Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

This thing with ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’

I've been thinking about this thing with using the words 'victim' or 'survivor' to describe women who have experienced Sexual and Physical violence at the hands of men. I know these words are contentious for many of us and I've been pondering why and what other word we could use.

The real problem I have with these words is that they imply a level of passivity in our survival. A victim is someone who is victimised, they are defined by the abuses being done to them. I hate the term victim, and it was this label that held me back from speaking my truth about my abuse for so long. I didn't feel like a 'victim' and I certainly didn't want to be described as one.

For a while, 'survivor' has worked for me. It felt a little better than 'victim' but now I'm questioning this. It's taken me some time to pin down why, what could be wrong with 'survivor'? For me the answer boils down to: people are 'survivors' of tragic accidents, of plane crashes, and Tornadoes. They are people who were 'lucky'. Who escaped death due to chance or fate. This does not begin to cover how a woman 'survives' male violence. And it in no way speaks to our experiences of escaping that violence, of our struggle after, and most importantly it in no way describes the deliberate and considered nature of the abuse we experienced.

The more I thought, the more I realised that there was only one group of survivors who fit with the experience of women who have experienced male violence: Soldiers.

And then it made sense. 'Survivors' of male violence are the ones on the front lines of the war against women. We are the ones that went into battle. We fought, we were wounded, but we made it. We came back from the battle a little broken. In need of healing and care. We are 'Veterans'.

The more I think about this word, the more it speaks to my experience. 'Veterans' are treated with respect, there is a reverance in how we talk about them. They are held up as heroes. And that's what women who have experienced male violence are.

The problem with victim and survivor is that they engender pity. We feel sorry for victims and survivors. But we don't want your pity. You can keep it. We want your mother-fucking respect! We deserve to be treated with reverence. We deserve to be looked up to as the heroes that we are. There should be memorials for all our fallen sisters. Walls with the names of women who were lost in the battles of the war against women. There should be a remembrance day for those fallen women, and their stories should be told to small children to inspire them.

And those of us not fallen, well we deserve to be cared for, just like all those male soldiers returning from war. Perhaps if we were considered veterans, there would be homes dedicated to helping these women. And I don't mean the shelters we have now, staffed by amazing women doing the best they can. I mean whole facilities, which are well funded, with dedicated specialists giving top-notch physical and psychological therapy.

Perhaps, if we were called veterans our PTSD would be taken seriously. It would be understood and accepted, because we have been to battle. We have seen the worst of the enemy. Watched our sisters fall beside us. We have looked death and destruction in the face. And yet still we are here. You can't not be affected by that.

So here's my new word: Veterans. Women who have experienced male violence don't need or want your pity. We are fucking WARRIORS. We are strong and we are resilient. So show us the respect that we deserve.

Storify of a conversation on this post

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2 thoughts on “This thing with ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’

  • kimberly says:

    Hell yes! This is awesome and I totally agree!

  • Bionca says:

    I agree with the author we need new terms to use. Victim and survivor helps certain folks in the healing process. Neither explain what we go thru or its impact on us.

    Equating victims of male violence as akin to soldiers isnt the answer either. Nor does it help for women to see themselves as warriors. Its this kind of thinking that makes women believe pornography is empowering.

    Soldiers, these days, make a choice to become soldiers, knowing full well they can end up in a war. The draft has been gone for decades, so todays soldiers make a conscious choice to go do what they do.

    Women who experience male violence didnt make a choice to participate in a war. The mere fact we are women pushes into something to which we cannot consent. We dont make a choice. We dont have a choice. The patriarchy has decided the fact we are female makes us adversaries without choice. Our families, our father and mothers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, boyfriends and husbands are all willing participants in us being sacrificed in order to perpetuate the ideals and the needs of the patriarchy.

    In addition, we have a tendency to romanticize war, to being a veteran, and to the care and benefits to which disabled veterans are entitled.

    The patriarchy, like in everything else they do, has a reality vs. what they want us to believe. The reality doesnt come close to all the wonderful rhetoric they want soldiers to buy into.

    We sent soldiers off to Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan without proper equipment. Parents had to buy their solider children the body armour they needed. These kids came back maimed, disfigured, brain damaged, and with emotional issues related to PTSS. Again, families have to fight for these kids to get basic care, artificial limbs, equipment necessary for basic functioning, and their disability income. 50% of the homeless wandering the streets are veterans. Veterans have to travel great distances or to different states to get care from the va system. There was a scandal last year where the veterans administration was found to withhold appointments from veterans in need causing their deaths. Arlington National Cemetery, dealt with a recent scandal after it was discovered they were burying the wrong people in the wrong graves.

    Does that sound like people being treated for respect?

    We need a new word. I just dont know what it is.