In my research on domestic violence, including talking to thousands of abused women and men over the span of 4 years about what re-victimises them the most, the no.1 complain is victim shaming.
They were all currently looking to leave abusive relationships, have been in one in the past or have recently left, they were all looking for restoration in various ways.
Research shows it takes an average of 7 attempts to leave before it happens. People victim shame them in many ways, "get over it", "it takes two to tango", "why don't you just leave?", "you made your bed now lay in it", "everyone has struggles".
On the back of this is always the idea that self determination is enough to get them to leave, that victimisation is reserved for the ultra stupid subset of people who constantly make lousy life choices that led to their victimisation, that they randomly incited it in a way no lay person can explain away.
It is the psychologically unsound black and white thinking that people are divided clearly into the strong and the weak, instead of a humanistic integrated view that each person has strengths and weaknesses, no one is perfect, that each person have certain factors that they didn't choose, people don't choose to be born into poor families, people don't choose to be lesbian, bi or heterosexual, people don't choose to be of a minority race, their nationality or their ethnicity, people don't choose their disability or ability, people don't choose to be anywhere on the spectrum of neurodiversity.
Abused women are seen as inherently weak people who lack redeemable qualities, that their perceived "weakness" infiltrates all aspects of them, they're hopelessly defective, exhaustively unsalvageable, therefore there is no need to bother about them, write them off as hopeless cases, dismiss them as damaged goods with no value, they exist in the dark underbelly of womanhood people don't want to talk about, they're not victimised enough to have a dramatic life story, they're not at the bottom enough to incite empathy, they're not the happy shiny people who're always positive, they're party poopers, a drag to be around, they're missing women sandwiched in the middle, not too bad but not good enough either.
It's much easier to ignore them, avoid them and pretend that it is all their fault, that society owes them nothing, that we don't each have a duty towards them, that we aren't in our own ways even if not directly, benefiting from their oppression, our willingness to ignore them means their inability to compete, keeping them deflated stops them from becoming our next competitor in a dog eat dog world of each woman for herself versus policing how someone makes the wrong choice.
Often people who preach choice see their own success as a result of their own diligence and tenacity, that it is a sign of their extraordinary personal competence that got them opportunities, a power that sets them apart, that others them in a positive manner, they're the elite powerful women who made it instead of the more realistic view that they were set up for success and they made the best of those circumstances, so their efforts are in the last part.
To think this way, they definitely did center and prioritise themselves, they start being feminist when they're already successful and not before then, it is only when they taste success and realise that people still treat them as sub human that they wake up a little and ponder, why is it so?
When they do, they feel tempted to continue with the formula of success that women are taught and need to unlearn - keep quiet to be safe, keep small to not take up space, stay down to be seen as a good woman, dress modestly to not incite unwanted attention while ignoring social factors beyond anyone's control, social factors that systematically benefitted them in some ways and oppresses them in other ways instead of arbitrarily crossing paths with people who gave them opportunities.
Now they can afford to be magnanimous, because they have the security of an ivory tower to live in, they have fame, money and social status to guarantee them a pedestal to stand on, they have safety nets that catch them when they fall, yet they still keep to that status quo of palatable people pleasing feminism so they can continue to see themselves as strong women, it is self soothing and guilt alleviating to think that any kind of personal discomfort can be eradicated by simply being determined enough to keep on choosing the right way to live.
They forgo the burden of women below them and can continue to think well of themselves at the same time, it is an addictive intoxication of seeing the sliver lining instead of acknowledging there must be a cloud to even need a lining.
Abused women tell me how people with loving supportive families don't get it, how it feels to grow up in a home where you're constantly punished for the slightest things like asking for your basic needs of food, shelter and clothing to be met, they tell me people don't know what's it's like to live in the prison of abject poverty, not knowing when they can get out of this seemingly endless road to a better life without sinking into a pattern, cycling between hope and disillusionment, no matter how hard they try, the odds are stacked against them, so they know, it isn't solely about self determination, it's about being born a woman as well.
To them, choice is a luxury, a luxury that no matter how much they yearn for, wasn't available to them. Emotions are also a luxury that they do not dare to feel, they do not feel entitled to their emotions, including addressing their pain, basic normal human needs isn't a choice when there is psychological survival to hang onto.
Feminism itself seem like a luxury to them as well, they think only rich people can afford to do it, only healthy whole people are capable of expending that kind of energy, they cannot imagine themselves as feminists because feminism has left them behind by not integrating self and other care within it, something they need (not a choice) and have not given them an option to be part of our messy big family of different opinions, characters and personalities.
I have witnessed many incidents where people from supportive families see their high esteem as a source of their person strength when I know full well esteem is relational, a former person with high esteem can become one with low esteem should the partner have a life crisis that defeats him, for example a partner who lost his job, grapple with depression then became an abusive alcoholic. Healthy emotional bonds morph into toxic trauma bonds, she end up compensating for his ill behaviours, taking on trauma and start losing her personal identity in the process.
Choice also polarises into even more judgement, it feeds the extremist idea of wrong or right, good or bad, it creates a hierarchy of personal pain that results in the oppression versus altruism olympics, what kind of victimisation deserves what kind of reaction both from the sufferer and the people viewing the suffering, what level of pain deserves social support and what doesn't?
When abused women feel an extraordinary amount of shame, silence keeps them trapped in those relationships, they're often groomed by manipulative guilt tripping to feel a tremendous amount of unfounded guilt as well, this hierarchy is one they already have in their heads, one that prevents them from healing, they do not need more of it.
So you see revolutionary women ostracised when they're alive, benevolently martyred post mortem when she's no longer a threat, living women listened to only when she's in a horrifyingly depleted suicidal state or if there's severe injustice similar to imprisonment for 10 years for setting their hair free like Iranian women or when she achieves notoriety, she is vilified through sensationalisation, used as a bad example to reinforce how making bad choices can result in a bad life, that it is all her fault, it is always her fault.
No one cares about what led to the choice and no one cares about the consequence of being pushed to a corner, it's easier to criticise the aftermath, like a disaster area after a tornado, moan the lost when the devastation is visible, it justifies how they were indeed in danger earlier when it is too late to address the problem now.
Normal daily issues like workplace discrimination, mental health, family violence, debilitating body shame, pressures to marry and have kids, impossible beauty standards and objectification are seen as issues only fragile superficial snowflakes who make lousy choices feel trapped by, the boo hoo poor teary people who cannot own it, people who aren't "empowered" enough to overcome.
This idea of choice also end up as misdirection whenever I talk about abortion rights, people make it about how I want babies to be aborted, I want to kill a life, like somehow I am omnipotent, I can control what people want to do, when I know I ultimately do not have power over them, it ends up in a false sense of power that is driven by exaggeration.
When I tell them I am not stopping them from paying for pre natal and post natal care as well as the cost of childcare until 18 years of age, they stop short.
It's not the choice that is the issue, it's the consequences they do not want to bear, it's the consequences of the "choice" that is the problem and not the choice itself.
After making a choice, it's the unpredictable ever changing set of consequences that women have to deal with, where things do not always turn out as planned. Women in abusive marriages didn't say, "oooohhh I dream of marrying an abusive toad some day, enjoy a lifetime of servitude", they go "I want to marry my prince charming and live happily ever after".
The idea of choice always ends up holding women accountable for men's irresponsibilities, when women experience difficulty having boundaries with them, they expect feminists to jump in to resolve it for them, they rely on female communities to support their healing, often to the extent of expecting a therapeutic level of care that exhausted activists didn't sign up for, something that requires a level of skill and experience that activists aren't equipped with nor agree to, it somehow always boils down to not having enough to go around.
Then they implode when their expectations aren't met, accusing women for being mean spirited hypocrites for misbehaving in the same way men do, when it is they themselves who want parasitic relationships with women so they can continue to prioritise parasitic men for personal rewards, continue to seek their approval while disapproving of women, something's got to give and this giving is always from one direction. This burdens already marginalised groups further into marginalisation, while privileged classes continue to benefit from the lack of dismantling.
If Emma Watson wasn't the acceptably attractive woman, the palatable non threateningly modest woman, her choices wouldn't have resulted in her appointment as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. In 2012 Emma was honoured with the Calvin Klein Emerging Star Award at the ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards, and in 2013 she was awarded both the Trailblazer Award at the MTV Movie Awards and the GQ Woman of the Year Award.
This is part of her speech at a special event for the HeForShe campaign, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 20 September 2014
"Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.
Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.
I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49 years of age; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.
We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.
If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled."
Pretty please, yes thank you, if I asked you nicely, I think you will change, you most definitely would want to do it.
I admit I was touched by the sincerity in her voice, her youthful naivety reminded me of my idealistic self in my teens.
I sighed for a few reasons, she spent the first half of her speech being apologetic about her privilege, she had a moment of standing in her power talking about oppression then she back peddled to a compromise. She spent the next half placating them, talking about their issues, taking it onto herself to be responsible for them, exhibiting the exact conditioning that all women have unconsciously taken on.
That infantilised men are our permanent Peter Pans and we're magical Tinkerbells who hoover whimsically around, only to become scornful scum when we're unceremoniously cancelled, because we're told we cannot live without men.
What if she said, "if men don't rape, end of rape. If men don't police women's dressing and still rape them no matter how they're dressed, end of objectification and rape. If men refuse to elevate themselves and hold themselves accountable then at least don't ask women to take on the burden of their irresponsibility, we're in a no win zone of never being able to do the right thing, we're expected to make our own choices and call it empowerment, care for women men victimised and call it sisterly love, OK fine we do that, for ourselves and them.
Then we're expected to care for men who victimise them as well, entitled men who don't give us credit even after we do so, men who don't listen to us, men who silence us so they can continue to scapegoat us while exploiting our free labour for issues we isn't start, issues that reward them as they seek our demise.
The problem is men and men need to educate themselves."
I am guessing that choice that Emma Watson makes, that choice that confronts isn't going to result in her getting platformed any time soon, it is the sacrifice of self interest that many liberal feminists dare not make, a leap of faith that the sisterhood got her as she falls off the patriarchal ladder into the arms of wiser older women who have seen more and know better.
It is also the dilemma of personal success versus personal betrayal that every woman walks through, buying in means opportunities, it also means losing a part of her womanhood, shackling her to the required obedience that comes with respectable social order, letting a small group of extremely passionate radical women take the brute of the patriarchal blow that we can all afford to take a little bit of, so they can breathe a little bit better.
She would have to resort to feeling good about her mundane choices because the only victories she can really rely on are the tiny ones, the unfortunate result that many older feminists know about, one compromise becomes another, a small gateway becomes a floodgate of neverending demands, it is only by not compromising anything, holding down the fort like radical feminists have done that any change is possible.
It is only by being truthful to oneself, what is really ours and what isn't, what is out of our control and what is within it that we find peace within our hearts, conviction in our minds that we can start to redefine success in an authentic way that is self loving and other loving, instead of making it all about choice.
Being born female most definitely isn't a choice and it has nothing to do with how much we love ourselves, it has everything to do with living in a world that's anti-female.
Eshet chayil, God is a She.