Victim Blaming: Even at UK Feminista Summer School
UK Feminista Summer School is always an amazing experience full of inspiring and committed feminists. This years was no different. Yet even in a conference full of feminists, internalised victim-blaming is always present.
In this case, it involved a young woman sharing her personal experience of street harassment. I won't go in to details here as I don't think it's appropriate. I only want to focus on the reaction of the rest of the women in the room to her story which results in the police being called. Basically, the police congratulate this young woman on how she handled the situation and then said "more women should do what you did to stand up to street harassment".
Everyone cheered. Multiple times.
My heart sank. The police basically told this young woman that any woman who didn't do what she did deserved street harassment. That what she did was the only acceptable response to street harassment.
This is victim-blaming. It might have been couched in terms of a positive reinforcement of the actions of the young woman but it also made it very clear that women who don't stand up to street harassment deserve it. There is no understanding of how and why different women respond differently to similar situations. There is no attempt to understand that in some situations standing up to street harassment will result in a woman being physically harmed.
There is no understanding that the only correct response to street harassment is the response that each individual woman feels capable of at that specific moment. Anything else creates a hierarchy of "acceptable" responses which blames women for not doing what someone else thinks they should do. This is incredibly unkind.
I am so very glad that this woman's experience ended positively for her [or as positively as it can end] but I don't want this to be considered the only acceptable response. We spend far too much time policing women's behaviour as it is. We need to turn our focus on to the men who commit street harassment rather than deciding which women reacted properly.
This moment was only brief but it was a stark reminder of how internalised victim-blaming is. 4 months ago, I would have applauded. Now, it just made me sad to realise just how ingrained victim-blaming is.
If a roomful of feminists miss it, how will we manage to change things?