responsibility

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.

PSA of the Day


Things that, when they occur, can be considered natural consequences of choosing to get drunk, for which the person who chose to drink is responsible:

  • Having a hangover
  • Getting alcohol poisoning

Things that are *not* natural consequences of choosing to drink:

  • Getting roofied
  • Getting raped
  • Being robbed
  • Getting taken advantage of in any way

Please note that the items in that second list all involve the active and autonomous actions and choices of another person other than the person who drank “too much”. The person who was over-indulging did not choose to have these things happen to them; the person who did them chose to do so, and that choice is *their* responsibility, and a natural consequence of them being a terrible person.

In other words, the first list is things that alcohol (which we sometimes actively invite into our bodies) does to people; the second list is things that other people do to people, without permission. Understood?

That is all.

Righteous rage of the day

[Content note: rape, pedophilia, rape apology]
Currently reading

This makes me so fucking angry:

“I always wanted to protect kids,” he said during one of two interviews at the Miami County Jail. “Somewhere along the line, things went wrong.”

Orly? So, in you story, you were just going along, minding your own business, adopting children out of the goodness of your heart, and then one day you just totally accidentally started raping them? I mean, you never meant for it to happen or anything. And then, once that had happened, there wasn’t really anything else you could do but get other men to also rape them. There just simply weren’t any other options, obviously.

I mean, it totally could’ve just happened to anyone, right? Rape is like a force of nature and no one involved really has any responsibility for it.

Gods. Fucking. Dammit.

…On a lighter note, I do really, really appreciate that the author of the article also included the following:

Child abuse by adoptive fathers is much rarer than by biological fathers, or by other male relatives and non-relatives, federal studies have indicated.

“This isn’t a typical situation. It certainly isn’t typical of people seeking adoption,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “Most abusers of this sort have an interest in a child during a certain period of their development. They are looking for opportunities where they can get access to the kids. They don’t want to have custodial responsibility.”

Fostering and adopting children meant passing background checks and other scrutiny, with home studies and follow-up visits by social workers.

Working against rape myths, and trying to prevent people from using this particular case to shore up their confirmation bias about adoptive parents? Awesome, Ms. Farrar. Pure awesome.

Pregnant people are people, too

I am pro-choice. 100%. Under all circumstances, and for any reason, I believe that the decision of whether or not to continue hosting a fetus inside of their body lies with the person who’s body is being inhabited by the fetus. And mostly, I leave it at that. But I also think it can be useful to explore the actual ethical quandaries that can be wrestled with in coming to this conclusion. Because I do think that a lot of people struggle with this issue, and that’s legitimate, but I also feel like there’s not always a good space to talk about it in a debate where one side tends to shut down any discussion of morality and the definition of life, and the other simply calls abortion murder, no discussion.

But I think that both of those positions are reductionist. it’s completely unreasonable to say that fetuses aren’t living things; quite simply, they are. And I also think that late-term fetus may even count as people (at least, they’re as much people as newborn babies are). And I wanted to actually put in words the reasons why I can hold these views and also still be 100% pro-choice in every instance.

Because I actually don’t fully buy the “well it’s a personal moral choice” argument, and the “right to privacy” grounds on which abortion is legal in the US have never made even the slightest bit of sense to me. If, in fact, abortion were tantamount to murder, these arguments would imply that murder shouldn’t be illegal on the grounds of privacy and personal moral choices, which is ridiculous.

The thing is, I don’t think that the question of whether a fetus is a person (or when a fetus becomes a person) has any real bearing on whether abortion should be legal or not. It’s not news that every fetal “personhood” argument ever made has completely erased the personhood of the person that the fetus is living inside the body of.

Because, for me, this is the crux of the whole thing. I don’t care if the fetus is a person or not, because no person should ever have the right to live inside of another person against their will. In this model, the death that results from abortion is self-defense, (or possibly a mercy killing, since removing the fetus intact and simply letting it die would be comparably cruel) and not murder. This is not a difficult moral issue for me, but I’ll play along and try to anticipate some of the objections to this.

But the fetus can’t live outside the womb! It’s not deliberately invading your body! it just needs you to survive!

This is just completely irrelevant. Bodily violation is bodily violation regardless of intent, regardless of the whether the person (or fetus) violating someone’s body knows or understands that they are doing so. The person being violated is being violated regardless, and they have the right to stop the violation.

We are never legally required to sacrifice our bodies to save other people’s lives in any other circumstances. We aren’t even required to do so for our own children after they are born. I would be legally within my rights to deny a kidney, or even my blood, to my child, even immediately after birth. But for some reason people still insist that I should be required to carry the thing around for nine months inside my body. The inconsistency here is unfathomable. My right to bodily autonomy is not changed by the fact that I happen to be pregnant.

But you brought it on yourself! I mean, I can see a reason why abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest, but you gave implicit consent for the fetus to take up residence in your body when you chose to have sex, (you slut)!

Um, no. That’s not how consent works – meaningful consent can be withdrawn at any time. Even if I have sex with the intent of creating a fetus in my body, if I later decide that I do not want said fetus in my body, I can kick it the fuck out.

That’s not even how natural consequences work. By the logic above, there’s a bunch of other conclusions you would have to come to that are patently ridiculous. We don’t, for instance, tell people that chlamydia is just a natural consequence of sex, and that to take antibiotics is to kill the chlamydia is wrong. (Again, even if for some reason I decided to have sex with the express purpose of getting chlamydia, I would be well within my rights to seek treatment for the consequent chlamydia.)

Or let’s look at other things relating to bodily autonomy. I’m registered on the list of bone marrow donors where I live, which means that if someone turns up requiring bone marrow that matches mine, I may be contacted to donate. Being on this list has positive consequences for me – it makes me feel good about myself. Maybe not as good as sex, but still, it’s a thing I chose to do of my own free will and for not much other reason than because it made me happy to do so.

And yet.

If I were called on to donate marrow to someone, I would not be obligated to follow through. Similarly, just because I enjoy having sex sometimes does not mean that I am morally obligated to carry a resulting fetus to term. There’s just no logic by which this could possibly follow. Just no.

This is the logic that is so often used to control women’s bodies and actions – you shouldn’t be out alone at night, or drunk, or dressing outside of certainly narrowly defined and contradictory “rules,” or rape is a direct consequence. You shouldn’t be pretty at work, or getting hit on by your boss is your fault. You shouldn’t be ugly at work, or getting fired is your fault. You shouldn’t try too hard to be conventionally attractive, or harassment is your punishment. You shouldn’t stray too far from conventional attractiveness or harassment is your punishment. You shouldn’t have sex with other women, or corrective rape is your punishment. You shouldn’t have no sex at all, or someone will have to rape you to teach you that sex is good. But you shouldn’t enjoy sex too much, or babies are your punishment.

And yes, I do fully analogize the bodily violation of rape with the bodily violation of being legally forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. That shit wreaks havoc on your body and on your mental health. Birth is not a simple thing, it’s painful and exhausting and ugly.

Fuck. That. Noise. Consenting to sex does not imply consent to anything other than having sex in that moment.

But isn’t it the nice thing to do to let the innocent fetus use your body? And the nice thing to do is the right thing to do, after all.

Um, yeah, I guess it might be the nice thing to do. It would also be the nice thing to do to donate half of my income to charity, but most people would understand that weighing the hardship that would befall me if I did such a thing outweighs the desire to be nice. Once again, choosing to carry a fetus to term is a very big commitment, with far-ranging impacts on quality of life, ability to work, mental health, and many other things. Sure it’s nice, but it’s grand gesture nice, and not common courtesy/moral obligation nice.

…So, have I missed any of the big arguments?