible for all the negative experiences of women.
Under feminism, women come to gain pleasure from believing themselves unjustly victimized by men. This belief becomes part of feminists’ core identity and worldview. As such, they lack empathy for those with different points of view and tend to react with anger if their stories of victimization are doubted, having learned to see skepticism or counter-arguments as evidence of further unjust victimization.
In the outline that follows, I reconstruct the typical story of how an individual white woman becomes a modern feminist, which is also a mini-psycho-history of modern feminism.
The average young white woman in the west grows up in a culture that tells her that her feelings about herself and her experiences matter. This average young woman is typically the beneficiary of school programs to help girls succeed—all the way from primary school to the post-secondary level—and she is typically taught almost entirely by pro-feminist teachers, many of them women, who praise her for her insights, her social interactions, and her verbal skills. She is told from an early age that she should assert herself, that girls and women’s contribution to society are worthy of special praise, and that boys and men have no right to make her uncomfortable in any way.
At some point, she is also introduced to feminist ideas of blame: she learns that the history of humanity is a history of women fighting for their rights in a male-dominated (patriarchal) society. She is also told that women still have a long way to go—that many women still face discrimination, harassment, and objectification. If she is explicitly introduced to feminist theory, these ideas are intensified ten-fold, but even if she never learns feminist theory explicitly, the ideas of such Second Wave feminists as Gloria Steinem and Catharine MacKinnon about women’s subordination are now so widespread in our culture that the average young woman simply absorbs them as uncontested facts about the world.
For many girls, the years-long immersion in mainstream feminist thinking has a two-fold effect: 1. It channels any feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, resentment, or self-dislike (which most young people feel at one time or another) into anger at male-dominated society, which is seen as actively and eternally biased against women. 2. It creates a powerful, heady, and exhilarating rush of euphoria, deeply pleasurable, at perceiving oneself an innocent victim of social forces beyond one’s control.
We live in a culture in which victim-status confers authenticity, moral innocence, and an aura of admirable courage for surviving. It wasn’t always this way, of course. There were times in the past, and there are still cultures, in which being a victim is a shameful thing, equated with loss of status and perceived weakness. But at least since the late eighteenth century in the west, a movement to elevate victims as objects of sympathy and interest has gained ever-greater traction and is now in full flower.
In our day, the combination of the two effects I’ve named—the creation of a legitimized target for anger and the outpouring of sympathy for female suffering—contribute to the development of the feminist victim mentality, especially the belief that any difficulty in a woman’s life, from disliking a big bum to an unsuccessful career path, is caused by a single malevolent source beyond her control, and that she is owed public sympathy and compensation.
Under the feminist victim mentality, sources of dissatisfaction, rather than being accepted as part of every life or seen as balanced out by sources of happiness, are eagerly identified, remembered, and magnified. The use of the word survivor by feminists is a good example of how the two aspects of the victim mentality are expressed in feminist discussions. Survivor is a term that was once used to distinguish those, often Jewish, victims of genocidal attacks who survived the camps or pogroms; it is used now almost invariably to refer to women who claim to have been sexually assaulted.
The word was chosen ostensibly to rebut the charge that women focus too exclusively on female victimization: but in effect it intensifies the emphasis on heroic female suffering. The idea of victimization remains part of the word—what is one surviving if not one’s victimization?—and to that is added a dimension of noble resistance. Survivors claim all the sympathy due to innocent victims for an assault for which they were not responsible while also claiming public admiration and deference for their alleged moral strength and courage in speaking out about the assault, in alerting society to the problem, and helping other women in similar overcoming.
No wonder that a website devoted to the stages of healing from sexual assault makes clear that it can take years, even a whole lifetime, to fully recover from a sexual assault. With so many powerful public rewards for victim status, it is surprising not that women emphasize their victimhood but that even more women do not do so.
But a significant problem develops for feminist women over the course of time. Their powerfully positive feelings are vulnerable to claims made by other women who identify as multiply oppressed, especially lesbians, black women, Aboriginal women, Muslim women, trans women, gender-non-conforming persons, and disabled women, not only that their suffering is far more severe than that experienced by any particular western woman, especially if she is white and heterosexual, but even worse that the white heterosexual cis-gender woman actually participates in the oppression of these others through her whiteness, her heterosexuality, her able-bodiedness, etc.
This psychological stage corresponds to the advent of the Third Wave of Feminism, when prominent feminists such as Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Gayatri Spivak confronted white feminists with their blindness to the impact of racism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism in women’s experience.
Psychologically, this is a shattering accusation, threatening all that the white feminist holds dear in her self-conception. Most fundamentally, it takes away her moral innocence and the intense pleasure she has derived from her victimhood. The threat has to be defended against in some manner. But because the structure of the victim claim made by these other women is so closely related to that made by the white feminist—actually identical in outline (another binary model of innocent victim and privileged oppressor)—the claim cannot be rebutted without at the same time threatening the grounding of the white feminist’s own identity. And that identity is far too precious to be surrendered.
As a result, an accommodation has to be arrived at. In the history of feminism, it was arrived at through the theory of intersectionality, which in practice has involved myriad complicated and sometimes incoherent calculations of degrees of victimization and complicity. In practice, essentially, white feminist guilt for white privilege or heterosexist privilege is acknowledged, even embraced. Since the deflection of responsibility is always the end-goal of the feminist victim mentality, that is achieved in this case by accepting and then renouncing privilege, through confession and contrition.
Confession involves public acknowledgement—the now-ritual announcement of one’s sources of privilege—and contrition involves attacks on the externalized source of that privilege, whether it be racist patriarchy, heteropatriarchy, western colonial patriarchy, Christian patriarchy, and so on. The white feminist reclaims her temporarily lost moral innocence by focusing with ever greater fury on white heterosexual able-bodied cis-gender male villainy and declaring her allegiance with its various victims: the non-western other, the sexually marginalized, and so on. The white feminist becomes innocent again by becoming a victim advocate for her brown and lesbian sisters—and even in some cases brothers.
This process of allegiance may involve the white feminist in blatant contradictions, but contradictions do not detract from the overall power and emotional resonance of feminist thinking. In debates in the last decade in Canada about the wearing of the Muslim niqab, the white feminist position in support of the niqab involves accepting ideas about female sexual purity under Islam that contradict the core principles of western feminism, but such acceptance is eagerly proffered in quest for the moral innocence required by the white feminist victim mentality.
Islam is by definition, in the intersectional feminist schema, ‘othered’ by the colonial west and therefore cannot be the main target of feminist criticism no matter how repugnant and barbaric elements of it might appear to be, or how much opposed Islam may be to the demand for sexual liberation in white feminist ideology. It is always most important, whatever the real issue, to maintain anger at white western patriarchy and above all to maintain the feminist identity as a blameless victim or victim advocate.
In its simplest outlines, this schema of feminist victimhood can be applied in every situation that we encounter today. White feminists march in the Slut Walk one day and encourage non-Muslim women to wear a hijab in Muslim solidarity another (but you can bet white feminist don’t try to shame Muslim women into walking topless in the Slut Walk.) Feminists fuss about a male astrophysicist who wears an inappropriate shirt—seeing his transgression as symbolic of discrimination against women in STEM—but stay silent out of multicultural deference if Swedish girls are attacked by Arab migrants at a music festival. Though one might have expected to find disagreement amongst white feminists over such issues, in practice the degree of uniformity is striking.
Though we are accustomed to saying that feminism is about female supremacism, events such as the Rotherham scandal, in which British girls were allowed to be sexually abused for decades by (mainly) Pakistani men, suggest that what feminism is primarily about is the feminist victim fantasy—a fantasy that has not that much to do with ordinary women’s lives. It is about a psychology, an orientation towards the world having to do with claimed innocence, rather than reality. As a mental disorder, it cannot be argued with, only defeated—but given its hold on western society today, it seems that only a crisis of massive portions, perhaps one that will destroy the society that gave feminism root, can ever dislodge it.