Why do western feminists remain silent about—or even justify—the horrendous abuses of women when the abusers are not white men, while typically focusing on what a reasonable person might consider trivial cases of “sexism”?
A case in point is the complicity over decades of many feminist officials and journalists in the cover-up of the sex abuse scandal in Rotherham, Halifax, Oxford, Rochdale, Bristol, Telford, Rotherham, Peterborough, Derby, Aylesbury, Newcastle and other towns in England between 1997 and 2013, in which thousands of white underclass girls were sexually abused, often with extreme violence, by gangs of British-Pakistani Muslim men, an abuse ignored and denied for years in the interests of multicultural harmony.
I will argue that modern feminism is a social movement that attracts adherents who are vulnerable to or already possess certain severe emotional problems. In other words, 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 (VMD).
A victim mentality is a learned personality trait in which one believes oneself to have been harmed in a manner entirely undeserved and for which one bears no responsibility. Typical characteristics of the victim mentality include being unwilling to take responsibility for your own actions, ascribing non-existent negative intentions to other people, and gaining pleasure from feeling sorry for yourself.
Feminism manifests many elements of a
Victim Mentality Disorder (VMD).
Feminists with VMD tend to be self-absorbed, unable or unwilling to consider a situation from others’ points of view. VMD feminists are usually hyper-defensive. They react with accusations of abuse if you doubt their story. They tend to see skepticism or counter-argument as evidence of further victimisation. Such individuals create a great deal of conflict and emotional heartache in their roles as friends, family-members, co-workers, or employers. When they make up a significant interest group with power to influence laws and public policy, they are extremely dangerous.
How does a woman fall prey to feminist VMD? Here is a thumbnail sketch of feminist psycho-social development.
The average western woman grows up in a culture that tells her that her feelings about herself and her experiences matter very much. This has been the case for the past 40 years under the reign of Second Wave Feminism. This average young woman typically benefits from school programs to help girls succeed—all the way from primary school to the post-secondary level. Her teachers are almost entirely pro-feminist, many of them women, who praise her for her insights, her social interactions, and her verbal skills. From an early age they tell her that she should assert herself, that girls and women’s contributions to society are worthy of special praise, and that boys and men have no right to make her uncomfortable.
At some point, she is 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 society. She is told that women still have a long way to go—that many western 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 Catherine MacKinnon about women’s subordination are now so widespread in our culture that the average young woman simply absorbs them as uncontested facts.
For many girls, the immersion for decades in mainstream feminist thinking has a two-fold effect. First, 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. Second, 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 these two effects—the creation of a legitimised 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 one’s large rump to a failing grade in Math, is caused by a single malevolent source beyond her control, and that she is owed public sympathy and compensation.
Under the feminist VMD, 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 VMD 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 Holocaust, camps or pogroms; it is used now almost invariably to refer to women who claim to have been sexually assaulted or harassed.
We live in a culture in which victim-status confers authenticity, moral innocence, and an aura of admirable courage for surviving.
The word was chosen ostensibly to rebut the charge that women revel in their victimisation. But, in effect, it intensifies the emphasis on heroic female suffering. The idea of victimisation remains part of the word—what is one surviving if not one’s victimisation? 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 outlining the stages of healing from sexual assault makes it 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 emphasise their victimhood but that even more women do not do so.
However, a big problem developed for feminists over the course of time. All of their powerfully positive feelings became vulnerable to claims made by women in other identity categories, especially lesbians, black women, Aboriginal women, and disabled women. Not only that their suffering was far more severe than that experienced by white heterosexual women, 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. It threatens 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—actually identical in outline (another binary model of innocent victim and privileged oppressor)—to that made by the white feminist herself, it 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.
So the white feminist has to arrive at an accommodation—and in the history of feminism it was—quite simply in theory (it’s become the theory of intersectionality) though in practice it has involved myriad fairly complicated and sometimes incoherent calculations of degrees of victimisation and complicity.
In practice, essentially, white feminist guilt for white privilege or hetero privilege is acknowledged, even embraced. Since the deflection of blame is always the end-goal of the feminist psychosis, that is achieved in this case by accepting and then renouncing privilege, through confession and contrition. Confession involves the public and ritual acknowledgement and announcement of one’s sources of privilege. Contrition involves attacks on the externalised source of that privilege, whether it be racist patriarchy, heteropatriarchy, western colonial patriarchy, or what have you.
Thus 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 marginalised, and so on. She becomes innocent again by becoming a victim advocate for her brown and lesbian sisters—and even in some cases brothers.
This may involve the white feminist in blatant contradictions, but that’s fine.
This may involve the white feminist in blatant contradictions, but that’s fine. In recent debates 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 of the moral innocence required by the white feminist VMD.
In the surreal intersectional feminist schema, Islam is by definition, “othered” by the colonial west. Hence, it cannot be the main target of feminist criticism no matter how repugnant and barbaric elements of it might be. It is always more important, whatever the real issue, to maintain anger at white western patriarchy and above all to maintain the white feminist identity as a blameless victim or victim advocate.
This schema of white feminist VMD can be applied in every situation 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 (you can bet they don’t try to shame Muslim women into walking topless in the Slut Walk.)
They fret and 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 when Swedish girls are systematically attacked by male migrants at a music festival. One might have expected to find disagreement amongst white feminists over such issues, but in practice the degree of uniformity is striking.
Though we are accustomed to saying that feminism is about female supremacism, events like the Rotherham scandal and recent Muslim attacks on women in various European cities about which feminists have been silent or conflicted demonstrate what feminism is primarily about—the feminist victim fantasy—a fantasy that has not that much to do with ordinary women’s lives. As a mental disorder, it cannot be argued with, only defeated. Given its hold on western society, only a crisis of massive portions, perhaps one that will destroy the whole society that gave feminism root, can ever dislodge it.
(Dr Janice Fiamengo is Professor of English at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Her books include Sons of Feminism: Men Have Their Say, Home Ground and Foreign Territory: Essays on Early Canadian Literature, and Other Selves: Animals in the Canadian Literary Imagination).