Victim-blaming, and why it’s wrong

It was recently brought to my attention that there are people who (possibly deliberately?) misunderstand why victim-blaming is wrong, in a really interesting way. I mean, we’re all pretty familiar with apologists of all kinds who simply insist that the victim *is* partially responsible for the things that other people, of their own free will, decided to do to them. But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about people who accept that victim-blaming is wrong, but in a very strange and simplistic way: they think that victim-blaming is wrong because blaming, in and of itself, is wrong.

I’m going to illustrate this misunderstanding with the example that alerted me to the fact that this might be a real thing that people think. The fantastic Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism frequently writes on the subject of homeschooling, particularly as practiced by fundamentalist Christians. A few weeks back, she wrote about a friend of hers who had admitted that, due to her homeschooling (and particularly due to the fact that the state in which she was raised had no standards in place for assessing homeschool situations) she had never learned any science. The friend didn’t think that her mother had been deliberately neglectful, but rather that the lack of accountability did ultimately allow her to get away with a certain amount of laziness.

Now, it’s what happened next that I found fascinating: a commenter on the post accused Libby Anne and her friend of “parent-blaming,” suggesting that if her friend had had any interest in science, she would have picked up the textbook herself. Libby Anne rightfully and thoroughly took this commenter to task, as it is absolutely ridiculous to expect children as young as six to take responsibility for the breadth of their education. More importantly, she made it clear that ensuring as good an education as is reasonably achievable is an absolute responsibility of a child’s parent(s). The commenter was in fact engaging in victim-blaming by trying to put the responsibility for learning science onto children themselves, and blaming them for their failure to become engaged in the topic independently.

There’s a couple of things that are going on here that I’ve been wanting to unpack a little further, however. It’s pretty clear to me that the commenter’s use of the phrase “parent-blaming” is a deliberate call-out to the concept of victim-blaming, with the implicit suggestion that it is wrong for the same reasons that victim-blaming is. But, to be perfectly frank, I don’t think that anyone truly believes that parents aren’t responsible for their children’s access to education in some form or another. I honestly think that what their true (largely emotional?) objection was based in was emotion. They were having an emotional reaction to the idea that a parent might fail to adequately homeschool their child. They didn’t like the idea that they could be at fault for not providing a comprehensive education to their child.

And, to be fair, homeschooling is an incredibly gigantic undertaking – to do a job that is normally fulfilled by dozens of teachers over more than a decade is immense. And the possibility of failure must be palpable. So I can sympathize with pushing back against the idea of being responsible for such a huge undertaking, and to feel like blaming parents for their failures in this area is wrong. It certainly *feels* wrong; no one likes to be blamed for things, right? That’s why victim-blaming is wrong, right?

And, well, obviously no. This is not the case. The reason that victim-blaming is wrong isn’t the plain fact that it involves laying blame; the reason it’s wrong is that it involves misplacing blame. I’m actually very pro-blaming, when blame is laid where it belongs. Rapist-blaming is a really, really good idea, for instance. Blaming the people who did the thing that was wrong is always a good idea.

And the fact is that the choice to homeschool is most definitely a choice in this context; everywhere in Canada and the US, public schooling is available. And, while school supplies do cost money, the barriers to sending one’s kid to public school are significantly lower than committing to homeschooling, which prevents one parent from working almost at all.

Thus, as the person who chose to homeschool the child, the homeschool parent is doubly responsible for the quality of their child’s education – we may not be able to control the quality of schools in the area that we can afford to live, but we certainly can assess, and to some extent control, our own ability to educate our children.

So, yeah. Victim-blaming is wrong. But blaming in general? Not so much. And blaming the person(s) who made a choice (or a series of choices) that damaged another person’s life? That shit is always correct.

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