Distortions: Putting the Blame on Victims

This is a response and a rebuttal to Irene Ogrizek’s piece entitled “Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi: Whose fault is it?”. The overall theme of the piece seems to be that not all men are bad, we should understand the implications of marginalizing abusive men, and instead we should seek understanding and treatable solutions for them. It takes the stance that feminism has pushed society to demonize men to the point where we are, through feminist ideals, protecting women who have the power and the means to walk away from abuse, or prevent it from happening all together.

I am not going to lie. Radical feminism is doing more to alienate the sexes from each other than gain understanding for women’s issues. One just has to look up the movement “Gamer Gate” on Twitter to see what it is doing to society these days. In this regard I agree completely that radical feminism does not empower women so much as it castrates men, however the incidents and examples used by Ogrizek do not prove her point that it is feminism that distorts the reality of who and what causes and perpetuates abuse of all kinds.

Finding evidence to back up your views is essential and choosing your sources is important. In Ogrizek’s piece I completely disagree with her choice of sources. The first choice almost seems relevant, except for the fact that it is her own opinion of a second hand personal story. It has absolutely no business being cited as a reference. In it, a woman executive is recounting her story of domestic abuse to a few women. They listened to her story and supported her decision to take her former spouse to court three times. The situation may or may not have been questionable, but the approach Ogrizek took was one of judgement and derision. It was evident in her “furrowed brow” listening to it, and the skepticism that dripped from the silent, scathing question “Yes, why didn’t you just leave?” asked of the woman who stayed with her abuser.

It is the other main source that is the most telling. In it Ogrizek cites Alice Munro’s short story entitled “Vandals”. There are so many disturbing reasons why this source should never have been used that I hardly know where to begin. The first is that it deals with paedophilia, which is so vastly different from drawing a comparison to an adult victim of abuse that it should not be compared at all. The fact that Ogrizek specifically chose the part of the story where Ladner made fun of Bea in front of Liza, and then referred to Liza’s reaction as Schadenfreude highlights Ogrizek’s gross ignorance regarding the trauma from being sexually abused as a child. Liza reacted that way because she was being manipulated by Ladner. Children have a deep need to belong, and if a trusted adult manipulates that trust it will warp the child leading them to believe a lot of things that a child in a non-abusive environment would never believe. Liza had no point of reference to tell her how to react to this situation. She was carried along by the manipulation and was abused by Ladner as a result. Attributing Liza’s reaction to Schadenfreude misses the point entirely. I do not have time to go into the studies of long term effects of child abuse, but Ogrizek got one thing right (even if for a different reason than she intended) and that is that children cannot distinguish between a normal adult reaction and an abusive one. This is especially if they are being manipulated. This is why Liza is the one who vandalized Bea and Ladner’s house herself. As an adult she realized how horribly she had been treated, how much was stolen from her childhood, and how damaged she was. She also wanted to gain some sense of vindication, to express and let go of the anger, even if years late. You can find some good resources regarding after effects of childhood abuse here, here, and here.

The second reason this source is all wrong is that it attempts to draw similarities between Bea’s enabling of her husbands abuse toward Liza and the executive’s choosing to stay with her husband. It is like comparing apples and oranges. Both deal with repeated abuse, but they are too different to compare. In all likelihood, Bea herself was being manipulated and abused, but for much longer. I gathered this from her obvious ignorance of what was happening to Liza in her own house. A normal person would not do that, but one possibility for why she allowed  it is a complex abusive tactic called Gaslighting, detailed here. I have also gathered from the references to Bea’s drinking that she is an alcoholic. The questions must be asked: what is she drinking herself into a stupor for? Why will she not acknowledge the abuse Liza suffered even years later? Why the guilt (She paid for Liza’s schooling). There is an answer if your familiar with the cycle of abuse.

One more disturbing aspect of this piece is Ogrizek’s describing Bea’s choosing to stay with Ladner as childish. Ogrizek ascribes it to “conventional feminism’s approach to domestic and sexual abuse generally. Protecting women who put themselves in the presence of abusers, and who do so repeatedly, means protecting women who choose not to protect themselves…we infantilize them and enable their childishness. If real children are involved, we do this at their expense.” This is so wrong that it’s scary. This premise blames victims in every sense of the word and, for a lack of a better word, rapes the theme, the very reason Munro even wrote the story. Why does Ogrizek even mentions feminism here? Even though I disagree with feminist philosophy, I know that at the very least Munro was commenting on the helplessness and despair that abused women face that ties them to their abuser and traps them there. I could go on about this, but I just cannot fathom the gross injustice that one statement perpetrated.

Ogrizek believes that “Criticizing those coming forward to complain about Crosby and Ghomeshi is valid and allows us to reiterate, to all women, that we’ve got good opportunities here in North America…And if worst comes to worst, we have social safety nets, like unemployment insurance and welfare, to help you.” So, in effect you don’t need to go out and get yourself raped to get ahead in life because you can choose another way. According to her, the only people deserving of sympathy are the women forced into sex trafficking, but even then she condescends by describing these women as “typically illiterate” thereby pronouncing them too stupid to have prevented their plight. She says, “These are the truly disempowered and these are the women I save my sympathy for.” thus in one fell swoop she belittles most victims of sexual assault, or violence, and renders foolish any social program aimed at helping them. I found some Canadian facts regarding the seriousness of the issue of violence against women and I have provided them here to counteract her sheer disregard for the pain victims of abuse carry.

Ogrizek mentioned her journalist friend had taken one night and rode around with a police officer to observe the types of domestic assault calls handled. After this enlightening experience her journalist friend said that “the vast majority of domestic abuse calls, as in upward of 90%, were really about mutual abuse.” What Ogrizek is not taking into account is that only 10% of all sexual assault and 22% of all domestic violence incidents are ever reported to the police. Again, here she seems to interchange domestic assault and rape making them into one issue together, but they are not. Ogrizek says of her friend’s  “I’ve always remembered that conversation because I grew up in a violent home too…what I grew up seeing taught me that domestic abuse is mostly mutual, if not in the outcome, at least in the cause.” Even more disturbing is her conclusion that women bring abuse on themselves as they contribute to their abusive situations. I wonder how exactly she feels they do that? By not cooking supper properly? Maybe they contribute to their own abuse by talking back or accidentally saying hi to another man in reply to his saying hi? I have no idea what she means, but I do know that each one of the reasons I just listed led to my being attacked by my ex-husband. I guess I was asking for it, well according to Ogrizek anyway.

Lastly, I wish to point out that the topics of rape, childhood rape (by strangers or those known to the victim), plus those who are in domestic violence situations are all vastly different subjects and should be treated that way. It trivializes the needs of each individual topic. I cannot, for personal reasons, go into Ogrizek’s extremely offensive suggestion that we also save our sympathy only for those who abuse and look at understanding them. No thank you, not ever. I will leave that to the justice system, providing some of you victims even get justice. It’s not hard to see why our justice system is so broken when there is wilful disregard for the victims of violence against women and girls. The Bill Cosby‬ case may or may not result in a conviction, but I think the larger issue here is how the allegations will negatively affect society’s view of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault survivors. Ogrizek’s piece underscores the further entrenching of the collective blaming and judgemental consciousness so prevalent in our society. I hope it changes.

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