Saturday, December 13, 2008

On being a "Victim" vs. a "Survivor": part of a discussion

This is the bulk, and I do mean "bulk" of a comment I made on another blog, The Curvature, linked to in my blog roll. I decided to place it here, because I wouldn't blame the blogger one bit if she found this to be too friggin' long to accept as a comment!! So here it is, slightly abridged and partly revised:

My heart goes out to ... all the victims and survivors of rape. ...

I too am a survivor of abuse, “mine” happened when I was under the age of thirteen. (I am often conflicted about referring to “my abusers” as such. Do I really want to claim them as belonging to me?!)

I think “The United Rapes of Amerikkka” is uncomfortable with women naming themselves as victims because, guess what?: that means there was a “victimizer”. If all who are oppressed and/or not-so-individually harmed by sexual abuse and violence only call ourselves “survivors”, doesn’t that invisibilise the perpetrators, the oppressors? Who or what exactly is “the harmer” if someone is “a survivor”?

I think it’s part and parcel of the white male supremacist media’s systematic invisibilising of oppression and perpetration as both vicious and victimising that the political act of rape is being conveniently smuggled away from the realm of Womanist and feminist analysis of the atrocity as a form of terrorism of women as a class. When talk shows have rape survivors on, why aren’t they allowed to express rage, not just tears and fear? The tears, the fear, and the rage–all of it? Why aren’t there any feminist “survivors” (experts) of rape, putting each woman’s experience into a political context–as a way to empower each woman by speaking truth to power? Why is it appropriate to frame up such atrocity as a matter of the survivor-as-individual who “ought to be sure to get good therapy”. Why ought she not learn how to fire a gun, so the next prick that comes along finds himself dead, not just deadened by his own inhumanity?

Sexual assault, as I understand and experienced it, was and is part of a larger system of subordination of women, girls, and feminised boys. It’s very politically strategic–and patriarchally correct–of perpetrators and oppressors to make it seem as if rape should be dealt with primarily or only in small sheltered groups, or with that apolitical psychotherapist, where we can talk about something traumatic that happened, anecdotally, again and again and again (but never systematically!?).

Never mind that “Take Back The Night” where I live has been almost totally co-opted by the language of white academic liberal psychology, not street feminism; and has had to be inclusive of male survivors, because Lorde knows, women can’t have their own spaces any more to speak out about crimes against women.

Who is served, and not held accountable, if we “survivors” all just ought to work (privately, quietly) on ourselves to get over it? Since when was activism and speaking out not a form of healing? Why aren’t women allowed to name political harm as such when on a talk show? How nice for the rapists, incest perpetrators, corporate pimps and pornographers, traffickers and abusive johns and child molesters if we just “move on” and put “that” behind us.

Why aren’t victims allowed to acknowledge that for many of us, living through sexual assault isn’t something one recovers from? Why are we being prodded by government and media to be only engaged in privatised processes of “healing ourselves” rather than going after the perpetrators and the systems of harm which support them? I’m sure perps love it that we are shamed out of calling ourselves victims, that we have all, let’s pretend, survived! We have not all survived, and the dead need spokespeople.

Speaking only for myself, parts of me survived, and parts of me have not. I was changed by being assaulted. It wasn’t an incident I can “get over”. The term “survivor” doesn’t address that complexity of experience, even while I use the term to appear “empowered”.

When discussing the subject in relatively safe environments, I will say that “I was sexually assaulted by a heterosexual married man who was also the neighborhood child molester.” And I name him, even though he’s since died. I think it is important to name what was done, which includes identifying the perpetrator–as at least being someone who existed.

We live in an era where finding and claiming empowerment inside systems that have little to no regard for women’s human rights or well-being is “in”, while calling out corporate pimps and other perps, as self-serving, very empowered oppressors of women, is “out”. Whose interests are served by this trend?

Let’s see: perps cease to exist in how we name our experience, and the fact that men pay women more to be sexually available than to do anything else isn’t questioned anymore, because, well, that makes women look like, gasp, victims of economic and sexual exploitation. Every woman I know, inside or outside systems of sexual exploitation, is a victim of economic and sexual exploitation. Does anyone know anyone who isn’t? And if it happens to “all of us”, and we make our way through it, somehow (or opt out of life instead), does what is going down cease to have political meaning?

Curious that the term “victim” is more stigmatised than the terms “pornographer”, “pimp”, procurer, and date-rapist. Curious that the only groups who now embrace the term “victim” are Men’s Rights Activists, White Nationalists, and other racists and people with privilege. Curious that talk of genuine liberation from white male supremacy has been generally replaced with talk of relative empowerment inside systems of economic and sexual exploitation.

That’s not the vision or goal I held to from reading and rereading Audre Lorde’s, Andrea Dworkin’s, Pearl Cleage’s, and Andrea Smith’s written work. They had or have a standard of human dignity, of freedom for women, that didn’t or doesn't include systems of gross exploitation and atrocity–genocical and gynocidal. Yes, we are all here now, and we all must find our way. And I fully support any oppressed individuals defining for themselves what they experience. And while this sort of necessary individualised self-naming goes on, I hope for women's sake that some of those, and other, voices are telling it like it is, without apology.

It has been a long, long time, that far too many women and girls have been permanently scarred, psychically, physically, spiritually, and politically by male supremacist violence.

For taking the focus off of them, and instead criticising feminists for what happens to women at the hands of men, white male supremacists thank us, audibly or not, from the bottom of their harsh cold hearts.

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