Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Victim Blaming: Why We Feel Safer When We Blame Others and Ourselves

Victim blaming can be defined as “putting blame for the occurrence of a traumatizing event on the survivor instead of blaming the perpetrator.” (1)

Victim blaming occurs in many contexts.  Homeless people are blamed for not being able to support themselves, targets of bullying are blamed for not “standing up to the bully,” robbery victims are blamed for walking down the street wearing flashy jewelry.  However, we would like to discuss victim blaming in the context of sexual violence and objectification.

The Social Context of Victim Blaming

The phenomenon of victim blaming is common in hate crimes, discrimination, rape and bullying.  Victim-blaming doesn’t occur in a vacuum, the social context that gives rise to it occurs when a perpetrator of crime enjoys a privileged social status, authority or power over the victim. Most sexual and family violence is perpetrated by members of a privileged group (men) upon members of an unprivileged group (women, children, weaker men).

Perpetrators, bystanders, society and even victims themselves practice and enforce victim blaming.  “Each group does so for different reasons based on their power or lack thereof, self defense and desire to find logical reasons for abuse or social injustice." (3)

Why do Offenders Blame the Victim?

This may be the easiest to understand.  Offenders blame their victims in order to avoid punishment and maintain the freedom to abuse in the future.  We have both worked extensively with offenders of sexual and domestic violence.  In every single case, the offender had a sense of entitlement over their victims because they had some form of power over their victims (age, financial control, size, threat of emotional or physical harm, etc.).  This was the case for hands-off offenders and hands-on offenders.

Making the victim completely or partially responsible for their behavior allows offenders to abdicate responsibility while at the same time staying in a position of power.  The reasoning follows that if she (sic) hadn’t dressed skimpily, agreed to my authority by marrying/dating me, smiled at me, etc. then I wouldn’t have targeted her.

One time I (Terri) was working with a man who broke into women’s houses and raped them.  He described a situation where he was pumping gas and a woman smiled at him.  He followed her home and began casing her.  When I asked why, he said that she obviously wanted to have sex with him, because she had smiled at him.  These errors in thinking are called cognitive distortions.  Types of cognitive distortions include rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, and blaming the victim. 

Why do Others (bystanders, society) Blame the Victim?

Victim blaming occurs for several reasons.  First, it occurs because we don’t want to acknowledge our own vulnerability.  “When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe, that no matter how good we are, we too could be vulnerable.” (1)  I (Lisa) have worked a lot with rape survivors and one day I realized that despite my training and knowledge, I was doing this too.  As a way to feel less vulnerable I was carefully avoiding mall parking lots, certain apartment complexes, meeting men at bars, etc. because those were all ways I knew that survivors had crossed paths with rapists.  It is human nature to look for ways we are different than anyone who experiences a traumatic event in an effort to feel that false sense of security.   

This phenomenon is called the Just World Theory.  It is the idea that bad things only happen to people who did something to deserve it.  “If an event establishes the world as unjust, people put the victim at fault or try to convince themselves and others that no injustice has occurred.”(3)

Victim blaming also occurs when we as a culture or community resist holding the actual offender responsible for the behavior in question.  This reasoning follows that someone has to be to blame for the bad behavior, and we know that the offender is a good guy; so it must have been the victim.

In our experience, victims of sexual or family violence are believed more often when there are aggravating factors in place such as physical injury (not just emotional) or the offender is a stranger.  It is almost as if the victim has to meet certain criteria to remain un-blamed.  Victims of “hands-off” offenses (like sexual harassment, voyeurism, verbal bullying, and emotional abuse) are often faced with disbelief. 

Why Do Victims Blame Themselves?

Because all of us live in this culture where rampant victim-blaming occurs, victims are not immune to this socialization.   In addition, by blaming himself or herself, the victim re-gains the sense of control that was lost.  For example, if I never walk alone at night again, I won’t be attacked.  “By taking responsibility for the actions taken against them, victims feel that if they avoid the behavior that purportedly caused their abuse, the will avoid the abuse again.”(3)

What Can You Do About Victim-Blaming Behavior?

-       Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear or read them.
-       Let survivors know that it isn’t their fault.
-       Hold abusers accountable for their actions without minimization, blame or excuses.
-       Acknowledge that survivors are their own best experts.


Terri and Lisa

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Understanding the Sexual Objectification of Women

Sexual Objectification of Women

There is currently a lot of conversation in our community about the sexual objectification of women.  Many dancers have written eloquently on why it is an important issue.  We hope to add to this dialogue by defining the term and giving some examples.  Unlike our average blog, this one will contain citations and a bibliography.  Because of the nature and timing of this blog, it is important that we not just share our own experience, but also point you in the right direction if you are interested in reading more. 

To objectify someone is to view them as an object, rather than as a subject, or a human with feelings, thoughts, opinions and value.  To sexually objectify someone is to view a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure.  Objectification occurs in interpersonal relationships and in the broader culture as pornography, prostitution, sexual harassment, and sexualized representation of women in mass media.(1)  Sexual objectification is not the same as sexual attraction.  Sexual objectification occurs when the individuality of the desired person is not acknowledged or recognized.

The dehumanization that results from objectification can cause a host of problems for the subject, object and community.

Impact of sexual objectification on the person who is being objectified

When people are objectified, they are denied personhood.  Research indicates that objectified women are seen as less competent, sincere, moral and intelligent.(2,3)  Further, exposure to sexualized images of women negatively impacts how the male viewer perceives other women (not just the woman being pictured).(2) Objectification not only harms the women who are objectified but also harms women in general.

Impact of sexual objectification on women in general

Each individual act of sexual objectification has consequences. When many representations of women are sexualized (i.e., objectified),  a “rape culture” develops, where women are blamed when they are victimized and rape is trivialized.(7) 

Further, women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to internalize those messages.  This is called “internalized self-objectification.”  If you grow up in a culture that objectifies women you will do this to some extent without even realizing it.  This internalization can result in issues including eating disorders, depression, body shame, sexual dysfunction, depression, and substance abuse.(4)  

Impact of sexual objectification on the person who is objectifying another:

There are negative implications for the person who is doing the objectifying as well.  If you discount a person’s feelings, thoughts, and dreams, instead focusing on their appearance, they become less than real to you.  Carole Heldman, PhD, has found that exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.(5)

What can I do?

First, remember that people who are objectified respond in different ways.  Some, particularly those with a history of sexual violation, may be deeply impacted by an instance that another person might consider a nuisance.  You can respect each person’s unique response and offer support accordingly. 

Second, remember that the impact of objectification extends far beyond the people targeted to the entire community. Just as the ones objectified have varying responses, so do those in our community.

Third, remember that demonizing the people who acted in ways that objectify others is a form of objectification in and of itself.  Holding people accountable for these attitudes and actions is appropriate.  

This is a deep topic and we will be exploring more facets of this issue over the next several weeks.

Be kind to yourself and others, breathe and let us know if you need anything.

Terri and Lisa

If there is a topic you would like us to blog about, just let us know.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Challenging Unkind Behavior

Do you ever read a rant about a dancer on Facebook?  Have you overheard dancers at a show commenting negatively about others?  Have you ever been to a bellydance event where there was clearly an "in" group who were not friendly to dancers unless they were "important"?  How do you feel about challenging these behaviors when you see/hear/read them?  How do you decide when challenging the unkind behavior is better than ignoring it?

In this blog, I am going to talk about challenging unkind behavior in the dance community by applying some ideas from research on bystander behavior and confronting racism.  Our ultimate goal is to respond to unkind behavior in such a way that the other person can hear our feedback.  This isn't always easy to do and getting better at it is a process.

Initially, we may find that we are only able to identify unkind behavior (our own or someone else's) after the fact, maybe because someone else points it out to us.  Eventually, we are able to recognize the behavior at the time it occurs. Ultimately, we want to be able to decide the best way to respond at the time the behavior occurs. Sometimes this means choosing to respond later in private.   Sometimes it means responding immediately.

So how do you respond?

Discussion Tips for Challenging Unkind Behavior:

Discuss the person being disparaged in the context of your relationship to them
    Mary is an ATS(R) dancer from my community.  She may not have a lot of skill, but she is kind and friendly and really eager to learn.

ATS(R) Homecoming 2015 was a great example of a supportive dance environment
Picture of Terri's veil workshop

Ask questions (statements can generate resistance, questions invite conversation)
    Why do you say that?  How much do you know about the situation?

Consider planting a seed rather than needing instant resolution
    I have been thinking a lot lately about how I interact with other dancers in our community and part of that is not staying in conversations that are (or could turn) negative.  I would love to tell you about my thoughts sometime if you are interested.

Appeal to the person's best self
    I'm surprised to hear you say that because I have always thought of you as a person who was very supportive/kind.

My daughter sleeping on the floor with her dog who was too old to jump on the bed anymore.
It was years ago but this was the sweetest picture I could find.
We all have that kindness inside.

Talk about how it makes you feel (telling them how to behave- what to do or not to do- can be disputed, but how you feel cannot)
    It makes me uncomfortable to hear you say that/ to talk about this/ to read this.

Approach the person with respect rather than self-righteous indignation
    I know how tempting it is to vent about _____ because I struggle with it also, but we made a commitment not to talk negatively about others and we have to help each other stick to that promise.

In the past when my behavior has been challenged, I was much more open to the feedback when the person talked to me like I was a good person who just had a lapse in judgement.  Think about the ways you would be most open to hearing this kind of feedback and try to follow the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)

Good luck and don't hesitate to touch base with Terri or I if we can help you problem-solve about a specific situation.